Smaller parties have the muscle to make good on their promises regarding rates increases, says analysts
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Durban: When the ANC failed to win an outright majority in eThekwini, it also lost the ability to increase rates and utilities as it saw fit.
This week, as the city invited stakeholders to provide input on how much rates should rise in 2022, opposition parties vowed to ensure that any increase remained affordable.
Political analysts say that for the first time in many years the smaller parties have the muscle to make good on their promises.
In recent years, those in charge of eThekwini pushed through above-inflation increases for rates and utilities despite protests from business leaders and ratepayer associations.
These stakeholders pointed out that while they were paying more, the areas in which they lived and worked were not being adequately serviced and maintained and as a result were becoming shabby.
There were frequent and longer periods without water and electricity. Garbage was not collected. Roads were littered with potholes. Verges were overgrown and dirty. Parks were not maintained. Crime increased and, generally, by-laws were not enforced.
They also criticised the city for having a bloated staff, too many of whom lacked the skill for the job they were hired to do. What’s more, despite the falling levels of service delivery, staff were well paid and even received 13th cheques.
Mdu Inkosi, the eThekwini Metro chairperson for the IFP, said the municipality needed to understand that many ratepayers could not afford steep hikes because they had lost their jobs during Covid and the unrest in July last year.
“For the first time, the ANC will not have full control over decisions that affect the pockets of ratepayers. We will not support a hike that is unreasonable.”
Visvin Reddy, the leader of African Democratic Change (ADeC), said: “The ratepayers’ money is being abused. You would find in a suburb like Chatsworth those living in formal housing are constantly having to deal with water cuts and electricity outages while neighbouring informal settlements have these services without interruptions. Ratepayers are funding the poor communities and those that are unemployed and this must stop.”
Reddy said the party planned a submission to government for a wealth tax that would help subsidise the informal areas.
“A report done by the company Applied Development Research Solutions revealed that about 354 000 South Africans have an average wealth of R17.8 million. If each person is taxed three percent of that wealth it will accumulate to R189 billion. This money can be used to develop informal areas. Municipalities throughout the country would not have to rely on ratepayers.“
Reddy added that for the first time in 20 years democratic decisions would be made in council and would not discriminate against Indian and coloured communities as was the case previously.
“The ANC is now unable to govern the city without other political parties. We supported the ANC because they supported our proposal for service delivery but if we find the tariff increases to be unreasonable, we will lobby a motion of no confidence against them.”
Vusi Khoza, the KZN chairperson of the EFF, said the party would advocate for the poor to be exempt from paying rates.
“This will include those receiving Sassa grants, single mothers, widows and those using their home to foster orphaned or abandoned children. We believe that those who are wealthy must subsidise the poor.”
He added: “Everything happening to the ANC is well deserved. Not having the majority seats in council has humbled them. They can no longer make a decision that is anti-poor. They are now forced to consult with us.”
Nicole Graham, eThekwini caucus leader of the DA, said they have a problem with how much people are charged for rates, the number of people paying for rates and what the rates are used for.
“For years the rates pool in the city has been too small. There are too few people paying for too much. This pool of people is not growing, making it unsustainable.”
Graham said the party’s focus was the upcoming budget.
“For the first time the ANC does not hold the majority and we want to make sure that the budget reflects what is going on in the city and that it actually responds to the needs of people.”
Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi, the leader of the MF, said: “Homeowners whose properties are devalued and who face continuous water and electricity outages due to infrastructure breakdown need to get rates relief for the economic burdens and social distress experienced not having water and electricity for basic needs such as bathing and cooking.”
She said residents were never reimbursed for damaged equipment, structures or wasted food when there were electricity outages.
Patrick Pillay, leader of the Democratic Liberal Congress, said the party would push for a rates relief for widows.
“Widows are a category of people in our society who are always overlooked and do not receive any benefits from the government or the private sector. Widows are burdened with huge debts and many become helpless and feel hopeless. Therefore, it is imperative that they are considered in the city’s rates policy.
Pillay said the party would lobby for a zero increase in rates.
“For the first time, a fair decision can be made because the ANC no longer has the majority say. They have no choice but to consult with other parties before making a decision.”
Political analyst Bheki Mngomezulu said: “This is the chance for smaller parties to make the change they talked about during the elections. This is an opportunity for the smaller parties to prove a point and make their presence felt.”
Msawakhe Mayisela, the spokesperson for the city, said the budget process for 2022/23 would begin in March and any increase would be finalised in May.
“This (the increase) will be influenced by many factors which will be taken into consideration, like CPIX (Consumer Price Index), National Treasury guidelines on tariff increase limits, the revenue required to fund the proposed budget shortfall, implementation of the new general valuation roll and other economic conditions prevailing in the country, including the current pandemic.”
Residents who want to make submissions on the draft rates policy for 2022/23 can email [email protected] by January 31.