Without a blush

2013-10-02 00:00

AS shown in The Witness article of September 18, titled “There is something rotten”, anyone who has received a water account from the uMgungundlovu District Municipality(UMDM) in the past month will have noticed that the cost of water has escalated dramatically, even though UMDM maintains that the overall increase is in the region of 11%.

How is it possible that increases, which in many cases amounted to more than 60%, managed to pass unhindered through the scrutiny of a district council budget workshop?

The answer to the question, which shows the depths to which UMDM has sunk in order to increase its income without alerting everyone to what it was actually doing, is contained in the amalgamation of the 2012/13 tariffs in a document presented to councillors at the UMDM budget workshop.

These figures created the impression that in some usage bands there was actually a price reduction. However, a check of the rates charged and the usage bands that were in effect in 2012/13 shows a totally different picture. This indicates that the UMDM management has concocted a complicated scheme to mislead both councillors and consumers.

Quite simply, they amalgamated some tariffs and, without blushing, came up with a tariff that is higher than either of the tariffs that they started with. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what has been done — they don’t mean you to.

The fact that the UMDM management manufactured 2012/13 tariff scales which had not previously existed, for the sole purpose of justifying the new tariffs, is astounding.

A municipal budget is produced by highly paid professionals and therefore the chances of an unskilled error must be ruled out.

This behaviour, believe it or not, does not take the first prize in creativity.

The Witness article of June 7 states that the uMgungundlovu District council approved an increase of 11% in its water tariffs. How is this possible, I hear you ask, when consumers are complaining about increases in excess of 50%?

If you add up all the 2012/13 tariffs (four bands), and then add up the 2013/14 tariffs (three bands) — this awards you an 11% increase and uMgungundlovu the well-deserved first prize for its efforts to bamboozle the consumer.

The municipal manager, Sbu Khuzwayo, stated in The Witness of September 5 that the changes to the band structure and the new tariffs were communicated to the public through a series of public meetings. What he failed to say was that the public meetings were held in only three of the six municipalities involved, and that uMngeni, the municipality with the highest number of water consumers in the areas supplied by the district, did not crack the nod for a public-participation meeting.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has opposed this budget and the tariffs in council as it could not allow citizens to be exploited in this manner and felt that if UMDM did something about the ageing infrastructure and the resultant water losses, such hefty increases would not be necessary. Unfortunately, the DA was outvoted.

At a meeting with the management of the UMDM, uMngeni DA councillors Moira Grueneberg and Pam Passmoor were asked to submit alternative tariffs, which the municipal manager promised would be considered by the executive committee and council.

As cognisance must be taken of the fact that UMDM is subsidising water sales and is currently operating at a loss, the uMngeni DA proposal, which will be submitted, would give some relief to domestic consumers and encourage residents to conserve water.

However, as tariffs can only be changed in the mid-term review in January 2014, the DA suspects that UMDM is hoping that this saga will have blown over by then.

The management of the uMgungundlovu District Municipality should, at the very least, put its cards on the table and be transparent about what it is doing and the reasons why. Consumers are not stupid. It might take a while to wade through and understand the tariffs and the bands, but in the end, as the Bible says in Proverbs: “Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.”

• Pam Passmoor is the DA’s uMngeni caucus leader.

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