Sceptical friends

2010-05-28 00:00

THE Msunduzi Rates Forum (MRF) has pledged its support to the Friends of the City campaign. However, we stress that we will always remain critical of the Msunduzi Municipality who must show its bona fides to the residents of the city too. Many ratepayers are correct in asking for serious­ action to be taken against the former mayor, municipal manager and suspended senior managers that were responsible for the total collapse of the city. “Falling on their swords” is insufficient. They remain unaffected on full pay and continue their game of golf on weekday afternoons while we remain constrained by their incompetence.

The premier and mayor must show their dedication to the campaign­ by releasing the long-demanded forensic report commissioned by former MEC for Co-operative­ Governance and Traditional Affairs Michael Mabuyakhulu. If this report is not released for public scrutiny then something is really not right with our friendship. Our friends must open the closet. For as long as Johann­ Mettler unravels irregularities, such as the former municipal­ manager and senior managers paying themselves metro salaries, we will call for further forensic investigations into such matters. The difference in salaries must be demanded, with interest, from all offending parties.

We welcome the news that the city wants to quit the controversial metering contract. We accept that Mettler is acting decisively and his intervention is genuine. The money paid to Unique Mbane must be recovered from the former municipal manager and all those who flew regularly at the ratepayers’ expense to the offices of Unique Mbane in Port Elizabeth. It is alleged that about 300 meters have already been installed and in excess of R10 million has been paid. If anything, this is wasteful expenditure and an abuse of our rates. A full investigation must be instituted with regard to this contract and all the culprits must be punished accordingly.

Ratepayers are frustrated at having to hear from the MRF and the media that the mayor and city administrator have acknowledged that the valuation roll is flawed. We stressed this to the former mayor and the then Exco some two years ago with realistic evidence in the form of 20 500 objections. These objections were cast aside and our voice was ignored. Now, with a final deadline for the budget to be released by July 1, we have been told by the mayor that the valuations are being addressed by the staff from the rates section of the municipality. The city’s chief valuer signed off and accepted the valuation roll from CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), which was paid close to R30 million for the flawed valuation roll. The correct procedure would be to demand that the millions be returned by CBRE, as it cannot be unduly enriched for a service it failed to provide. This, we maintain, must be part of Mettler’s task.

The MRF has repeatedly pointed out that the Municipal Property Rates Act was not correctly comprehended by CBRE. The Msunduzi Municipality improperly applied­ the act to the detriment of ratepayers in the city. The Municipal Property Rates Act makes clear provision for all municipalities to implement a uniform, transparent and fair rating system. Our municipality failed to apply­ this basic principle of the act. To add, the councillors that attended­ the public meeting on May 5, 2008 at the Civic Centre in Northdale were totally unaware of the act. It will not surprise ratepayers if to date they remain uninformed of the act.

The issue of applications for rates rebates by pensioners and the poor is a domain the well-paid councillors needed to publicise and address among the poverty-stricken and elderly. Sadly, we took this up and the turnout for assistance clearly indicated that councillors failed in their duty to assist the aged and the poor. The MPRA clearly outlines steps for the protection of the poor and the indigent. The city administrator’s assistant stressed to the MRF that Msunduzi’s indigent policy was ancient. Assurance was given that a more realistic policy is in the process of being introduced. We are waiting for this policy.

Returning to the frustration of ratepayers, a very pertinent question calls for an answer: if the valuation roll is flawed, why then must many ratepayers continue to pay the flawed rates? Surely a sense of fairness must take precedence over the budget, which the former Exco failed to produce? The Municipal Property Rates Act, 2004, commenced on July 2, 2005. All municipalities were given until July­ 1, 2009 to prepare valuation rolls and implement them. In 2009, this act was amended to extend the initial four-year transitional period by a further two years, providing for municipalities that had failed to implement it by July 1, 2009. The MRF is of the view that a new valuation roll can be prepared in all fairness to ratepayers by July 1, 2011.

Ratepayers are pressurising the MRF to give consideration to the realistic possibility that all ratepayers be called to deposit their rates into an approved trust fund. These funds must then be utilised for the upkeep and provision of services that rates are generally used for. Perhaps this will urge the Msunduzi Municipality to act swiftly and acknowledge­ the value of ratepayers as the nucleus of the friendship.

• Babs Sithapersad is the chairperson of the Msunduzi Rates Forum.

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