Let's march to the city hall

2010-02-23 00:00

THE Witness intrepidly exposed extreme overtime pay that was claimed under very dubious circumstances by certain Msunduzi Municipality employees. Now all municipal employees have been advised to secure overdraft facilities with their financial institutions as there is no guarantee that salaries are to be paid on the expected date. Could this possibly be karma? As ratepayers we must have no sympathy for the heartless employees who, at every opportunity, seized our money. The pseudo authority of the Msunduzi Municipality was long evident and has been well explained in The Witness, February 19 (“A mayoral mess”). The mayor has declined to account for her overseas trip to Atlanta and how ratepayers’ money to the tune of about R120 000 was used to fund a certain J. Johnson­, who is not a council employee. Ratepayers have read first-hand in the above-mentioned article how the Executive Committee sanctions the mayor’s “irregular” expenses. Councillor Mergan Chetty, who enjoyed the overseas trip and whose father Pops Chetty is on the Exco, is, to date, also­ silent­ and unresponsive on the dubious J. Johnson issue.

To add insult to injury, the smug mayor whose alleged coldness with regard to ratepayers’ money was exposed in The Witness is on record as stating in the same edition of The Witness that: “From next week, you’ll be getting tea only. No more lunches.” Our mayor, Zanele Hlat­shwayo, has openly admitted to an irregular council tradition under her leadership. “Nobody’s going to spend a cent without Exco knowing,” she said. General financial­ practice in any municipality commands that the mayor and Exco must approve expenditure. Judging by her statements, the mayor shows an obvious lack of knowledge of municipal

affairs. Further, while all other council employees take their own lunch boxes to work, the fat cats are fed by ratepayers, while the scrupulous who took their own lunches must queue for credit. This is reminiscent of the French Revolution where the famished people were told by their uninterested queen to eat cake.

Further insult to ratepayers was inflicted by Chief Financial Officer Roy Bridgmohan and Munici­pal Manager Rob Haswell, who have deliberately misled ratepayers, the media and the opposition in council, saying that the city’s finances were never under threat. Deputy Minister Yunus Carrim has conceded that our municipality has failed to apply the Municipal Property Rates Act correctly. This failure has resulted in ratepayers paying superfluous rates. What is annoying is that these unfairly collected rates, which should be an excess in the coffers, have mysteriously vanished.

In addition, there have been allegations that procurement in the municipality, coupled with appointments to posts, is highly questionable. Francis Grantham is the procurement professional while Kevin Perumal, who has been allegedly charged for fraud, is the human resources manager. They are so silent that their calm is disquieting. Ratepayers and the opposition in council have demanded the outcome of the forensic report by Minister Michael Mabuyakhulu but this report has been intentionally concealed. Who is this report protecting? What is strange is that Perumal has been charged and is out on bail for alleged fraud but ironically he is allowed to remain at work.

Our deputy mayor, Mervyn Dirks, adds to the fiasco by stating that the team deployed by the province must not be seen as a “witch hunt” (The Witness, February 19, 2010). The intervention by the province (the African National Congress) must be seen as a witch hunt for, if accounting principles were not disregarded, the city would not be in a financial crisis like Vancouver was in 1932.

The honourable thing for civil society to do, regardless of political allegiance, and with support from ratepayer associations and forums is to demand the immediate resignation of the Exco (the mayor included), Bridgmohan and Haswell. It is time to rid the city of ham-fisted officials and replace them with officials of merit and councillors who are not infected by avarice. It is time for the Concerned Citizens’ Association (CCA) to be revived. The CCA played a critical role in this city with folk like the late Lorraine Kettley. A Rates Action Committee (RAC) needs to be formed to mobilise all ratepayers. All ratepayers should march to the city hall in their numbers and demand the resignation of misleading and inefficient officials. Tomorrow may be too late.

• Rajan Mahalingum is a rate­payer in Pietermaritzburg who supports good and effective governance.

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