Makana Revenue and Debt Collection meeting

Report on meeting hosted by GRA on 1 November 2016, Grahamstown Bowling Club

Philip Machanick, GRA chair (left) with Sheldon Godall (Revco)

Philip Machanick, GRA chair (left) with Sheldon Godall, Revco

The amount of outstanding uncollected debt in Makana is not as discouraging as many of us might believe. And the prospects for increased revenues are improving, according to the company responsible for collecting on unpaid bills.

Revenue Consulting (Revco) CEO, Sheldon Goodall, revealed the good news to a meeting of about 35 people organised by the Grahamstown Residents Association (GRA) on Tuesday evening.

Most participants came to the meeting to get a better understanding of their Makana utility bills and how best to correct mistakes in their bills. Almost all residents had a horror story about being grossly overcharged or having wildly fluctuating charges. However, GRA chair, Philip Machanick made it clear that Goodall had not come to resolve individual queries, but rather to explain how his company intended improving debt collection in the municipality.

Sensing that the atmosphere might become a little hostile, Machanick appealed to residents to keep questions civil.

Goodall explained that Revco only collected outstanding debts that were handed over to the company by Makana municipality. In other words, Revco would not arbitrarily demand payment from anyone without good reason. He stressed that his company complied strictly with all relevant laws and regulations, but that if anyone was unhappy with the way it conducted business, he was always open to discussions.

The Revco CEO said that there are many reasons why people don’t or can’t pay their bills. However, whatever the reason, it is important to engage with the debt collector to resolve any disputes or problems. He encouraged people to take heed if they receive a warning letter or SMS. Instead of ignoring the warning they should rather open a formal complaint so that disputes could be resolved.

Goodall made it clear that legal action was only an option of last resort because it was expensive and not very helpful. He said he preferred to consult with customers so that they could work out a payment plan with the municipality and that in 99 percent of such cases they are able to reach a workable solution.

One of the biggest problems facing Makana residents is the unpredictability of charges for electricity and water. Municipal bills tend to rise and fall considerably making it difficult for households to budget from one month to the next and keep up with payments.

Some variation is to be expected as households tend to use more electricity for heating in the winter and more water for watering gardens in the summer.

Goodall addressed concerns about huge outstanding debts that the municipality has not been able to collect in recent years. It has not written off bad debt even though it is normal practice is to cancel irrecoverable debt after a certain period. This decision created a false impression that the money would come in and placed an unrealistic strain on the municipal budgeting process. Retaining bad debt on its books implied that the outstanding debt would be recovered, whereas in fact a significant proportion will never be collected.

The number of households belonging to deceased estates was another headache for the municipality. There are more than 3 600 such households that in many cases receive municipal services that they do not pay for. It is difficult for the municipality to recover outstanding amounts because it has no contractual agreement with the current residents of the house.

Everyone at the meeting agreed that one of the hardest working people at the municipality is Diane May, the acting revenue manager who spends many hours every day resolving account queries brought into her office. Some residents believe May needs more people to help in her office.

Goodall said that residents are welcome to contact him or his company about any queries regarding debt collection. His contact details are:

Revco has provided a copy of the slides of their presentation, which you can download here (PDF).

– report by Steven Lang

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Our Third Quarter 2016 newsletter

All members should receive the PDF newsletter linked below by email; if you are a member and use email – and didn’t receive it – let us know. Also below: our petition on stray animals. If you can collect signatures and return them to us by the final date of 16 September 2016, please do so.

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Report Back on the Grahamstown Conversation

Held at PRIME, 63 New Street on Thursday 25 August 2016

Congratulations to Grahamstown Business Forum (GBF) for staging this valuable and well attended event. Thank you to Acting MM Riana Meiring who attended along with her Makana Directors. The excellent venue was provided by Mynhardt van Dyk from The Rat and Parrot.

There was a diverse cross-section of about 160 Grahamstown people who came to hear

  • Tony Lankester : CEO National Arts Festival
  • Nomhle Gaga : Executive Mayor of Makana Municipality
  • Matthew Lester : Professor Rhodes University Business School

Proceedings were introduced by Richard Gaybba, vice-chairperson of GBF. He outlined how this event is a starting point, to bring ‘people and ideas’ together, for the wider benefit of Makana. This point was taken up by Matthew Lester who pointed out that Grahamstown has a wealth of brain power, far exceeding the average for a city the size of Grahamstown. Richard then introduced the partners behind this event and also drew attention to the fact that the three speakers are major role players in Grahamstown.

Richard explained that GBF is a voluntary organisation, representing the business interests within Grahamstown and welcomes new members to join. He also highlighted the advantage of the various organisations in Grahamstown communicating and working collaboratively to improve the running of the city.

He then spoke about two current GBF projects, both connected with cleaning up the city centre. The first is a partnership between GBF, Makana, Creative City and Grahamstown Residents’ Association to clear up the streets, with particular thanks to Mike Webber who is providing his Rentall Skips free of charge. The second is a plan to replace all the broken dustbins in the city centre and reach an agreement about servicing the bins so they are emptied regularly.

Tony Lankester : CEO National Arts Festival

Tony covered a wide range of issues which he discussed under the headings:

  • Is the National Arts Festival going to move to Cape Town?
  • The Festival has lost its vibe
  • The press article: Grahamstown we have a problem

The answer to the first question is no, The National Arts Festival’s home is Grahamstown and will remain so unless it became impossible to continue here. In this regard, the water problems experienced this year have to be solved so there is no repeat.

The NAF has been growing steadily, so it is not a ‘bad thing’ that it stayed near its highest level, but did not expand further this year. The artistic performances were as good, if not better than any previous year with around 2,500 performances. If festival has ‘lost its vibe’ that is a reflection of activity in town. NAF does not run the restaurants and other services in town. There is scope for inventive business people to offer more services to festival goers.

A lot of thought was given to the Press article, and the timing of the article. The reality was that the word was already out that Grahamstown as the NAF venue had a water crisis. It would have seemed strange if NAF did not comment on this state of affairs, though the article was published after this year’s festival had finished. It actually had the effect of drawing a line under the problem and stopping further comment. Hopefully it will help inform the necessary dialogue that now needs to happen in Grahamstown.

Tony then went on to talk about ‘threats’ and ‘opportunities.’ Amongst the threats he identified are the inelastic capacity to grow accommodation further. He also spoke about the experiences of festival goers who used to praise Grahamstown businesses for not unduly inflating their prices for a captive audience, but that is no longer true. Threats posed by inadequate infrastructure.

It was interesting for the non-business community to witness Tony as CEO of NAF telling business people about niche markets they were missing – for example reliable baby-sitting services, secure taxi services (including to nearby towns) and a central point to take care of all accommodation bookings. He also spoke about the possibility of freeing up some of the more exclusive houses in town for renting during festival.

Nomhle Gaga: Executive Mayor of Makana Municipality

The Mayor began by stating that Grahamstown is her home, where her heart is and that she aims to be the Mayor for all 80,000 residents. She also pointed out that it is the people of Makana who pay her wages and that she is here to serve.

The Mayor then went on to outline numerous projects and upgrades that are in the pipeline, including substantial funding to further improve our water infrastructure, the sewer and water-treatment infrastructure, and a ‘waste to energy’ plant that would necessitate the upgrade of our electricity reticulation. She linked this latter development to resolving issues over illegal dumping.

The Mayor also drew attention to Makana’s determination to further improve revenue collection beyond the gains made to date. Issues with meter reading are being addressed, personnel issues tackled. There is a moratorium on staff overtime and also action on fleet management.

She gave a great amount of detail about a variety of funds, some in the R100 millions, to solve Makana’s infrastructure problems, that have either been secured, promised or applied for. The main water and sewage improvements are due for completion in 2018.

The Mayor also drew attention to the fact that businesses and individuals have a role to play, for example businesses ensuring that their buildings are painted and kept in good repair. She concluded by stating that she is committed to reduce staff costs and ensuring productivity, and stated that a clean city is non-negotiable.

Matthew Lester: Professor, Rhodes University Business School

Matthew provide many insights into the current challenges facing Grahamstown. He started by outlining some of the assets that the city enjoys such as its University, quality schools, certain businesses and more. He then outlined some the deficits such as the sharp divisions and inequality, water and infrastructure challenges, the ‘fees must fall’ protest and the wider economy.

This outline was then given more substance as graphs were presented showing the degrees of inequality, unemployment by age group.

He explicitly drew a distinction between successful businesses run by entrepreneurs and ‘survival businesses.’

Apart from giving a very clear account of the severity of the challenges facing Grahamstown, he also stated that some stakeholders do not have ownership, they do not own the problems, but they still want ‘their slice.’ As such these stakeholders can be a serious nuisance.

Matthew then moved the conversation forward towards some measures that would alleviate the problems and help Grahamstown move forward. He advocated that the survivalist businesses should be assisted to move into the mainstream through upskilling, mentorship and guidance. There is no shortage of ‘brain power’ in Grahamstown.

Finally, he showed graphs indicating profitability against ethical business and promoted the view that the most successful businesses work to a good ethical code as well as being profitable.

For his full presentation see: http://criticalthought.co.za/the-destructive-power-of-the-negative

Questions and Answers

The evening was given a further professional touch by having Chrissie Boughey, RU Student Affairs skilfully handling the question and answer session.

Questions

  1. There was a complaint that NAF did not talk with businesses enough.
  2. A questioner said that The Mayor had failed to explain her Vision for Makana.
  3. The Muslim community, numbering about 500, needs approval to build a mosque.
  4. Makana communications are deficient, and that there should be a ‘Makana Municipality page’ every week in Grocotts.
  5. Poor Communications by Makana were raised as the main problem by a few questioners, how can we access more information good or bad?
  6. In poorer schools, performance is hampered by poor parenting, and that social workers should be deployed to address this need.

Answers

  1. Tony answered stating that any businesses are welcome to come and talk with NAF, to share ideas and solve problems – he welcomes visitors as it can get lonely perched at the monument.
  2. It was pointed out that the first presentation: Grahamstown we have a problem was largely concerned with issues of maintenance and ageing infrastructure. The Mayor’s speech had addressed those concerns, and that fixing water, sanitation, illegal dumping and electricity infrastructure would be an excellent achievement, hardly lacking in vision. The Mayor repeated that she is determined to get the Municipality working more efficiently, attending to peoples’ needs and to produce a cleaner city.
  3. The questioner was referred to the fact that plans are in hand, with planning permission to be agreed for the site to build a mosque.
  4. This was accepted as a valuable suggestion which could also help to answer question 5. It would be looked at after the meeting.
  5. See 4.
  6. This is not directly something that Makana can action, as it falls under education.

Conclusion

The meeting concluded with an endorsement of The Mayor’s resolve to fix Grahamstown problems, the need for active citizens to get involved with Grahamstwon Business Forum and Grahamstown Residents’ Association, and that The Grahamstown Conversation needs to continue.

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Cacadu Development Agency projects presentation

Cacadu Development Agency presentation – proposed new developments in Makana

  • Waste to Energy Plant
  • Extended Airport Runway
  • Restoration of Dakawa Buildings
  • SMME training

A public presentation will be given by Cacadu Development Agency in partnership with Blue Crane Green Energy PVT at Eden Grove Red Lecture Theatre, Lucas Avenue at 5pm on Wednesday 31 August 2016.

Background information provided

The Cacadu Development Agency

In 2010 the Cacadu Development Agency (CDA) was founded by the Sarah Baartman District Municipality (SBDM) with operational funding provided by the district. The Cacadu Development Agency (CDA) was requested to develop local economic projects that could potentially have a macro benefit on the holistic economy of the district.

It is important to note that the primary driver of all the CDA’s projects is job creation, skills development and social upliftment. Furthermore all core projects are designed to be catalytic and to encourage private sector investment in order to create a conduit platform for value added downstream and upstream opportunities.  The prevailing challenges in this respect are the rural context, limited resources of municipalities and unsustainable levels of unemployment and poverty.

In the last financial year 15 macro projects were undertaken with a investment value of several billion rand into the economy, in the sectors of Renewable Energy, Tourism, Industrial development, Aviation, Agriculture, Education and Business development.

The CDA appointed a Service Provider, through a government procurement process in 2015, to assist with the development of Waste to Energy projects based on

  1. Job creation
  2. municipal income generation potential
  3. potential to address the environmental issues (Dump sites etc.) that are causing risks for the municipalities.

The first municipality to have signed for this project was the Blue Crane Route Municipality, a feasibility study was completed as well as a current EIA process. The plan is to sign a final agreement before end of the year and to commence with construction within a 3 month period after signing the agreement, the construction phase is a 12 month period whereafter operations could commence immediately.

In a similar fashion the CDA commenced with discussions with the Makana Municipality, late last year. Makana gave the go-ahead for the project concept phase. Currently the project’s pre-feasibility stage is completed and a Technical Action Committee was established, to move the project forward to conclude the feasibility/ bankable stage.

The current challenge is to work around the weak financial position of the Municipality, in terms of developing a bankable project. This process is also progressing well with joint discussions with various large electricity clients of the municipality. The objectives of the project are as follows:

  • Municipality should ultimately, benefit financially from the project
  • Project to be developed at no cost for the Municipality (SP will carry all the initial cost – Feasibility/EIA etc.)
  • At least 100 jobs to be created (Project will also clear invader plant species – Black Wattle – through the working for water project)
  • Total removal of the dump site (Also mining the waste in the current site)
  • Additional benefits to the municipality (The CDA have in the meantime sourced funding for various other projects in the Makana Municipality: Restoration of the Dakawa building complex, training of SMME’s, upgrading of the current Airport etc.)
  • The CDA, through the SP’s expertise, is already working on a plan (assisting the Municipality) to upgrade the electricity reticulation network of the Makana Municipality. A potential fund source for municipalities in distress was identified by the CDA/ SP for this project. The total amount to be gained as a grant could be quite substantial.

The responses on GRA questions are as follows:

  1. Is there a firm proposal to introduce such a project, agreed by Council?
    No not yet by council, although they are full aware of the project and current feasibility phase. The objective is to complete a Bankable Feasibility and to this end, the CDA appointed a project developer and together they engaged the council, who have been receptive and supportive to date. Given that development of such a project is complex, time consuming and costly, these entities are establishing a focused task-team while each carries its costs.
  2. Is it basically an incinerator?
    No, most definitely not. Rather, the project developer has proposed a pyrolysis/combustion system that converts biomass to produce clean thermal energy and charcoal. The clean thermal energy is converted into electricity via an air cooled Organic Rankien Cycle turbine and generator set. This system burns only the pyrolysis gases and the resulting emission is therefore contains less than one tenth of the solids, NOx or CO allowed by our environmental law. Moreover, the charcoal will be beneficiated and specified/sold as biochar that will be applied in agricultural soil, thereby making the system carbon negative and ensuring the project will make a very positive environmental impact.Does Makana have a named “make” in mind?
    No, the project developer has access to propriety technology and will make such information available in due course and/or as the project engages the public within the EIA process.
  3. Has a source of funding been applied for?
    Yes, up to the Feasibility stage but no for the rest of the project. ( Various funders are already aligned, and ready once the feasibility is completed)
  4. Is there a known timescale for introduction?
    Unfortunately not yet. The project development phase is too elastic and timelines will only be definitive when this phase is completed.
  5. Would it mean the closure of the Landfill site (as much of the waste, such as building materials are not flammable)?
    Unfortunately not until the project is operational, once operational most definitely.
  6. Even with an incinerator, where would waste be dumped in order to separate waste into recyclables, re-useables, compostables, hazardous waste and the waste to be burnt?
    Absolutely correct. More than one intervention/process is required and the project developer therefore intends to introduce supplementary processes, which will include a Materials Recovery Facility, so as to eliminate the need for landfill in time. It is therefore envisaged that a fully licensed and compliant waste management and treatment site/unit will be established properly operated at an appropriate location.

Chris Wilken: CDA – Project Manager

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Assumption Development Centre Launch

Assumption Development Centre in Joza (corner Joza and Ncame Streets) on 12 April 2016 held a well-attended launch of its socio-economic development model.

Key aspects of the plan include mentoring, leading either to improved employability of capacity for entrepreneurs to start a small business. Some community members who have completed the programme have been placed at Makana Brick as interns, and those who have found this a good fit are staying on as permanent employees. Seven small businesses are associated with ADC.

Present at the launch were community members and representatives of various stakeholders and government, including mayor Cllr Nomhle Gaga.

Says GRA chairperson Philip Machanick: “It is great to see this sort of initiative getting off the ground. What this city needs more than anything is economic opportunity for the poorest citizens. We will look out for ways of supporting small businesses arising out of this initiative.”

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