Pitbull nets millions

2010-08-27 00:00

CITY electricity thieves coughed up more than R7million in fines and reconnection fees by Monday, enabling the cash-strapped municipality to pay salaries this month.

Time is also running out for government departments, which have until 4 pm today to settle their outstanding municipal accounts or face disconnection.

Meter readers are also under scrutiny as the city’s turnaround team has found that despite “astronomical” amounts paid to the meter reading contractors, evidence is mounting that meters across the city are not being read.

Details of these desperate measures to keep ­Pietermaritzburg financially afloat were presented to the council’s executive committee (Exco) yesterday.

The R7million was collected in just three weeks since the launch of Operation Pitbull, a campaign to ferret out businesses illegally connected to the city’s electricity and water grids.

Councillors expressed shock that such a large sum was collected in such a short time, from less than a tenth of the 75% of small and medium businesses fingered as illegal users of electricity and water.

Administrator Johann Mettler said the aim is to cover the entire city and root out the thieves in every suburb.

The money has been pouring in because the Pitbull team removed electricity meters wherever there were illegal connections, totally shutting off all sources of power. Meters are put back only when all the charges have been paid, including fines, reconnection fees, and back charges.

A Victoria Road company paid over R500 000 and Sapa reports a case where another company paid close to R700 000 into the municipal coffers. “We hope to perform the same miracle next month and Operation Pitbull will continue until we cover the entire city,” Mettler told Exco.

Turning to government departments, he said: “We will know by 4 pm which departments have paid and who hasn’t. We will make our decision then,” he said.

The provincial government owes the municipality R101 million in total, including arrears. The money will enable the municipality to pay Eskom, which gives no grace, charging municipalities interest as soon as payments are late.

Mettler outlined the city’s current cash flow, which reflects a liquidity crisis in which money is being paid out as soon as it comes in. He said they have no choice but to be tough, as the Eskom payment stands between the municipality and liquidity. “We need to find the money somewhere,” Mettler added.

The people paying the price are small and medium-size suppliers to the municipality, who are being placed at the back of the queue when it comes to payment. “This is not a healthy situation and creates big problems for the small and medium size suppliers that have service contracts with us.”

 

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