Case over uMngeni rates put on ice

2008-05-07 00:00

Umngeni Municipality and a Hilton ratepayer, Rolf Warber, agreed at the Pietermaritzburg High Court yesterday to put aside their dispute — at least temporarily — over the legality of how rates are collected.

The agreement came after the municipality had approached the court for an order seeking to prohibit Warber from instituting further legal proceedings unless a court ruled that the proceedings are "not an abuse of the process of the court".

Judge Ron McLaren told the parties he was reluctant to grant an order with such far-reaching consequences and effectively "close the doors of the court" to a litigant, and he suggested possible compromises.

Afterwards, Warber and advocate Rob Seggie, for uMngeni, agreed that the case be adjourned indefinitely. The matter can, however, be set down again on the roll by either party.

Meanwhile, the court was told that Warber will consider his options regarding three other cases he has brought against the municipality in Howick.

The dispute concerns Warber’s allegation that the municipality is using incorrect legislation to collect rates.

Warber told Judge McLaren it was never his intention to harass anyone, but only to see that justice is done.

He agreed that "in a nutshell" his application is based on a genuine belief that the procedures employed by the municipality are irregular, while the municipality argues that its actions are above board and that existing court judgments, including one by KZN Judge President Vuka Tshabalala and the Supreme Court of Appeal, favour its interpretation over Warber’s.

During a discussion with the judge, Warber confirmed that he has brought three different cases before the Equality Court in Howick and three others in Pietermaritzburg, and that he has taken steps to initiate criminal proceedings against individuals on the basis that their conduct in attempting to recover rates (allegedly in contravention of various statues) amounts to fraud.

Only the Howick matters are pending, the court heard, and the judge suggested that it might be possible for them to be combined.

He warned Warber that as a captain in the SA Police Service and a property owner, an adverse cost order might be awarded against him. Litigating in the high court is "very costly", he said, and a person with nothing might have nothing to lose, but Warber has assets to pay costs.

In an affidavit before the court, uMngeni municipal manager Dumisani Vilakazi said Warber has instituted at least six cases in various equality courts against the municipality, all stemming from his allegations that the municipality is levying rates using the incorrect legislation.

He has also laid two criminal charges of fraud against the municipality, and has written numerous letters to the municipality and the press alleging that uMngeni is levying rates under incorrect legislation.

"I am informed … that [Warber] has incited numerous persons whom the [municipality] has sued for rates to defend such actions," Vilakazi said, adding that at meetings Warber has urged others not to pay rates. He purports to act as part of the "Just Rates Group".

Vilakazi alleged that Warber’s actions are "vexatious" and said the municipality cannot ignore the litigation, but is forced to defend the applications. This requires it to spend ratepayers’ money that could be better used improving the lives of the people living in the municipal area, he added.

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