By Shaun Gillham
EASTERN Cape municipalities may face legal action after being accused of illegally charging property owners an estimated R6-billion in rates over more than a decade. It has been claimed the municipalities had not followed prescribed government procedures, thus acting unlawfully.
Representatives from a number of Eastern Cape ratepayers’ associations who met in Port Elizabeth this week, said they were investigating possible litigation against scores of municipalities across the province, which they accuse of gross mismanagement and corruption.
They also plan to form a provincial “mega ratepayers association” and are considering a rates withholding campaign.
This emerged after a meeting in Nelson Mandela Bay where representatives of ratepayers’ associations from Nelson Mandela Bay, East London, St Francis Bay and Jeffreys Bay, among others, reached consensus on their allegation that municipalities had been charging ratepayers’ rates illegally since 2005.
The claim is linked to a technicality which the ratepayer representatives claim means municipalities have illegally charged and taken more than R6-billion in rates over nearly 12 years.
According to the Municipal Property Rates Act of 2004, all municipalities are compelled to publish the rates they intend to charge in the provincial gazette every year, which, the association says, not all have done.
However, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality spokesman Kupido Baron dismissed claims that the municipality had not gazetted rates, saying this had been done since 2005. “We also publish the rates in the local newspaper and have already paid for the 2012/2013 rates to be gazetted.”
National Taxpayers’ Union chairman Jaap Kelder, of Kempton Park, said the meeting resolved that all Eastern Cape ratepayers’ associations would meet in Cradock on August 4, where the issue of legally challenging municipalities around the rates issue would be decided as well as whether support would be sought for a province-wide campaign to withhold rates. “We found that, according to legislation and the constitution, any bylaws that have not been promulgated are not valid,” Kelder said.
Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers’ Association chairman Kobus Gerber said ratepayers “would no longer be bullied”.
“Ratepayers are paying about R100-million annually in rates.”
He said proof that municipalities had acted illegally regarding rates payment would give ratepayers “massive bargaining power”.
Buffalo City Municipality spokesman Keith Ngesi did not respond to Weekend Post queries at the time of going to print.
Additional reporting by Barbara Hollands and Shaanaaz de Jager
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday July 14 2012.