MLM proposes stiff tariff hikes for services

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GK CRONJE

17 May 2022

The municipality claims that the residents owe R909 557 309 in unpaid services.

As the infrastructure and overall condition of Msukaligwa declines, and hundreds of residents lament the abysmal failure in service delivery from Msukaligwa Local Municipality (MLM), the municipality has set forth proposed tariff increases for their services rendered. However, the proposal has not gone down well with residents, who have had it in chunks with the ineptitude from the municipality. The municipality has proposed a 5% (plus 5% rebate covered) increase in property rates, and a section mysteriously named “other” seeing a proposed 6% increase. The comment section of the posted proposed increase is a bloodbath, with angered and frustrated residents having their say. Nearly all residents who commented strongly oppose the increase, stating that the services aren’t even being delivered, yet the municipality looks to increase charges.

On the electrical front, a myriad of residents have been, are still are, without electricity in many wards. Wesselton, Everest, Thusiville and Nyibe have sections that have been left weeks without water and electricity. A group of angered community members protested at the municipality recently, after they were left without water for four months due to alleged pump and transformer issues on part of the municipality. Residents in Cassim Park face a daily struggle with electricity, with a large number of wards being left in the dark while MLM drag their feet to restore the supply. De Bruin Park sees outages on a daily basis, and Netherland Park gets the short end of the stick on both fronts, with residents sitting in dark for days on end. The erratic electricity supply in Ermelo East is nothing to write home about either, with a large number of residents left without electricity for 5 days as MLM technicians struggled to power an extensively patched MV cable. This cable was ultimately fully replaced after uproar from frustrated residents.

In addition to all the above, the implementation of municipal load reduction puts the icing on the cake, as the municipality is unable to provide sufficient electricity due to notified maximum demand constraints from Eskom. The municipality now proposes to put a 7.47% increase on electricity tariffs in effect, on top of the already loaded electricity prices. The municipality also proposes an expenditure increase of 9.61% for bulk electrical purchases, and a 15% expenditure increase on the interest of late Eskom payments. Msukaligwa Local Municipality is, at this time, R153 719 572 in arrears on their repayment agreement to Eskom. They have been listed by Eskom as one of the municipalities who have defaulted on their repayment agreement with the state utility. The municipality has since washed their hands of the breach of agreement, shifting the blame to the residents of Msukaligwa. The municipality claims that the residents owe R909 557 309 in unpaid services. Residents and businesses are having none of this, however, stating that the “owed” figure from the municipality is fabricated.

According to disgruntled business owners, the financial system of the municipality leaves much to be desired, with the finance office simply accepting the estimated figures submitted by departments. It has been proven on several occasions that the wildly inaccurate estimates employed by the municipality is a borderline joke, with laughable amounts being billed to residents and businesses. These fabricated amounts are never rectified on the municipal billing system, and many residents and businesses are forced by the municipality to pay wildly inaccurate bills, only to be “credited” an X amount by the municipality. Not only has it been stated that charging a consumer by estimation being illegal, it also wreaks havoc on the already crippled municipal billing system. The estimates are rarely rectified on utility bills, and the chief financial officer of the municipality merely plods along, robbing Peter to pay Paul. In light of the water supply in Msukaligwa, the situation is equally bleak.

Despite a multi-million Rand “infrastructure upgrade” in Breyten, which was announced with a great hoopla, residents still experience water outages for weeks on end. This, after both the municipality and DWS stated that the water woes of residents in the affected area would be at an end. Chrissiesmeer isn’t much better off, with residents sitting without water for weeks upon end, with no explanation from the municipality. Residents in Everest and Thusiville has literally been left without potable water for several months. Ermelo East residents have been with little to no water for more than a month, and residents in Netherland Park also left high and dry, approaching the 30-day mark without a single drop of water on Thursday this week. Despite the municipality being at fault for the outages, for which they can offer no acceptable explanation, residents are charged between R350 and R600 to fill up their JoJo tank, should they have one. The central business district is often left with dry taps, as damaged water pipes, coupled with sluggish response from the municipality, frustrate business owners in the CBD. Residents in Buhrman, Jansen and Smuts Street feel the effects of dry taps, with many residences sitting without water, while adjacent properties inexplicably have water supply. John Vorster Park seems to reportedly have the least issues with the water supply.

The municipality has proposed a 6% increase in water tariffs, which has hundreds of residents and business owners hot under the collar. Sewerage services will see a proposed increase of 6%, along with the same being applied to refuse services. The increase is proposed amidst Ermelo and the surrounding areas resembling a veritable pig sty, with uncollected refuse lining the sidewalks of Cassim Park, Netherland Park and the outer edges of the CBD. Wesselton, Everest, Thusi Village and more have resorted to creating their own versions of landfills, as the refuse collection service in these areas are virtually non-existent. Cassim Park has large sections of the wards illegally dumping refuse in nearby fields and the area surrounding the once-beautiful central shopping complex. Ermelo, Wesselton, Breyten and many other areas are rife with sewerage network issues, with overflowing manholes and raw sewage lining the streets being no strange sight to residents. The municipality blames aging pipes being the reason for the hundreds of spillages polluting the environment, coupled with insufficient pipe dimensions attributing to stoppages and overflows. Residents aren’t biting on the story, as many have stated that the municipal town planner should have made providing for the influx of sewerage from living complexes and security villages that have been constructed left and right in recent years. While the population of Ermelo has increased exponentially, no infrastructure provision has been made by the municipality. The tariff increase is also frowned upon due to the fact that the municipality nary addresses the root of the problem of sewerage network issues, and instead opts for shortcuts and blame-shifting. The municipality has, for example, dug trenches in President Fouché Avenue to redirect a years-long sewerage overflow to the middle of the field. This field, which is actually supposed to be protected wetland, then directs kiloliters of raw sewage into the Pet Dam. The teams that have dug the trenches have also completely demolished the sidewalk and several storm drains, which have since collapsed. The clogged storm drainage system will inevitably lead to extensive water drainage issues in this area, which is already plagued by floods and polling water and sewage.

The municipality further blames residents for obstructing the sewerage network with a variety of foreign objects. However, hundreds of sewerage line manholes withing the municipality have been left open, either from damage, or from alleged theft of manhole covers. These manhole covers are subsequently never replaced, inviting foreign objects into the network. Lastly, the municipality has proposed various other expenditure increases. These proposed expenditures include employee related costs being increased with 4.90%, councillor remuneration being increased with 4.90%, bulk water inventory being increased with 10%, and contracted services being increased by 4.40%. Repair and maintenance, which is stated as 10% of the municipality’s operating budget, is proposed to be increased by 100%. Lastly, diesel and petrol expenditures are proposed to be increased with 30%, stating the Ukraine conflict as the reason. The infamous “other” expenditures category sees a proposed 4.90% increase. The public is invited to submit their opinions on the proposed increases by sending an e-mail to either jthulare@msukaligwa.gov.za, or to smphiri@msukaligwa.gov.za.