Durban - Civil society organisations have reacted with outrage to the Msunduzi Municipality’s proposed tariff increases, which include a 21.65% hike for electricity, saying the City wants to hike the cost of services but is struggling with water and electricity supply.
They say the current consultative meetings, which the municipality is holding with different stakeholders, are an empty gesture and contend that the municipality simply wants to be seen to have involved all parties before arriving at a decision to increase tariffs.
Following the publication this month of the municipality’s proposed tariffs increases for the 2023/24 financial year – which will include a 21% increase for electricity and a 35% increase for water – lobby groups said they would use all available platforms to express their opposition to the proposed increases which include a:
◆ 7% increase on rates,
◆ 21.65% increase for electricity,
◆ 35% increase for water,
◆ 35% increase for sanitation,
◆ 7% increase for refuse and 4.5% for other municipal charges.
Civil society groups and community leaders have cited lengthy power outages that have been experienced in all parts of the KwaZulu-Natal capital as an example of how poorly the municipality has performed when it comes to service delivery. Some areas have seen waves of service-delivery protests over water, prompting the municipality to source water tankers in order to provide water to areas such as Vulindlela.
Lobby group Msunduzi Economic Development Agency (Meda) said the consultations had become an annual exercise that did not yield any results.
Meda chairperson Kantha Naidoo said: “This is nothing but a box-ticking exercise where the municipality leaves a picture of an organisation that consults widely and takes different views seriously, when this is not the case.”
She said despite this, they would continue to record their dissatisfaction and their opposition to the increases which she warned would suffocate many businesses. She noted that business operations had been slow owing to the general slowdown in the economy, and expressed concern at the impact of the proposed increases.
“The problem here is that there are many who cannot afford to pay and now they will have to pay more.”
Naidoo challenged the municipality to demonstrate that it valued the input of civil society by heeding the calls against increases.
Mervyn Abrahams, programme co-ordinator for the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, said the proposed increases would severely affect many households that were already battling to make ends meet.
The lobby group tracks the price of a food basket, checking how much an average household spends in order to get healthy food each month.
He pointed out that families would be forced to choose between paying for services or feeding their families and financing school and work trips.
“This is likely to see more people getting disconnected because they cannot afford electricity, and more illegal connections,” Abrahams warned.
He acknowledged that the municipality needed to grow in order to provide a range of services to its customers, but insisted that a better mechanism had to be developed.
“Msunduzi must institute a proper survey on affordability of services and then engage National Treasury on the matter so that it gets more funding from the equitable share,” Abrahams said.
He said that previous input from civil society had not been considered by the City’s political leadership and this had resulted in a development of mistrust from civil society.
Responding yesterday, Msunduzi mayor Mzi Thebolla described such sentiments as unfair and insisted that the municipality did take the input of all role-players seriously. He said this was reflected by the fact that the municipality had decided to undertake a second round of consultations with stakeholders over the proposed increases.
“The fact is we invited different stakeholders to consultative meetings with the municipality to discuss the matter of tariffs and when there was a poor response to this we undertook the second round, which is currently under way. To me, that is not a practice of ticking boxes,” Thebolla said.
He said the increases in water and electricity were determined at national level, adding that in its pricing structure the municipality simply wanted to ensure that, when delivered, such services did not incur losses.
Attempts to get comment from Melanie Veness, the Pietermaritzburg & Midlands Chamber of Business chief executive, were unsuccessful, but it is understood that members of the lobby group will meet with the municipality tomorrow. The DA’s Ross Strachan and IFP’s Dennis Ntombela were also not available for comment.