Schools face power, water cuts

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IOL  DF powercut 2907 a DFA Several schools in Kimberley could soon be without water and electricity following non-payment of rates by Public Works.

Kimberley - Several schools in Kimberley could be without water and electricity from Thursday following non-payment of municipal rates by the Department of Public Works, which owes the Sol Plaatje Municipality more than R26 million.

The payment of municipal taxes is the responsibility of the Department of Public Works.

Dr Jaco Deacon, Deputy CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), said on Thursday that Fedsas member schools in Kimberley had received letters stating that their water and electricity supply would be cut on Thursday (July 31), should payment not be received.

“Schools are responsible for the cost of the consumption of water and electricity while the Department of Public Works has to pay municipal taxes. These schools’ accounts are fully paid, but Public Works owes the Sol Plaatje Municipality millions.”

Deacon added that the Department of Public Works in the Northern Cape and the Sol Plaatje Municipality were scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the situation. “However, the deadline for payment is Thursday, which means schools will probably be without water and electricity in any event.”

Deacon added that Fedsas understood the pressure this situation placed on the municipality.

“The millions owed by Public Works is resulting in the municipality struggling to deliver services. It is a vicious circle and now the children are the victims.”

The Sol Plaatje Municipality confirmed on Tuesday that the letters had been handed to the Department of Public Works as well as the schools affected.

Municipal spokesman, Sello Matsie, said four schools (which was the number of schools that made up the sample that was selected) were affected.

“The letters were sent out on Friday last week.” He added that the only response had been queries from three of the schools regarding the notices.

The department owes the municipality a total of R23.6 million, which is mainly comprised of outstanding rates. The total paid last year was R15.7 million. There are a total of 138 school properties in the city that the department is responsible to pay the rates for.

Matsie added that the meeting scheduled for today would give the municipality some direction regarding the arrangements that the department would have to make to prevent municipal services from being cut at the schools.

A total of 26 accounts were targeted by the municipality and these received similar letters. “A top to bottom approach was used to select debtors who owe the Municipality R1 million or more - and 26 accounts were selected in total. This is an on-going project as we are currently in the process of moving to local businesses indebted to the municipality and where no arrangements are in place.”

The Northern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works said on Tuesday that the payment of rates and taxes was previously done by National Public Works, but this function devolved to the Provinces.

“This meant the budget was also devolved as a grant to Provinces until last year. This grant was never enough to pay for all provincial properties even before the devolution,” department spokeswoman, Crystal Robertson, said.

She added that the department was aware of the challenge in terms of the payment of rates and taxes, and added that this was being attended to.

“We are not in a position to disclose how much Sol Plaatje is owed as this figure is in dispute due to ownership of certain properties billed. We cannot report on municipal services bills as services are paid for by the individual user departments.”

She added that the Department of Roads and Public Works was sometimes billed for both rates and services in one bill “and as explained we are responsible for rates only”. “Reasons for blackouts cannot always be attributed to outstanding rates and taxes bills as we know,” she stated. “The department is actively attending to this matter and we firmly hope to resolve it within the soonest timeframe possible.”

Earlier this month (on July 9) a court order was granted which determined that the Emfuleni Local Municipality is not allowed to cut the water supply to public schools in the Vanderbijl Park area due to the non-payment of municipal taxes by the Department of Public Works. Several other schools across the country have experienced similar problems.

Fedsas, together with Afriforum, brought the Emfuleni appeal before the court. “Despite the previous court order and the country’s laws, government entities are simply continuing as if they are above the law. Fedsas will not hesitate to approach the court again should this matter not be resolved satisfactorily.”

Fedsas also called for action against government officials responsible for this situation.

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