The backing given by the City of Cape Town’s Democratic Alliance caucus to the proposed drought water surcharge could explode in the faces of the City’s political administration. As a former Democratic Alliance MP – and former deputy mayor of Durban – Mark Lowe points out it goes against the principle that users must pay. High users of water in drought must – and should – pay punitive rates for water, but this is a new administrative cost that just about all ratepayers will have to pay. The Cape Messenger editor writes:
This is an explosive decision. The Cape Messenger asked Mayor Patricia de Lille if she expected a political fallout among Democratic Alliance voters if this surcharge proposal were put in place. She chose to avoid the question, pointing out that it would only kick in for households in properties worth over R400 000. Thus so-called rich people – most houses in Cape Town are worth considerably more than that – will be paying a new administrative cost over which they have no control.
The principle that one is to be punished for saving water and providing alternative water supplies – through tanks, borehole water or re-use of grey water – will become the order of the day. No matter how little water one uses, one will pay a new tax. The mayor prefers to call it a surcharge but it amounts to the same thing really to ratepayers, in order to subsidise the fiscus of the City of Cape Town.
Quite frankly, the African National Congress opposition, the official opposition in the council, are pretty useless at exploiting poor performance of the Democratic Alliance administration. It is unlikely to tap – so to speak – into the fault-lines of policy in any intelligent way. So far only Councillor Grant Haskin, the former deputy mayor and leader of the African Christian Democratic Party in the council has been able to articulate an alternative strategy. The Cape Party, which is a secessionist party and frankly a bit looney-tunes in my humble opinion, does not (yet) have a seat on the council. However, it recently achieved nearly 30 percent of the vote in one ward, ward 102, in the northern suburbs just recently, and this may indicate that it could have a considerable number of proportional seats in the next municipal election.
Haskin said the City of Cape Town had not engaged the public on the proposal to hear what Capetonians have to say. He said the City’s ratepayers had faced 10 successive years of “huge increases” to their household rates – including property rates, water, electricity, sanitation and waste removal. “This new charge adds to Capetonians’ financial burden. The City has (already) made Cape Town unaffordable to live in, and this additional charge (will make) it worse.”
The City made no mention, said Haskin, of having exhausted all other financial avenues to fund the shortfall, which it ought to have done, and which is had time to do. The City’s ratepayers were being penalised again for poor planning – and for saving water, he argued.
De Lille herself was quoted in IOL, saying that the surcharge will pay for vital water projects for 2018. “We will strive to ensure that it isn’t more than what residents’ water bill was before the drought. An extensive communications campaign would follow to ask for residents’ and business input,” she noted.
The ANC’s leader in the council Xolani Sotashe led a political attack on the person of Mayor de Lille. There has been no forensic dissection of the proposal from the ANC side. One suspects that if there is a political fallout by Democratic Alliance voters over this issue in the future, its voters won’t stream to the ANC instead. They will look for parties which offer sensible alternative solutions.
However, that is only in 2021 (when the next municipal election is due), so all of this may have gone away by then. The DA may not get the public support for this proposal – the drought surcharge still has to face public comments until January 12 – so it may well be canned. Especially if there is a swell in internal DA public dissent to the proposal from Cape Town’s ruling party’s branches.
The surcharge is excessive. It will be R56000 a month for a commercial property worth R500 million. A house in Clifton worth R50 million – which is indeed an example of a wealthy household – will pay R2 800 a month. That is purely a surcharge for receiving nothing at all. On top of that the household will pay its normal water bill. It is inflationary. It will drive up costs for businesses – which will lay that extra cost on consumers.
One thing that De Lille – who spoke about water saving and augmentation to the Cape Town Press Club last week – noted was that the proposal had to get the buy-in of national Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba. His party opposed the measure in the council. There could be a chance for him to block this proposal. He may, however, agree to it – seeing it as a way to bolster his own party’s political standing in the City. One thing is certain: once such a surcharge is in place, it is unlikely to be removed – even though it has been pledged that it is a three-year programme ending in 2021.
This is a bad proposal and should be opposed.