Water levy unacceptable

Peter Walsh, chairman of the Milnerton Central Residents’ Association

This letter should be viewed as a formal objection to the proposed drought charge in the form of a water levy, which the City of Cape, on Tuesday December 5, agreed to introduce to compensate for a revenue shortfall caused by lower water consumption and unprecedented expenses to provide additional water (“Water levy: no way”, Tabletalk, December 13).

This decision was made by the council and residents notified accordingly. At the time, it was estimated that there was approximately six months to Day Zero, meaning that Cape Town water supply would run dry without any further intervention, heavenly or otherwise.

There is general consensus in the public domain that this water crisis was predicted / foreseen more than 10 years ago.

Much has been written about forecasts, documents and case studies that predicted this water crisis. Which implies that the necessity for a financial measure to address the water shortfall should have been foreseen a long time ago.

Perhaps if addressed then, they could have been accommodated for it in the normal budgeting cycles of the City of Cape Town.

As an organisation, we have no objection to the fact that the City of Cape Town needed to address the reduced income and additional expenses that are drought-related, and it is a fact that this crisis must be addressed.

However, it is our belief that the City has failed to take appropriate action with regards to this drought, and the punitive water levy being requested from the community is just another example of the failure of the City to apply their minds and mitigate risk to the city and its residents.

A reasonable person serving on a city council would have foreseen a requirement to start building capacity many years ago, but very little in this regard has been done until 2017.

We object to the process the City of Cape Town has followed for commentary and input from the residents and the fact that the commentary time for the public participation period is from Tuesday December 5 to January 12 next year and, lastly, that the levy is based on the value of houses or property.

Importantly, given the internecine battles in the city council, including the office of the mayor, we have concerns around the integrity of the executive decision-making process and whether these are reasonable persons applying their minds and doing all that they can to mitigate risk to the residents of Cape Town.

We have concerns around the way in which the water levy is being addressed:

We have seen very little public-facing effort by the City to hold national government to account in that they should fund water resourcing and provision to the city. This additional tax should have been raised from the treasury. National treasury are responsible for the provision of water via the appropriate water departments.

Attaching a water levy to property rates as opposed to usage will surely not pass constitutional muster.

Attaching a water levy to property rates is just another tax on the rich and ignores the huge input some citizens / businesses have made, that others might not have made.

The water levy might well be classified as an additional rates tax on residents and is, in fact, not a water levy but rather back taxes being levied by the city.

We also have concerns around the process, the timing thereof and the time frames by which objections were asked for:

A request for objections by way of email was distributed with no known consultative processes envisaged or declared. Such an important decision surely requires a stronger mandate than normal and a larger consultative process. And, therefore, a stronger engagement from the city.

Requesting an additional charge from residents six months before Day Zero, exploits residents’ dependence on the city’s water supply and forces us to pay these additional charges. Not making allowance for this problem over the last 10 years, is a mistake of monumental proportions and requires redress.

The drought charge is proposed to come into effect on February 1 next year, subject to approval from the Minister of Finance and council approval at the end of January.

That means the City has 13 working days to consider all comments, get approval from the minister and get council approval.

Such a short period to consider comments will only be possible if there are small number of comments, which indicates that the City has either purposefully planned the public participation process to get a small number of comments, or intends to merely ignore comments from residents.

A period of 13 days will not be sufficient to seriously consider an overwhelming response.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has petitioned Parliament to change public participation legislation to exclude such participation from running from 15 December to 15 January every year, since national government has pushed through various stealth deals over the end-of-year holiday periods.

The public consultation period now required for most environmental processes will be 60 days, not 30 and always the period of the 15 December to 15 January should be excluded.

However, the city council ignores these developments and chooses a public-participation period that makes it difficult for residents to comment. A cynical person could argue this has been done to minimise the amount of public comment.

All in all, the City appears to have been poorly equipped to deal with this drought and is now trying to get ratepayers to pay for its mistakes.