eThekwini municipality logo. PHOTO: Supplied
Durban - Durban residents have lashed out at the eThekwini administration after it was revealed that the municipality was owed more than R1billion by government departments and parastatals.

Rishi Singh, a founding member of the Clairwood Ratepayers’ Association, said the current rates for water and electricity for residential consumers were unaffordable, and that people had therefore accumulated arrears.

“Have they cut off those departments that owe them money? Once you are in arrears, you get your services cut off. Why does that rule not apply to the government departments and parastatals? Why does it apply to us at the lower level? These rules are unjust and unfair to ratepayers,” Singh said.

He said the issuing of inflated bills to ratepayers was exacerbating the situation as the municipality took “ages” to resolve reported cases.

Singh was reacting after it was revealed that the municipality’s debt collection rate had dropped to 88.31% between June and August. This translates to a debt increase from R8.7bn to R11.2bn in the same period last year.

The Active Citizens’ Movement also criticised the municipality for the different application of rules when dealing with rates defaulters.

“If you are lenient to government departments and parastatals, then citizens should be treated the same. It’s citizens who vote, so they deserve to be treated with dignity. Arrogance reigns supreme at the municipality and those in charge look down on us,” chairperson Ben Madokwe said.

He said the municipality should have called ratepayers’ associations to make representations regarding the billing system crisis, and that government departments and parastatals should receive the same treatment as ordinary ratepayers.

The DA said the drop in revenue collection was a symptom of the current tough economic times and the “over taxation” of residents.

Human Settlements committee member Heinz de Boer said eThekwini Municipality was heading down the path of financial destruction.

“The problem we have is that people are suffering financially, and with the increased fuel prices and the additional rates which go up year after year, people simply cannot afford to pay for rates and services, water and electricity. The number of billing queries and financial difficulties people are experiencing throughout the city is reaching high proportions,” he said.

“We have called, at committee level, for a review of the debt collection policy, and the other policies which govern the collection of money.

“We believe that we need to look at how we can assist residents and communities, but at the same time collect the money,” De Boer said.

He said it was unacceptable that the government owed the city more than R1bn, and that this should be dealt with.

The IFP’s Mzwethu Gwala blamed a lack of planning on the city management’s part for the failure to collect revenue.

Councillor Mondli Mthembu, chairperson of the Human Settlements and Infrastructure committee, said it was unfair to paint the situation as bad.

“This year, in terms of collection, we are sitting at 88.31%, while last year in the same period we were at 83.85%, so things are not bad.

“We are, however, concerned that with the changing economy people are becoming unable to pay for their rates and services,” he said.

Mthembu said the matter would be escalated to a stage where the executive committee met leaders in the city’s administration and discussed the collection strategy to identify where the city was lacking.

“The collection strategy agreed upon will apply to everyone who owes the city money, from the ratepayers, to government departments and parastatals.

“This different treatment of citizens and government departments is a concern. Residents have raised it before and it will be dealt with,” Mthembu said.

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