Mayor ‘didn’t know’

2014-01-23 00:00

IT’S official! Pietermaritzburg businesses don’t have to cough up a cent of the crippling electricity tariff hike reflected in their January accounts. Their electricity will not be disconnected and until new tariffs, based on a seven percent increase, are reflected on accounts, businesses can pay the amounts reflected on their October 2013 accounts.

Yesterday’s full Msunduzi council sitting accepted the National Energy Regulator of South Africa’s order to reverse the 900% tariff increases the municipality had imposed on city businesses. However, it was a bitter pill for some in council to swallow, with officials still playing the blame game and Mayor Chris Ndlela saying he had not known that people were upset over the tariffs.

Ndlela said no one had spoken to him personally, adding that he did not rely on second-hand information from the press.

“It is going to be important that we don’t appear to be arrogant. Because of this we apologise to the people affected as a matter of principle,” he said.

However, he added that he had to say — “with the greatest deal of humility” — that “not even one aggrieved person came forward and raised the issue directly with me”.

“I am not a great reader of newspapers, except certain articles, unlike some of us who rely on newspapers for their information,” he said.

Ndlela also took a shot at the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB), saying it was within its rights to act on behalf of its members, “but it was quite mind-boggling to read in the newspapers how this affected business confidence when this was not communicated to us”.

“There was a meeting alleged to have taken place at the PCB on Monday. How do they expect us to know about the meeting if we are not PCB members?” he asked.

The Witness asked Speaker Babu Baijoo, who had been contacted by the downtown business community about their grievances, why he had not communicated this to the mayor. Baijoo replied that the council had been in recess at the time and he did not get hold of Ndlela.

Municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi insisted that Nersa had not been clear in the information it provided on the tariffs.

The full council later adopted a resolution, proposed by DA councillor Mergan Chetty, placing a moratorium on the tariff hikes, with businesses going back to paying the amounts on their October accounts. Chetty said he found Ndlela’s comment about not being personally contacted regarding the matter “astounding”.

DA councillor Roger Ashe said the episode had severely damaged business confidence in the city.

• Compounding an uncomfortable meeting for Ndlela was the auditor-general’s indictment of the municipality’s finances. She gave the municipality a qualified audit — a regression after two years of unqualified audit reports.

Full story on page 3

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