Durban - As ratepayers in the eThekwini Municipality fume over the tariff increases, it has emerged that some councillors in the metro are among those “battling” to pay their municipal bills.
A report for the month of June tabled before the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (Mpac) last week has revealed that close to 45 councillors owe the municipality a combined total of R1.27 million. The report shows that the number of councillors owing has fluctuated in the past few months. In May, there were 35 councillors that owed R1.1m and in April there were 49 councillors that owed R1m.
The report is submitted monthly to the Office of the Speaker.
“Councillors are also subjected to credit-control policies including disconnections, redlining with the credit bureau and legal processes,” the report said. It was not immediately clear yesterday whether any councillors had been subjected to these credit-control measures.
Westville Ratepayers’ Association (WRA) chairperson Asad Gaffar said the situation was improper and unfair.
The WRA is leading a fight to boycott the paying of municipal bills as they argue that the City had not properly consulted with residents before implementing the tariff increases. The association has said that ratepayers would pay their municipal payments into a trust account while the dispute is pending.
The WRA has further argued that the City is not delivering quality services, and has squandered millions.
“The WRA is appalled to learn that 45 councillors in eThekwini have not paid for their municipal services.
“The municipality cannot treat councillors any differently to any ratepayer and this only intensifies our call for a full utility boycott,” he said.
Ish Prahladh, president of eThekwini Ratepayers and Residents’ Association, said credit-control measures should be imposed on these councillors.
“What is good for the goose, is good for the gander, these councillors should have their services disconnected. We as the poor ratepayers, we have our services cut if we miss one month. These councillors that are owing should have garnishee orders on their salaries,” he said.
ActionSA councillor Alan Beesley said: “We believe it is very troubling that more than 20% of eThekwini’s councillors are in arrears with their accounts.”
He said it was no secret that the municipality was facing a debtor’s crisis.
“If 20% of all residents and businesses of eThekwini, fall into arrears with the municipality, the City would simply not have the cash to operate. Councillors should be acting ethically and setting a standard for the payment of municipal accounts,” said Beesley.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said the code of conduct forbade councillors from owing the City.
“The Speaker is the custodian of the code of conduct and should have engaged them on the dangers of not paying, especially since they are the face of the municipality and in light of the fact that ratepayers are boycotting rates.
“Councillors are human and they have problems, but they should try by all means that this does not happen as it discourages those that pay.”
DA councillor Thabani Mthethwa agreed that councillors must comply with the code of conduct for councillors.
“We call on the Speaker as the custodian of the code of conduct to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate action. Councillors, as custodians of the City finances, cannot expect members of the public to settle their accounts when councillors themselves don’t lead by example,” said Mthethwa.
Chairperson of the Mpac, councillor Thami Xuma, said it was unacceptable that public representatives were among those that were owing the municipality.
He said the committee would call on city manager Musa Mbhele to account to the committee on the action that had been taken. He said they would demand a full breakdown of the debt.
“The challenge with the report is that it does not give a detailed breakdown and how much each councillor owes.”
The revelations come as the WRA has intensified its battle regarding the rates boycott. In a recent letter, the WRA has called for the City’s budget to be declared illegal because the electricity tariffs the City had imposed had been rejected by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa).
“In this budget a tariff of 18.49% for electricity was adopted. When the tariff of 18.49% for electricity was adopted, this was done without Nersa approval and this was illegal.”
Nersa recently confirmed that it had not approved the 18.49% tariff increase and had instead approved a 15.1% increase.
The WRA said the municipality was aware that the 18.49% was above the 15.1% that would be approved by Nersa and therefore it had presented an illegal electricity tariff to the public knowing full well that the possibility existed that Nersa may not approve it.