PMB’s power ‘war’

2011-07-04 00:00

BUSINESSES in Pietermaritzburg have declared war on the Msunduzi Municipality, saying its latest action is yet another example of the contempt with which they are treated.

“Enough, no more”, say a group of business owners who are joining forces to take on the municipality, saying they are sick and tired of being labelled electricity thieves and treated as dispensable cash cows. [See story on page 3: How business intends to fight back].

For many the last straw was on Friday when landlords, estate agents and tenants were caught off guard by a clause in Msunduzi’s new credit control policy, which came into effect on July 1.

The new policy states that landlords — and not tenants or actual consumers of water and electricity — have to sign the service agreement with the municipality.

Former councillor and businessman Osman Ganie said this was done without consultation and the new policy has been so poorly thought out that it is bound to cause even more chaos in the crisis-ridden municipality.

Ganie, who is involved in the initiative that sees businessmen joining forces to take on the municipality, said that in effect the landlord is going to end up doing the municipality’s credit control work for it.

He said it is a situation open to all sorts of interpretations and abuses and will be fraught with problems. Enforcing the policy will turn into a logistical nightmare as many property owners don’t live in the city, he warned.

Jenny Hunter, who works for one of the larger estate agencies in the city, was one of the many people who contacted The Witness on Friday to describe her experience at the municipal offices at 333 Church Street.

“I went down to assist two new tenants get their water and electricity connected in their name.

“The lady at the counter said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do it any more, we’ve just been told this morning that the only person who can come in and get the electricity connected is the landlord’.

“There was no forewarning. The landlords for these properties don’t live in Pietermaritzburg, so how was this going to happen?

“I was told to get the landlord to sign over power of attorney to me. This is madness! There is no way any property owner is going to do this as they will lose control of their funds. What stops an unscrupulous person from running away with their money?” she asked.

Hunter said that all around her there were similar exclamations of shock from tenants and other estate agents. By mid-morning there were more than eight people trying to sort out the mess. They demanded to see senior officials, most of whom were suddenly not available.

“Why were they disappearing in the middle of a crisis and when a new policy was coming into effect?

“A secretary to one of the officials who had disappeared, waved a piece of paper in front of us, saying, ‘You were informed this is the

notice that was in the paper’. We eventually got her to hold the paper still so that we could read it and it had nothing to do with the credit policy. It was a notice of the new rates and tariffs coming into effect,” said Hunter.

Eventually a senior official arrived, who said the municipality had held an imbizo, which was sufficient public notice.

Hunter said he told them that attorneys have advised that the municipality is not obliged to give the consumer any notice.

Another businessman said he had applied for 300 pre-paid meters for his buildings.

He was told that the municipality could not supply them as it could only buy 30 pre-paid meters at a time, because of the debt incurred when the municipality collapsed.

Ganie said it has been this kind of reaction that has prompted businesspeople to get together to see what they can do.

“The local business community is fed up. We had the former mayor, Mike Tarr, go on national television and label all of us electricity thieves. We are now discovering that a lot of the problems were because of failures in their own systems,” said Ganie.

Msunduzi spokesperson Brian Zuma said he is certain the new mayor and administrator would want to discuss the issues with business. “I don’t believe the municipality wants to see unhappy ratepayers. Similarly I am certain that the ratepayers won’t want to see the municipality go down; there can be engagement.”

Landlords outraged by electricity policy change

THE Msunduzi Municipality’s 2011/2012 credit control and debt collection policy was passed at the last sitting of the previous council, just before the local government elections on May 18. The municipality admits it did not carry out a proper public consultation process on its 2011/12 budget and accompanying policy changes because of the process of getting a workable budget and integrated development plan (IDP) for the crisis-ridden municipality.

The credit control policy with regard to landlords reads:

“Before being provided with electricity, water and/or other customer services, and prior to taking occupation of premises, only the owner shall enter into a service agreement for the provision of such services, i.e. no tenant will be permitted to enter any service agreement in his/her name, provided that, in the event that the owner is not resident within the municipal area, he may sign a power of attorney, which permits some other person to act on his behalf for the purposes of entering into a service agreement.”

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