Residents take a stand

2009-10-30 00:00

CITY hall is not off the hook over its “flawed” valuation roll. The Msunduzi Rates Forum (MRF) is taking legal action against the council. This is one step in a multi-pronged approach to tackle the rates issue. Another involves setting up a ratepayers’ association for the greater Pietermaritzburg area.

Wednesday night saw the first of a series of meetings that will be held across the city to elect representatives to the association in each area. Despite the wet weather, a large number of residents responded to fliers delivered to their doors and attended. Ten people were elected and, given their interest in city affairs, many volunteered to serve on the committee.

Forum chairman Babs Sithapersad said once all areas have their representatives, the association will be formed. One of its first activities will be a ratepayers’ march on city hall to present a memorandum of demands. These will include calling for the scrapping of the “controversial and contested” valuation roll as well as a review of the “extreme increases” in the monthly rates paid to the municipality, he said.

Sithapersad said they tried engaging with the municipality over the issue. “Our mayor is disrespectful. On two occasions the MRF arranged to meet her, but she never kept appointments. She failed to apologise … This must be seen as nothing but disrespect.”

He added that they tried to find out from the procurement section of the municipality how the valuation company CBR Ellis was appointed for a second time to carry out valuations, after their first attempt was scrapped.

“The procurement section of the council is a law unto itself, they feel they owe nobody any explanation as to how they secured the company to undertake not one, but two valuations of our properties,” he said.

There was loud applause when Sithapersad told the gathering the forum has secured the services of two lawyers free of charge to help in their cause.

He added that while the association is being formed, the work of the MRF will continue.

The attorneys have submitted a memorandum prepared by the forum to the council requesting information relating to the valuations roll. This was delivered on April 6, but the council only made the information available in August.

“This was only after a threat was made that if the information was not forthcoming then the high court was to be approached,” he said.

The forum’s attorneys have lodged an internal appeal to review the roll. “If council fails to respond within 30 days we will instruct our attorneys to institute court action.”

The gathering was also told that the MRF has already embarked on an aggressive fundraising drive in preparation for its impending legal battle. Sithapersad said the money is required to engage senior counsel.

“There is no time to sit back or slumber,” he said.

“If you do, you have no right to complain when council increases rates and electricity in 2010 … When the council burdens you with the new electronic system to monitor water and electricity usage, a system that failed in Port Elizabeth, and is going to cost ratepayers in this city R240 million.”

A volunteer who opted to join the committee to form a ratepayers’ association said he did so because he was inspired by Sithapersad, a retired school principal who is 80 years old, as well as his fellow forum members, many of whom are also retirees.

“You should have seen them going door to door delivering pamphlets for the meeting. Some of them are my former teachers and principals.

“I said to myself, if they can do it then so can I.”

For more information on the rates battle — and if you would like to contribute to the fundraising campaign — contact Sithapersad at 033 391 2143; Roy Bunwarie at 033 387 3007; Minnesh Parmanand at 083 231 9782 and A.H. Banoobhai at 033 387 6006.

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