Sakhiseni Nxumalo
Senior journalist
4 minute read
6 May 2022
06:28

Msunduzi’s plan to ‘name and shame’ debtors draws flak

Sakhiseni Nxumalo

Pietermaritzburg residents are up in arms over the municipality’s plan to name and shame those who are in arrears on their municipal accounts.

Pietermaritzburg residents are up in arms over the municipality’s plan to name and shame those who are in arrears on their municipal accounts.

Msunduzi Municipality issued a notice on its Facebook page on Wednesday, saying that it intends implementing a debtors’ name and shame campaign from Monday.

In the notice, debtors with arrear balances of more than 90 days are advised to either settle the arrear balance or enter into suitable payment arrangements before Friday.

This raised serious concerns from residents and businesses around the city, with many seeking clarification or rejecting this move.

Facebook post removed

The municipality had shared the notice on their Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon, but, it was removed yesterday afternoon after a barrage of critical comments were posted in response from residents.

However, Msunduzi deputy mayor Mxolisi Mkhize said the name and shame campaign will not apply to ordinary residents. He said there are businesses and government departments who owe the municipality money and are deliberately not paying.

Mkhize said the city would be starting with their own employees and councillors. “We want to make sure that all our employees and councillors pay for their services. We are not going to name and shame individuals but we are going to go for companies.

“For individuals, we are still going to continue to disconnect them as we are [now] doing. If there are councillors or municipal staff that are not paying, we will name and shame them and also state how much they owe us.” said Mkhize.

He said the implementation of the whole campaign and how it is going to be run was still going to be explained in due course.

Although he did not give The Witness the actual amount owed to the City by business and residences, Mkhize said the municipality was owed more than a R1 billion. He said this was part of ongoing efforts to make sure that the City collects and generates revenue.

“We have tried almost everything and we have tried to give people discounts but people are still not paying. If we want to bring the city up to its rightful standard, we need to collect revenue. If we fail to collect the money, we are not going to be able to implement the budget that we have proposed,” said Mkhize.

However, businesses and residents said the municipality first needs to fix their billing system, which much of the time is incorrect. They said that when they have queries on their accounts, they are unable to get help as phonecalls to the City are frequently not answered.

They also described this as an “illegal and bullying” tactic used by the municipality towards residents and businesses.

Melanie Veness, Chief executive officer of the Pietermaritzburg & Midlands Chamber of Business, said the size of the municipal debt book is alarming.

Chamber advises against naming and shaming

She said action does need to be taken to collect the outstanding monies because non-collection is negatively impacting cash flow, which in turn is creating service delivery challenges, which affect everybody.

Veness said people with outstanding balances do need to make arrangements to pay their outstanding debt.

“I encourage them to go into the municipality and do so,” she said.

However, Veness said she doesn’t believe that a naming and shaming campaign was appropriate.

She said to do something like that, the municipality would need to be certain that the billing was all correct.

“I know from experience that there are errors in the system that still need to be corrected. If they shame people who don’t owe them money, they will open themselves up to legal action.

“Struggling businesses need assistance to recover post-Covid-lockdown and the July riots. Naming them can have dire consequences — it may make other suppliers nervous and cause businesses to lose lines of credit,” she said, adding that it could close businesses down.

She said in this case, the municipality might not get paid at all and they will also forfeit future services revenue.

“I would caution Msunduzi against doing this,” added Veness.

Ratepayers raise concerns

Msunduzi Association of Residents and Ratepayers (Marrc) chairperson Anthony Waldhausen said the notice was not well received by ratepayers across the city.

He said people raised concerns about the incorrect billing system by the City which has been ongoing for years.

“There are hundreds of residents who have disputes with their accounts, which makes the account in arrears. That includes those who want to pay but they need the correct amount.

“There are a lot of disputes that we are receiving from residents and some people have been trying to resolve this issue for over five years now,” he said.

Garth Rampaul, Woodlands Ratepayers Association, said it was only fair that people start paying for what they use.

However, Rampaul said many people still have issues with the billing system resulting in accounts being in arrears.