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Parallel state makes sense

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09 Mar 2010

Ratepayers in South Africa are angry – and they are getting more and more impatient with all the promises that are made while nothing gets done.

And that’s what our current government does best of all. Make promises and deliver little or nothing.

Did you know that there are now 280 ratepayers associations around the country that have set up trust accounts and are paying rates into these accounts instead of paying the councils in the areas where they live. There are 283 local councils in the country.

The reason is that councils don’t deliver: they take ratepayers money and use it for all sorts or purposes other than keeping a city or a town running properly. Worse still, the residents are getting so angry that they are turning violent, stoning cars, throwing petrol bombs at police patrols and burning down councils houses.

In Meyerton last week residents went on the rampage after the local council moved in and confiscated property because of the non-payment of rates. Whether the rates had been withheld because the property owners didn’t feel like paying them or whether they were part of an organised protest over non-delivery of services is unclear.

In fact, it seems that there are two different factions developing within the ratepayers’ non-payment debacle:

- Those who simply refuse to pay for services from the council because they believe that these services should be free. This seems to be the case in Meyerton;

- Those who are withholding their rates by paying them into a trust account instead of into the municipal coffers because the council that is demanding the rates is not capable of accounting for the money that is being paid to them. And they are not delivering the basic services either.

I’m afraid that I have no sympathy for the residents of Meyerton who just don’t want to pay rates. Rates and service charges are a reality and, while people might not like them, the fact is they must pay for services they do get.

So I’m fully on the side of the Meyerton Council getting an attachment order and confiscating property from ratepayers who just don’t feel like paying.

On the other hand, I completely support the 280 ratepayers associations around the country who are withholding their cash because they have sewerage systems that don’t work, polluted drinking water, bad roads filled with potholes, missing manhole covers and so forth.

For them, the councils have taken their money and used it without accounting for it. That is why so many of the councils have qualified audits from the Auditor-General. The council officials (Tshwane included) can’t tell you (or the Auditor-General) how they are spending the mountains of money that they get each month.

Just last week Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka claimed that white ratepayers associations had created what he called a “parallel government” in South Africa and as a result were undermining the ability of municipalities to deliver services to the community.

I’m sick of government ministers always resorting to race whenever they are criticised.

So I wonder what Shiceka was doing when the news footage broadcast on television last week showed the residents of Brits – black, white and coloured – at a public meeting all agreeing to withhold payment because the council there is not doing what it is supposed to do.

I wonder where Shiceka was when the councils in the Eastern Cape did the same thing and, it was not just the white folk who were refusing to pay the council, but paying the trust account instead. It was people of all race groups in those specific communities too.

What government has simply refused to accept is that it is not the people who are at fault. It is the government. And rather than take to the streets and burn tyres, stone cars or create barricades, they opt for the more peaceful approach.

Withhold the cash.

The government is to blame for both forms of protest: the violent ones in places like Ermelo or Oukassie and the peaceful ones in 280 other council areas where cash is being withheld.

Two years ago, 30 municipalities, including Durban, withheld rates. In 2007 the community at Hartbeestpoort Dam stopped paying the council. In Kimberley, residents stopped paying the Sol Plaatjie municipality on the grounds that it had, for the past eight years (in 2008), consistently received a qualified audit, apparently had virtually no suitably qualified personnel employed, its water reticulation system had failed and there were no plans to repair or upgrade it.

Residents in Krugersdorp were outraged too and also intend to stop paying their water and lights bills because they learned they are being charged more than double the rate paid by neighbours living in Lenasia.

Mogale City’s rates bills are also double those paid by the Lenasia residents.

At a briefing statement held at Imbizo Media Centre in Cape Town, Shiceka conceded that there is a high degree of unhappiness throughout the country about the quality of services delivered at local government level. He’s not wrong – and the protests prove this.

So what is he going to do about it?

He says that by 2014 he wants to see no more violent protests over service delivery in South Africa. Big deal.

Four years from now. Until then must we, the ratepayers of this country sit around while our local authorities become more and more dysfunctional than they already are?

This is hardly a solution.

And the government (both national and local levels) needs to be compelled to deliver the basic services that are paid for by ratepayers.

If they can’t deliver the services then the individual communities, I believe, have every right to withhold the funds and use them to buy services from private sector companies than can, and will, do the work.

If the police force fails, communities got together and created their own private police forces in access-controlled suburbs with guards, patrols and booms. The same can be done for refuse collection.

Electricity and water are more difficult to do independently, but I have no doubt that if private sector companies were running electricity distribution and water reticulation we would have clean water to drink and uninterrupted, reliable electricity supplies.

So yes, I would wholeheartedly support the withholding of rates and taxes until reliable services are delivered. I’m not prepared to go on paying for poor service – from officials who are rude, unpleasant, inefficient, incompetent and truculent to boot.

They don’t deserve my money – particularly when they can’t even account for how they are spending it.

Shiceka says that he is going to present a plan on how to curb violent protests when he meets with the many members of the different executive councils in local government organisations around the country.

He seems to be missing the point, doesn’t he?

How about presenting a plan that will result in no qualified audits at any local authority in the country? How about plans to make sure all the sewerage and water purification plants are working properly? How about plans to keep electricity distribution stable, stop cable theft and maintain the sub-stations properly?

How about ensuring that refuse is collected, that the clinics and hospitals have medicines, working machines, clean bed linen and proper food and trained nurses.

How about having a public transport network that runs on time according to a proper timetable? How about having a metropolitan police force that does its job?

These are the things that ratepayers need. Not endless excuses from officials who make promises they cannot keep because the entire local government structure has proven incapable of providing even the most basic services in 280 regions around the country.

And the ratepayers are infuriated.

Between now and 2014 we, the ratepayers of South Africa, will have to endure poor service delivery, bad water, pot-holed roads, electricity shortages, no public health service, unreliable public transport so that Shiceka can come up with a plan to stop violent protests.

Meanwhile we will also need to endure mass misappropriation of funds for new motorcars, expensive dinner parties, meaningless conferences that achieve nothing but entertain those very uncivil servants that are partying on our cash.

And the ANC calls that good government?

*Hartdegen writes a regular column for Property24.com. The content of his columns constitutes his personal opinion and doesn’t pretend to be facts or advice. Contact him at paddy@neomail.co.za.

Readers' Comments Have a comment about this article? Email us now.

Liked it.

But now how can I withhold my rates, I live in a complex in Douglasdale. I travel alonlg Bellairs etc, try not to break my car on any new potholes. Can we organise a 'toll' on this road, some thing along the lines of "I will withold R100 from my rates'" until road is fixed??

The Government shouldn`t under-estimate the anger of the ratepayers. Every person in the country has had to tighten their belts, cut costs etc and if Municipalities think that they need not do the same and increase rates instead of decreasing them, they are in for more trouble from protesters, non-acceptance of budgets, non-payment of rates - taking peoples homes away etc.

Get real Municipalities.

The Municipalities services are much much too expensive for our present economy after recession.

When you take money and don`t give something in exchange like goods, services etc that tantamount to stealing from ratepayers. – Frank du Toit

This in an excellent article, it's written with knowledge of the subject. Please forward it to Sicelo Shiceka. - Anonymous

With the huge upgrades on the road system in Gauteng coming to an end, what about using the expertise of the companies concerned to manage the civil services in the municipalities? Allocate each municipality to a private civil construction company and let them maintain roads water and sewage services. The withheld services monies can be used to pay them as they have to have accountability. Let them also have the right to hire and fire within their departments – thereby ensuring the deadwood is excised, and train up staff for the future. Imagine a working municipality, no broken sewers, potholes and (God willing) no lazy and incompetent personnel.

Just an idea. – Vicky John

There seems to be such a chasm between perception and reality with regards to service delivery, what concerns me is that the ANC has become a party of haves and have nots yet continue to play the race card when it suits them, are people in government so out of touch with reality and with the voters that they continue to behave is such a manner that belittles all the years of struggle, freedom charter, constitution. This behaviour is reminiscent of the national party during apartheid years and the limited amount of emotional intelligence of individuals in the government means that when a challenge or question is posed that the only response is a threat or race card question?

You have been voted into power by the people for the people does nobody in government understand that they are public servants and need to act and behave as examples for all of us.

I hope that voters now finally realize that we have the ability to vote for a South African Government at the next elections and to get rid of this "rubbish" its a complete mockery and if it was not so sad in what they are doing to the people and country ..I would have to laugh but feel more and more each day like crying. – Lawrence Kelly

Is this not the start of the collapse of the state?

Is this alternative better we would prefer to have, i.e., lawlessness? Can you honestly regard yourself as law abiding citizen while breaking the law? Do we choose which laws we choose to respect?

There are elections in a constitutional democracy. Why are we not using this instrument available to all?

Note that those who are leading this initiative are ‘shooting themselves’ in the foot, i.e., someone who owns nothing (not a ratepayer), will welcome this confusion. In fact most poor will welcome a “start afresh” – levelling plane, meaning total collapse of all laws and groups of gangsters appropriating everything and accelerating both the white and brain drain.

The government must be firm and apply the existing laws decisively. Ironically, all will have to pay for this action by government, win or loose. Withholding any form of tax should be dealt with severely (in China is qualifies for death sentence, no different from murder).

No improvement (approval of building plans), no transfer (sale) of the house should be allowed.

Properties should be sold (after due court process) to recover funds not paid to government (paid to trust).

Tax has never being on a basis that “you pay R1 and get R1 worth of service / anything anywhere” in the world (it is not, i.e., there is a Latin word “qui pro quo”). In fact those who pay less or no tax tend to be the ones who get more from tax proceeds. Those who are taxed the most, higher incomes & profit, get even less from all governments around the world. This is the norm of a functional democracy. – Anonymous

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