To eat or pay rates?

2014-02-14 00:00

HIGH municipal tariffs are forcing many families to make painful decisions on whether to eat or pay rates, said the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa).

This was heard at a public meeting on tariff increases at the city hall on Wednesday afternoon.

“Families are being forced to make horrific decisions; decisions no family should have to make. Food is being taken off tables. School fees are not being paid. Workers are walking to town. Homes and people are burning from fallen candles …” said Pacsa director Mervyn Abrahams.

The meeting was poorly attended by community members and civic organisations, with only around 30 people present.

It was also the last meeting at which people could make submissions on the increases.

Abrahams said families cannot afford the services; thousands of families have had their electricity disconnected and thousands have been pressed into debt.

“There is a municipal service affordability crisis in this city. Our city has very high levels of unemployment, low wages and high reliance on social grants,” he said.

He said the municipality has the instruments to address the affordability crisis but has shown no inclination to use them.

“You have not restructured your tariffs so people are able to afford how much they actually need. You have not implemented stepped tariffs so that people with different incomes are charged at different rates so that all people can access as much as they need,” he said.

Municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said some of the recommendations made by Pacsa had already been implemented.

The few residents present took the opportunity to complain to the municipality about the treatment meted out to them. Women, mainly from the Cinderella Park area in Eastwood, said the current rates were already not affordable and far exceeded the money they had each month.

One women and her family survived on government grants and therefore she already could not afford the current rates.

Others complained of the spate of electricity disconnections by the municipality for failure to pay debts not linked to electricity. “How are you all helping us?” asked another woman.

She said she lived in an RDP house and had a water bill of thousands of rands. The people who came to disconnect her electricity did not tell her who they were and what they were there for.

She said when she went to negotiate payment so that her lights could be reconnected, she was ordered to pay the full amount.

Chief financial officer Nelisiwe Ngcobo said those who could not afford to pay for their services should approach the municipality to be classified as indigent.

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