Durban - Msunduzi Municipality passed its budget yesterday with the ANC using its majority in council to adopt it, drawing criticism from opposition parties and civil society because of its tariff hikes.
According to Msunduzi mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla, the R11 billion budget for the province’s capital, Pietermaritzburg, is a combination of ensuring stability and building a foundation for economic growth, investment and revenue enhancement.
While he outlined a number of projects earmarked for the 2023/24 financial year, which include repairing 2 500 street lights, upgrading roads and repairing water pipes to deal with water leaks, it was the tariffs that became the focal point of the budget.
In the presented budget the key tariff hikes included:
- Property rates – 7% increase
- Electricity – 21.49% increase
- Sanitation – 16% increase
- Water – 10% increase
The mayor insisted that the budget process had considered many inputs, including from opposition parties.
“We were taught to listen to the opposition because it is not everything they say which is bad, so we thank the opposition parties for their input on the budget,” the mayor told the sitting.
Both the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the DA expressed opposition to the budget, saying the municipality had not factored in the outcry against the tariff hikes.
The ACDP described the budget as shocking, unaffordable and a desperate attempt to deal with years of mismanagement by the governing party.
“The ACDP most definitely does not support this budget. The public, who by the way will be expected to provide the taxes to finance this budget, can only be disgusted and dismayed at such incompetence. Mismanagement must not be compensated,” said ACDP councillor Rienus Niemand.
He challenged the government to work with what was affordable by the public, warning that the increases were beyond ridiculous.
“The ACDP cannot, and will not, be a party to such,” he said.
DA Msunduzi caucus leader Ross Strachan described the hikes as ludicrous, questioning the wisdom behind such a move.
He cited the National Treasury’s directive on cost reflective tariffs to be phased in over a few years, something, he said, the municipality had not done.
“Due to the administration’s inability to plan or manage accordingly, Msunduzi has pushed the tariffs into an unaffordable bracket. The economy is growing at less than 1% and residents/businesses are still suffering the aftermath of Covid-19, the riots, and yet we seek to plunge our local economy deeper in distress,” he said.
He added that all the tariff hikes should be in line with inflation, at a 6% cap.
The Pietermaritzburg & Midlands Chamber of Business also expressed opposition to the increases, labelling them “indefensible”.
CEO Melanie Veness called on the city to put measures in place to ensure that all customers were paying for municipal services.
“You cannot bill a small percentage of ratepayers and then keep hitting them with unreasonable increases to make up for the excessive losses from theft, poor maintenance and mismanagement. It is so bad that Msunduzi’s total electricity billing does not even cover the cost of bulk electricity purchases anymore,” she said.
She indicated they would approach the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to request that Msunduzi’s increase be limited to the Nersa-recommended tariff for municipalities.
The Msunduzi Association of Residents, Ratepayers and Civics were set to meet last night to discuss the passing of the budget.