Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Picture: Shan Pillay
Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Picture: Shan Pillay

Msunduzi Municipality may criminally charge residents for stealing water, electricity

By Thami Magubane Time of article published Aug 26, 2021

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DURBAN - THE Msunduzi Municipality is looking into whether it can criminally charge residents found stealing water and electricity through illegal connections.

Councillors in the municipality have proposed that the municipality open criminal charges against those stealing, and the municipality conceded that it had been considering the idea for almost a year.

The issue emerged as the city was looking at a report on illegal connections during a full council meeting yesterday.

The municipality is suffering massive losses through theft, illegal connections and non-payment, and is owed close to R5 billion by ratepayers.

DA councillor Ross Strachan said illegal connections were everywhere in the city and not only posed a danger to residents, but was also a crime. He said that in his ward this week, a child was almost seriously injured by an illegal connection.

“The municipality should be opening criminal cases with SAPS when the municipality has exhausted all internal processes, especially when the transgressors continue to contravene and steal services through illegal connections,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Msunduzi Municipality public safety and security departments have no arresting powers, no capacity to enforce our by-laws effectively, and little support from management. Therefore, the fight against illegal connections is going to be an endless battle that will not bear any success without criminal consequences.”

Strachan said the municipality needed to have the political will and capacity to implement and enforce by-laws.

“This needs to be prioritised to ensure our devastatingly high bulk service losses, that continues to cripple our municipality, is curbed.”

Other councillors agreed that the theft was widespread, but were unsure that opening criminal cases would produce the desired results.

They said many people in the city were stealing, including people who lived in wealthy suburbs.

They said while there was a need to deal with the thieves, the city could not rely on police and should instead beef up its own security to deal with the matter.

Municipal manager Madoda Khathide said the issue of opening criminal cases was something they had debated for a year with their legal unit.

He said the council had asked its legal department about opening up criminal cases, but it had had concerns that taking such matters to court would require producing evidence and there were challenges around this in an electricity theft case.

He said there was also another view that had been raised by the city’s internal audit unit that the theft of services had a criminal element to it.

Mosa Molapo, general manager for corporate services, said taking matters to court without sufficient evidence could result in the municipality being flagged by the auditor-general for irregular expenditure, as those cases would be thrown out.

She said before the municipality could take those stealing to court, it first needed to fine-tune its steps to investigate and gather evidence on the theft to make sure it had a solid case to take to court.

“If there is an illegal connection, someone must do the legwork to make sure that the matter is processed correctly for when the matter is taken to court,” she said.

The council resolved to stand the matter down while it investigated whether the sanction being proposed could be implemented.

THE MERCURY

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