Mediation proposal to heal rift between residents and Msunduzi

2014-02-21 00:00

MEDIATION could help heal the many rifts between Msunduzi and its battered residents.

That’s according to the Msunduzi Action Forum (MAF), who want a retired law professor to umpire clashes between the municipality and its residents on burning issues such as tariffs, billing breakdowns and the long-standing grievance over MCB charges.

Mediation as a means of rebuilding trust in the city came up after the MAF hand delivered a three-page declaration of dispute to the municipality on Wednesday. The dispute was born out of the recent bruising battle over massive commercial tariff hikes that saw the business community up in arms. A meeting of more than 300 people listed a number of long-standing grievances. These include:

• tariff hikes;

• ongoing meter reading and billing problems

• the MCB charges;

• escalating electricity disconnection and reconnection fees;

• holding landlords liable for their tenants’ non-payment of electricity; and

• the high cost of pre-paid meters in Msunduzi: R1 500 more than in eThekwini.

Asked what the MAF wanted to achieve from declaring this dispute, convenor Dev Naidoo said, “Mediation”.

Naidoo said he hoped to have a meeting with the municipality to put forward a proposal for the appointment of a retired law professor as mediator. The expert’s role would be to sit with municipal and community representatives to discuss the disputes raised to a point where consensus can be reached, that would be beneficial to both parties.

“We do not want our city to be destroyed, nor do we want to see the municipality go bankrupt by insisting that our demands be met,” Naidoo said. “Our approach is not militant as we want to begin building trust for the sake of our city and so that debacles like the recent commercial tariff crisis does not happen again.”

Naidoo said if such a mediation platform was created, other civic organisations that represent citizens across the spectrum of Pietermaritzburg would be part of the initiative.

Msunduzi Rates Forum (MRF) deputy chairperson Ronnie George said that the issues raised by the MAF were not new and had been raised before by the MRF. George said the MRF would have to meet to discuss the proposal by the MAF.

The Scottsville Ratepayers and Residents Association said it would support a mediation process on electricity and water issues and would seek to bring other community issues to the table. Chairperson Peter Green said they would join the initiative because they felt that they had been “arrogantly ignored” in the past.

Green added however that they were not ruling out a more proactive approach such as protest should the municipality fail to listen, as it had often demonstrated after budget public participation meetings. He said the Scottsville Residents and Ratepayers Association had been disappointed “in the way the municipality has been so lethargic in responding to electricity queries — if they respond at all”.

“We believe that a more innovative scale of rates and tariffs will be more equitable for the low consumers and equally acceptable to high consumers. We have proposed a stepped tariff in past meetings which would encourage less use and benefit the poorer lower consumer households who really try to limit their usage and therefore their costs,” Green said. He believed tariff structure could be an issue for mediation.

Msunduzi spokesperson Brian Zuma confirmed that the municipality had received the copy of the declaration of dispute from the MAF. Zuma said management will go through it, apply its mind and respond accordingly within the stipulated time frame. He would not be drawn to comment on the proposal of mediation at this stage.

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