The COVID pandemic has challenged the activities of the Plett Ratepayers’ Association, but on the litigation front, we continue to work hard. In spite of the lockdown, we remain focused and are redoubling our efforts to prevent fruitless and wasteful expenditure from gobbling up a large proportion of municipal revenue, especially in light of the dramatic decline in municipal revenue predicted by the experts.
To provide an update on our activities:
First, the Ratepayers Association has worked hard to secure an urgent hearing with the High Court to interdict Bitou Municipality from implementing unlawful electricity tariffs against the poor residents of Bitou. The matter was to be heard on 14 May, but due to the municipality’s tardy response and obstructiveness, the matter has been postponed to August.
Bitou Municipality has opposed our application, which means during this period of joblessness and misery, when people are struggling to feed their families, they will continue to be short-changed on their electricity purchases, and their service debt will continue to mount. We find this an extraordinary attitude for representatives of the residents to take.
In an effort to avoid long delays and to bring relief as soon as possible, the Ratepayers Association wrote to all the councillors on 13 March requesting that they ensure the municipality desist from unlawfully selling prepaid electricity at unapproved tariffs. Shamefully, not a single councillor cared enough about the poor, on whose backs they sit on council, to ask for a meeting to debate the matter and take the necessary decision to bring relief, not to mention to stop the municipality’s continuing unlawful actions.
HDRS Attorneys, who advise and represent Mayor Lobese, the council and the municipality, has yet to file papers in the electricity case even though it has had the Ratepayers’ papers for months. With winter coming on, and people needing electricity to heat their homes, we consider it an urgent matter.
We had hoped that Mayor Lobese would have tried to settle the matter rather than force us to go through an expensive court process, but he has not. We actually find his attitude shocking.
Secondly, we have launched an application to interdict the excessive salaries of the top six municipal officials: Municipal Manager Lonwabo Ngoqo, CFO Mkhefa, HOD Engineering Rhode, HOD Community Services Sompani, HOD Strategic Services Friedman and Acting HOD of Corporate Services Groenewald. We are asking the Labour Court to recover their past excess salaries, as well as interdict their future salaries in excess of legal limits. In some cases they have been overpaying themselves by as much as half a million rand per annum, while granting themselves an allowance of 20% for “scarce skills” even though their jobs require no special skill beyond what any municipality requires. This must stop.
This case is of unusual significance because we are asking the court to award costs against the councillors individually if the municipal officials cannot or do not pay.
The papers will be posted on the plettratepayers.co.za website if you would like to read them.
Thirdly, we have applied to intervene in the Lonwabo Ngoqo matter, to overturn the unlawful hiring of the municipal manager, and to recover his illegally-paid salary.
Meanwhile, we also continue our initiatives to prevent another half-baked unacceptable budget in light of diminishing revenue projections, and non-essential expenditures. The time has come for the municipality to revert to the Constitutional imperative of providing essential services to the residents in a sustainable and affordable manner. The mayor, councillors and senior officials can no longer be permitted to draft and implement budgets that are focussed on providing undeserved benefits and extravagant and glamorous excesses for their own personal enjoyment. A radical change in approach is needed and if there is not a massive improvement in proper public representation and spirited defence of the residents of Plett in the very near future, a radical change in our approach to selecting suitable public representatives will have to be implemented.
Starting with this year’s budget, public representatives who do not partake and fight vigorously for the rights of those they claim to and have sworn an oath to represent, will have to be dealt with at the polls. Councilors need to fight to expose the details of frivolous expenditure and to have them removed entirely from the municipality’s budget.
We are pleased to see that our efforts to bring back good governance and stamp out fraud and theft is attracting media attention. As quoted in an article by Everson Luhanga, “the Plett Ratepayers are watching the municipality like a hawk.”