Faced with poor service delivery, ratepayers question municipal tariff hikes

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Faced with poor service delivery, ratepayers question municipal tariff hikes

Municipal tariff hikes kicked in on 1 July and with ratepayers having to fork out a little more for their services, many say they are battling to see the value for their hard-earned money. Municipalities say they are in a catch-22 situation, saying that non-payment affects service delivery.

FILE: Potholes in Mahikeng. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News
  • City of Tshwane
  • City of Joburg
  • Service delivery
  • Rising cost of living
  • Municipal tariffs

JOHANNESBURG – The recent municipal tariff increases are a bitter pill to swallow for many of the country’s middle-income consumers, already in dire straits over inflationary pressures affecting the cost of food and fuel among others.

Municipal tariff hikes kicked in on 1 July and with ratepayers having to fork out a little more for their services, many say they are battling to see the value for their hard-earned money, placing focus, especially on the electricity crisis after the energy regulator approved a more than 7% increase earlier this year.

On the other hand, municipalities say they are caught in a catch-22 situation, as dissatisfied consumers slip into a culture of non-payment, choking the dwindling ratepayer base, which in turn affects their ability to improve service delivery.

Eskom’s unreliability, aging infrastructure and the theft of electricity are among some of the challenges.

“About two or three days ago, the water just cut. For the whole day there was no electricity – stage 6. Then there was no water, so it was really just frustrating because I work from home and that impacts my productivity levels. And then that was just one day gone down the drain but I must still pay for the services.”

This resident, in Pineslopes in northern Johannesburg, said that besides the daily frustrations that she experienced in her home, the general state of the city was undesirable and did not match the exorbitant fees she paid to the metro.

“Non-enforcement of bylaws in the community without the intervention, necessarily of the city, and I am seeing a lot of clean-up campaigns happening from community groups and not from the city itself,” she said.

Another resident, in the City of Tshwane, said that she believed that she was being overcharged.

“For my small household, I pay as if I am in a standalone house. But the town is filthy, streetlights don’t work,” she said.

But Tshwane’s MMC for Finance Peter Sutton said that the city was heavily reliant on revenue collection to function.

“I mean without the payment from residents, the municipality would not be able to pay for the services we provide,” Sutton said.

Meanwhile, in the City of Johannesburg, spokesperson for the infrastructure department, Nickolaus Bauer, said that while they were sensitive to the economic pressures, rehabilitating the metro’s infrastructure and reducing the reliability on the beleaguered Eskom would require cooperation from the consumer.

“We need to get to a point where we embrace paying for services in the City of Johannesburg. That will go a long way not only in providing sustainable services but affordable services for all,” Bauer said.

He said that R1.6 billion of the city’s new budget would go towards developing City Power infrastructure, which had all but crumbled under the more frequent and ramped-up stages of blackouts.

CULTURE OF NON-PAYMENT NEEDS TO CHANGE

The City of Tshwane said that the theft of electricity and increasing attacks on municipal infrastructure contributed to a growing culture of non-payment for services but this limited the city’s ability to improve service delivery and created a vicious cycle of struggling municipalities and frustrated consumers.

As of last Friday, 1 July, ratepayers under Tshwane now pay 7.74% more for electricity, 9% more for water and sanitation and an added 6% on property rates and waste collection.

Meanwhile, in the City of Johannesburg, efforts are under way to minimise dependency on Eskom, which provides 90% of the metro’s energy but has added to the city’s woes as City Power laments the destructive impact of regular power cuts on its infrastructure amid growing incidents of vandalism too.

Both Tshwane and Joburg say that there are programmes to assist those who can’t afford to pay rates, however, for service delivery to improve those who can must do so.

Tshwane’s Finance MMC Alderman Peter Sutton said that in their bid to promote compliance they would be continuing the “Tshwane ya tima campaign”, which saw government departments, businesses, embassies and residents cut off for non-payment, as the city tries to recoup the R17 billion owed to it by customers.

“Many people are reluctant or they feel they don’t want to pay because the services are not of a very high quality but again, the services can’t be of a high quality if we have a culture of non-payment and a R17 billion debt,” he said.

This comes as Eskom rejects the municipality’s offer for a payments settlement arrangement for the more than R870 million it owes.

Eskom’s Amanda Qithi Banyaang explains: “The city failed to pay a total amount of R908 million, which was due and payable by 17 June 2022. The municipality only made a payment of R30 million for the month of June 2022.”

Meanwhile, in the City of Joburg, where energy entity, City Power, battles organised attacks on its infrastructure, the spokesperson for the infrastructure MMC, Nickolaus Bauer, said that collaborative efforts with communities and law enforcement agencies were but one way that they were trying to curb such crimes. However, revenue collection remained an integral part of safeguarding and even improving.

“We understand the pressures that people are facing financially but if you do not pay for your services, the City of Johannesburg’s ability to provide quality and even sustainable services for the short and medium and long term are going to be severely curtailed,” Bauer said.

At the same time, Tshwane’s Alderman Sutton said that with the economic situation not expected to improve anytime soon and the ratepayer base declining, they were looking at alternative ways of generating revenue.

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