City of Joburg municipal manager Dr Ndivhoniswani Lukhwareni is facing several contempt of court applications for irregular billing matters which, if granted, could lead him to be imprisoned or fined in his personal capacity.
Attorneys across the city are tearing their hair out because the clients they represent have been granted court orders against the city to rectify their accounts, which have been ignored.
The property owners have either received incorrect accounts, been double-billed, had job cards withheld by the city or had their services terminated.
The matters have gone to court with the property owners, mostly body corporates and estate owners, being granted these orders months ago by the South Gauteng High Court to adjust and back-date, rectify their accounts and stop threatening and/or terminating their services.
Although the property owners did not want to be named, attorney Chantelle Gladwin, representing some of the complainants, said it was very frustrating that the city was ignoring the court orders.
“I think that the municipal manager should be made aware that his personal freedom is at stake if the court finds him in contempt and could order that he be imprisoned until the city has complied with court orders.
“Is he aware that he can personally be held liable for a fine imposed by the court, on a daily basis for all the time the city ignores the orders?” she asked.
Gladwin questioned why, if Lukhwareni knew, was he not answering the claims in court against him and the city.
“Why is he always leaving it to the legal advisers at the city?”
Gladwin said attorneys landed up taking these matters to court as they had exhausted all other avenues to get the accounts rectified with the revenue department and council officials.
“This is being done at the expense of ratepayers who will ultimately fund the legal bills. It all comes at great cost and time, and we are now having to resort to contempt of court applications,” she said, adding that if her firm was alone handling so many cases, there were probably hundreds of other pending contempt cases.
Another attorney, who is also resorting to contempt order applications against the city, but who did not want to be named, said it was ironic that mayor Herman Mashaba continues to “preach” about restoring the rule of law in Joburg while the city itself ignores high court orders. What example does this set for residents? he asked.
City spokesperson Nthathisi Modingoane said the city deals with each matter on its merits and does comply with court orders.
“There are certain delays due to the fact that the city is not the only role player in ensuring compliance with the orders. There are also instances where the applicants delay the application of the court order.
“In the one matter raised by The Star, for example, the applicant alleged that the account is billed on a meter that is not, and has never been at the property, therefore the respondent demands the account to be reversed and adjusted correctly.
“The city would, in cases such as this, require more time to investigate and proceed to resolve the query,” he added.
In another matter, the applicant’s papers only spoke of one meter, however, when the city visited the site, it was established that there were four working meters.
“The city will continue to engage the applicants with the aim of finding an amicable solution.”