Crackdown on water theft

2018-11-08 15:28

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Umgungundlovu District is out to prosecute and permanently terminate water supply to customers who have illegally reconnected themselves after being disconnected for non-payment.

On Wednesday, municipal manager Dr Ray Ngcobo told The Witness that the revenue enhancement campaign — which has seen thousands of water customers being restricted and disconnected — was yielding positive results, but there were those who still refused to pay.

uMgungundlovu provides water, sanitation and environmental health services to six Midlands municipalities.

The disconnections — which have raised the ire of many customers — were introduced as a tool to clear the R500 million customer debt and sort out its billing system, which Ngcobo said was in chaos.

“When I joined uMgungundlovu in December, the municipality was spending more than R12 million per month buying bulk water but they were not even collecting 50% of that. That became an audit query because it compromised the district’s financial stability,” he said.

Ngcobo said last month the district sent out bills worth more than R20 million and they collected R19 million for the first time in the history of the municipality.

“We’ve tripled our ordinary income … People are coming around and are understanding that they have to pay for water or register as indigents, but we have a problem with those who are illegally reconnecting themselves.

“We know that some of our unscrupulous employees are also carrying out these illegal reconnections so we’ve come up with a plan to deal with them. We cannot supply free services to people who can afford to pay.”

A “revenue protection team” consisting of lawyers, investigators and a tractor — to dig out meters, has been established to deal with the illegal reconnections.

“We have to be very vicious in dealing with this and our by-laws are very clear that if you do this we have to cut off your water supply completely,” he said.

“Some of the cases will be reported to the police because water theft is a criminal offence. Then we will put a legal claim on those water losses.”

Ngcobo said indigents were being restricted to six kilolitres per month.

He said in Richmond some residents were mobilising people to boycott the payments.

“The irony is that most of the people that are complaining and encouraging people not to pay are also not in good standing.

“I was told by my staff that a former councillor that’s been complaining also owed us,” he said.

Some Richmond residents previously alleged that they had an arrangement with the district not to pay, but Ngcobo disputed this, saying such agreement would have been illegal.

“It’s also illegal to mobilise people not to pay for a service they are receiving so we are glad that most of our customers did not boycott the payments.”

Whilst municipalities such as Mooi-Mpofana, which owed uMgungundlovu money, have paid their debts, Ngcobo said they still had a challenge with businesses and some government departments.

“The mayor [Thobekile Maphumulo] will be engaging with the business community to make payment arrangements but we might be forced to cut off government institutions like clinics very soon unless the relevant departments pay what is due to us,” he said.

In terms of replacing ageing infrastructure and buried meters, Ngcobo said the district had received sponsorship of R3,5 million from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, and they were also getting assistance from the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent to formulate a long-term financial recovery plan.

“We’ve already spent about R200 million replacing asbestos pipes in Hilton and Howick, but this sponsorship and support will help us get more funding so we can take the programme to other areas,” said Ngcobo.

Dangerous goods also targeted

Illegal skin whitening creams are being targeted by a campaign to crackdown on expired and dangerous goods being sold in the Midlands.

uMgungundlovu District has threatened to shut down retailers who are operating without licences or found to be selling these goods.

Municipal manager Ray Ngcobo said the environmental health team will be going across the Midlands this month to find the culprits.

“We are going to all the local municipalities, including Msunduzi, but we will be starting in the small towns because we know that most of these retailers hide there,” he said.

The team will also be confiscating products that pose a health hazard, such as the skin whitening creams that are illegal in South Africa.

“We know that there are those selling expired food as well so we will be issuing a lot of fines during the blitz, and once you are fined we will make sure that you cannot operate again.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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