The City of Johannesburg has unveiled an assertive strategy to recover outstanding debts from defaulting ratepayers. This approach, as disclosed by City Manager Floyd Brink to the Daily Maverick, involves leveraging the Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) to aid in the debt collection process, even considering the use of JMPD roadblocks.
JMPD’s Role in the Debt Collection Process
Xolani Fihla, the spokesperson for the Joburg Metro Police Department, confirmed the City’s intentions to involve metro police officers in the revenue collection process. However, he clarified that the initiative has not yet been set in motion.
“As the city manager mentioned (the plans), that means that the city is going in that direction, but before it can be implemented, the proper equipment and also linking up systems with revenue as well needs to be provided. So it has not started yet, but it is the direction that the city’s going,” Fihla explained.
When questioned about the JMPD’s capacity to assist with this task, Fihla responded, “Only once the systems have been put in place will we be able to determine if we have enough manpower”.
Concerns from the Democratic Alliance (DA)
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has expressed significant reservations about this method of revenue collection. Advocate Andrew Marais, the DA’s Shadow MMC for Economic Development, raised both legal and ethical issues with the City’s proposal.
“The City’s proposed tactic of employing JMPD as debt collectors for utility bills raises serious legal and ethical concerns,” Marais said. He referenced a 1995 Constitutional Court ruling which found it unconstitutional to detain or imprison debtors for non-payment, as it infringes on the right to freedom outlined in the Bill of Rights.
Marais further commented, “It is unclear what purpose could be served using the JMPD in this manner, as its members cannot enforce payment under the threat of detention nor can they initiate court proceedings, a function which is reserved for a sheriff.”
Michael Sun, the DA’s Shadow MMC for Public Safety, emphasized that the JMPD lacks the legal authority to detain or inconvenience motorists at roadblocks for unpaid utility charges without valid court orders. He cautioned against any attempts to disguise these actions as traffic management, stating it would be a clear violation of the law.
The DA stressed the importance of adhering to proper legal channels for outstanding utility payments and urged the City to maintain the principles of due process and lawfulness.
City’s Recent Debt Collection Efforts
In a related move, the City of Joburg has recently intensified its efforts to recover outstanding municipal debts from its own staff. As of July 31, 2023, the City collected a total of R13.2 million from its councillors and permanent employees who had fallen behind on their payments. This included a direct deduction of over R7 million from the salaries of those in arrears.