Rates boycott call concern

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Municipal Manager Moppo Mene says he’s committed to transparency and and has appealed to
residents to engage with him rather than support a rates boycott. Meanwhile, Makana Revive! says
it was not driving a call on social media this week for citizens to divert a portion of their rates to the
Grahamstown (Makhanda) NPO.

Facebook and Whatsapp group debates began with residents’ frustration at the state of
infrastructure and governance in Makana Municipality and moved to the ethics; the risk and cost of
litigation against the withholder; the problem of paying money to an NGO that isn’t obliged to
account directly to the public and the suggestion that legal tools should be used to make the
municipality accountable.

“Calling all Makana ratepayers! Please join us in withholding rates. Why pay rates to a dysfunctional
Municipality that is clearly allowing our town to go to wreck and ruin?” wrote a resident on the
Grahamstown Facebook page. “It’s time that we stand together and say NO! It’s time for action!
From now on we will divert a portion of our rates payment to Makana Revive! and we challenge
fellow rate payers to do the same.”

However, Makana Revive! member Ron Weissenberg says the call does not come from the
organisation.

“Makana Revive! has never called for a rates boycott and has no view on what people do with their
own money,” Weissenberg said. “Makana Revive was mentioned several times as a likely recipient
given the track record on repairs and maintenance in and around Makana. This created the
impression that Makana Revive had called for this. Not correct.”

Public Service watchdog PSAM said the Constitutional Court (CC) had commented and ruled on the
withholding of rates in various judgments.

Jay Kruuse, Director of the Public Service Accountability Monitor, cited the case of Pretoria City
Council v Walker [1998] ZACC 1; 1998 (2) SA 363 (CC); 1998 (3) BCLR 257 (CC) in which the City
Council characterised such conduct as impermissible self-help.

In this case, the Constitutional Court had said, “Local government is as important a tier of public
administration as any. It has to continue functioning for the common good; it, however, cannot do
so efficiently and effectively if every person who has a grievance about the conduct of a public
official or a governmental structure were to take the law into his or her own hands or resort to self-
help by withholding payment for services rendered. That conduct carries with it the potential for
chaos and anarchy and can therefore not be appropriate. The kind of society envisaged in the
Constitution implies also the exercise of responsibility towards the systems and structures of society.
A culture of self-help in which people refuse to pay for services they have received is not acceptable.
It is pre-eminently for the courts to grant appropriate relief against any public official, institution or
government when there are grievances.”

Mene, who started at Makana Municipality on 1 August, said several organisations had already
engaged with him constructively.

“This discussion is an unfortunate debate,” Mene said in response to questions from Grocott’s Mail.
“The whole Council has and is working all out to fix the administration of Makana.”

Mene said he’d committed to the Municipality conducting itself more transparently and responsively
on issues affecting Makana residents.

“Many organisations in the City have welcomed my presence and engaged me on various issues,” Mene said. “We seem to be closer and this discussion will create unnecessary tensions for our City.
“Let those who are unhappy with the way we do things come forward and engage my office. I commit to serve you with the best of my ability in a manner that will pull all of us together for the betterment of our city.”

The rates debate

Comments on public and private social media groups indicated a lot of support for the move, with many at the end of their tether.

A suggestion to go the administrative justice route and have the municipality again put under administration drew the exasperated response: “Haven’t we been through that twice already? … How did that help? The council remains, the staff remain, the gaps remain. We had no Municipal Manager for years, no Chief Financial Officer. That’s what we got from the legal process and which is why I say the system doesn’t work. What next?? Go for it, but repeating the same thing over and over is no longer going to be just a ‘mistake’…” Ethical concerns were raised – “Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is a very dangerous idea and I don’t support it” – as well as practical: “Unfortunately you will be liable for interest charged to your account.”

Others expressed concern that ordinary workers would be the ones who would suffer: “The fat cats will still get paid and happily watch the town get shut down and us get bad credit listing etc. Won’t be long before the collectors will be calling and they won’t care why we are not paying.”

On accountability:

  • “The Municipality has voted councillors who are accountable to their wards, the city and their electorate. HOLD them accountable find out what your local councillor is doing, if he/she sounds defeated suggest that they resign and let someone who can fight for you to take over. Makana Revive is an NGO I presume it canniot take over an elected government or its funds. Totally illegal rather elect the people who run the Makana Revive into council if you think they can do a better job and change current councillors because all they do is to complain with us. They should be recalled one by one instead of waiting for elections.”
    In response: “What do councillors actually do? They are just people from our wards who represent political parties. So, how does that help us with technical issues like local planning and service delivery? In our town’s case, all it has done is stop the process of filling top positions like CFO and Municipal Manager. Those are crucial to service delivery but have been politicised so that the process of running a municipality is severely interrupted. Makana is not alone in this, obviously, so there is something very wrong with the municipal system, across the country. We have three choices, as far as I can see (because doing nothing is no longer a choice). 1) vote (but the system stays the same) 2) burn things down (we lose, twice, because, the system stays the same and WE have to pay to rebuild what has been destroyed) or 3) pay out of our own pockets (again, because we paid for rates and services that are not being delivered) to fix our town. Where does the political system of councillors earning good salaries (to do what?) fit in with this?”
  • “The basic underlying fundamantal of our democratic government is that: the people shall govern. We reverses this by ceding governance to political parties after every election. This makes party politics a priority for representatives over service delivery. The question is how do we take back governance from individuals and parties so as to ensure the people govern? We have to ensure that there transparency in municipal projects from supply chain processes to implementation, monitoring and evaluation of projects. The Grocotts is free each department has to state their current projects, weekly progress, upcoming priorities. This has to be made public We have Apps that can be created WhatsApp…All councillors, directors need to answer the question “What have I done this week?”
    We will see whose slacking as the public and rate them when it comes to salary increases as the public that will take away party politics and put service delivery upfront.”
  • “NGOs are the worst at accountability because they only account to their own boards. They don’t account to the public. It’s a bad idea to entrust public funds to a private organization which is is not even a public ally listed organization. If you really want to mess with the common man, pay your money over to a non-listed private organization and you will see how little power you have over it’s running. Makana Revive is a good organization for G-Town but there is no legal framework to make them financially accountable to the public.”

 

On the consequences of diverting funds:

“Withholding the very resources that run the city and diverting them to a NGO is not a good idea. Think about the following: Municipal budgets are based on projected income for running the municipality. If we withhold rates and taxes, we are affecting the servicing of municipal debt, the funding for the restoration of the city, the municipality’s capacity to function and the livelihoods of all the hardworking municipal blue-collar workers.”

On solutions:

  • “I implore everyone to work with the municipality and service our rates and taxes. In doing so, we have every right to demand accountability from the municipal officials. Let’s use the judicial arm of government to call the municipality into order instead.”
  • “Rather go to a reputable law firm and let them open a trust account for residents’ rates and take the council on.”

 

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