Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Picture: Archives
Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Picture: Archives

Msunduzi debt relief plan slammed

By Thami Magubane Time of article published Apr 20, 2021

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DURBAN - PLANS by the Msunduzi Municipality to increase revenue collection by offering some relief to indebted customers has come under fire as the city faced accusations of rewarding defaulters.

In terms of the plan, indebted customers could get a 30% discount on their debts provided they met the conditions set by the municipality.

The initiative, termed “Covid-19 relief”, is part of the municipality’s revenue-enhancement strategy.

The municipality desperately needs to raise cash to rein in consumer debt that has ballooned to close to R5 billion and is growing. It also needs to fund maintenance and repairs of infrastructure. Its electricity infrastructure has become unreliable, leading to outages that are threatening the city’s economy.

A report compiled in January by the municipality deals with the initiatives proposed by the budget and Treasury business unit to reduce the customer debt and increase income to finance infrastructure projects in the city.

The report covers strategies to generate revenue, including encouraging businesses to pay their accounts in advance.

“The ever-increasing debtors’ book is a serious concern. There are various efforts currently under way to reduce the debtors’ book and collect the muchneeded arrears due to council,” it said.

It said household debtors with debt dating back to September 2020 would get a 30% discount on their debts if they paid 50% of their debts immediately and the rest in three equal instalments.

DA councillor Sibongiseni Majola said the move was disrespectful to the many consumers who had made plans to keep the municipality afloat by paying their consumer bills on time.

“We suggested to the ruling party that the city should consider the same benefit (discount) for all customers who have been paying and on whose account the municipality has been able to stay afloat, but the ruling party was just not willing to listen.”

ACDP councillor Rienus Niemand said the relief plan was an insult to consumers who paid their accounts. “We are prepared to give a 30% discount to customers who do not pay us, (yet) customers who have been paying their accounts for the past 30 years get nothing. (It’s) just a kick in the teeth of an above-inflation, unaffordable increase in tariffs with not even the slightest improvement in service delivery,” he said.

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said they understood the complaint that the process seemed unfair to those who had paid their bills.

“We are thankful to the customers who have been paying their accounts, but the reason we needed to have this relief programme was to collect the debts outstanding so as to improve the financial position of the municipality.

“We have termed this a Covid relief programme because a lot of people have been battered by Covid-19. This does not mean we do not or are not thankful to the customers who have paid,” she said. Mafumbatha said even among those who had applied, it was not a blanket discount and they would have to give reasons and proof detailing how and why they had defaulted.

THE MERCURY

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