/ 14 March 2009

Govt urges against withholding taxes

Government on Friday urged taxpayers not to withhold their taxes in protest against poor service delivery.

Department of provincial and local government spokesperson Luzuko Koti said withholding taxes further frustrated delivery.

”Resorting to protest such as this does nothing but frustrate both institutions [rate payers and municipalities],” he said.

”We especially encourage direct and robust communication rather than resorting to protest such as this.”

The National Taxpayers Union, a body to which the rate-payer associations involved in the disputes are affiliated, said about 220 towns were withholding their municipal taxes due to poor service delivery.

Communication emerged as a ”big issue” when disputes of this nature emerged, said Koti, responding to queries on the matter.

”The big issue here is communication. Municipalities are not as upfront as required, therefore people are left guessing but once they are communicated to, the situation improves,” he said.

”One of the key things that came out of this process as a lesson for government and residents is to intensify our communication and talk more so that no one is left to guess what leads to services deteriorating,” he said.

According to Koti, there were a few cases which reached national level and were eventually resolved.

”There are some cases which have been referred to national level … the matter was raised with us and what we have done is convened provinces with municipalities and rate-payers associations,” he said.

The department intervened in a case in Swartruggens in the North West and in Cradock in the Eastern Cape.

”We engaged with them and tried to understand what the issues are … in both cases we have since succeeded in resolving the situation.”

He said there was a committee tasked with dealing with issues which arose between residents and municipalities.

National Treasury has intervened to resolve a dispute with residents in two Free State towns also withholding their municipal taxes due to poor service delivery, it said on Friday.

Treasury spokesperson Lindani Mbunyuza said rate-payer associations in the two towns, Kroonstad and Bethlehem, wrote to the finance ministry detailing their grievances.

National Treasury then wrote to the provincial treasury in the Free State referring the grievances to them and encouraging them to mediate to resolve the situation between the municipality and the residents amicably.

”Because responsibility for the oversight of the two municipalities in question has been delegated to the relevant MEC [provincial minister] for finance, National Treasury wrote to the provincial treasury in the Free State referring the residents’ correspondence to them, and encouraging the Provincial Treasury to mediate an amicable solution between the municipality and the residents’ association,” Mbunyuza said.

This was the ”full extent” of the treasury’s involvement thus far, she said.

She added that the responsibility to intervene when there was ”clear evidence of systematic service delivery failure rests with the provincial executives of each province”.

The areas involved in withholding taxes stretched across the country and included residents in Bethlehem, Bloemhof, Kroonstad, De Aar, Ladysmith, Swartruggens, Welkom, Sutherland and Middelburg, according to the National Taxpayers Union.

Caren Villiers from a rate-payers association in Sannieshof, North West, said a dispute was declared with her municipality in November 2007.

”I went to the premier, to the MEC [provincial minister] … they said they will do something but they never did.

”When we had no water we had no choice [but to withhold taxes] … the poorest of the poor are living in this area … they have no access to water or sanitation,” she said.

She said about 70% of the residents under the municipality were involved. The taxes were placed in a fund with three people acting as signatories to it.

”We will release the money and the dispute will end as soon as they show they are capable of running the municipality to perfection and that there are adequate measures against corruption,” she said.

Visser said the provincial local government department had set up a meeting with residents on Wednesday next week.
In the meantime, she said, residents were helping with service delivery in their own way.

”We are doing everything we can, we fix roads … we are getting help with waste removal,” she said.

National Taxpayers Union board member Jaap Kelders said communication was not the problem as in most cases, residents had exhausted all their other options first before resorting to withholding their taxes.

”Time for talking is over, the time for doing is here,” he said on Friday.

The South African Local Government Association urged communities to partner with their municipalities in order to improve service delivery, rather than withhold their taxes. — Sapa