Rates act ‘bad for the poor’

2009-09-10 00:00

MSUNDUZI Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo admitted to a National Council of Provinces (NCOP) committee yesterday that the Property Rates Act has caused more harm than good to the poor residents of Pietermaritzburg.

Presenting the challenges faced by the municipality, alongside the mayor, councillors and municipal manager of the uMgungundlovu District municipality, to the NCOP members at the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature, Hlatshwayo said that in the greater Edendale area, for example, indigent residents now find themselves eligible to pay for rates.

Hlatshwayo said that the market value of old houses in the greater Edendale area has more than doubled, but in many cases homeowners are either indigent or unemployed and therefore unable to pay rates.

She said the act appears not to differentiate in terms of geographic area, as a house that was previously valued at R250 000 in Imbali has shot up to just over R400 000 in market value. Some of these houses are old and are actually depreciating in value, she said.

“I ask the NCOP to assist us when reviewing the act,” said Hlatshwayo.

The mayor told NCOP members that the council is struggling to collect its revenue from residents and that government departments owe them millions in unpaid rates.

The use of debt collectors by the municipality, said Hlatshwayo, plunges the poor into more debt as they borrow money from loan sharks to pay the council.

“Government departments owe the municipality R86,7 million in rates. We need the revenue so that we can address some of our challenges,” said Hlatshwayo.

Some of these, she said, are backlogs in sanitation, water, roads, housing and electricity. “The backlog for electricity had been decreased to 3 714 households, however, the resolution to electrify some semi-informal settlements has increased it to about 4 841. The backlog does not include housing schemes still to be built,” she said.

Msunduzi municipal manager Rob Haswell said that it is a great myth that municipalities are self sufficient. Haswell said relying on rates and electricity revenue to effect development is not enough.

uMgungundlovu District told the NCOP members that the council is just three percent shy of getting “blue” status as a clean water supplier, while Msunduzi Municipality is a mere one percent from getting blue status. Municipal manager Sbu Khuzwayo said that by November the district would have reached blue status.

Khuzwayo and District Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee told the NCOP that the council faces serious challenges of sanitation in the Howick and Mkhambathini (Camperdown) areas. They said that the municipality is confronted with water and sanitation infrastructure that is more than 60 years old and in need of major upgrades or total overhaul.

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