Monday, 3 December 2012

Bypassing Government

Governments are the  most destructive force on the planet. Governments caused the premature death of  more people in the 20th century than all other natural forces combined. Governments continue to destroy lives and wealth at a phenomenal rate in the 21st century, and yet we love them, admire them, and die for them.

Every now and then governments become so cruel or so useless that their citizens rise up against them and try to overthrow them, often unsuccessfully and at great personal cost. However, there is an alternative to revolution – you can just bypass government, and leave it to wither on the vine for lack of attention.

This article describes an approach to bypassing local government in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa

Local governments levy rates in advance in exchange for a promise to provide specific services.  In order to live comfortably you need a reliable water and power supply, housing, road access, security, sewerage, waste disposal.  If you don’t have these minimum services your life becomes miserable and dangerous, no matter who is responsible for providing them nor how much you have already paid.

Convincing yourself that you should drink polluted water, drive through potholes, live with sewerage in the roads, just because you have paid some tax to some bureaucrats, is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. If you know how to fix your water supply, or to fix the pothole in your road, then just get on and do it and stop allowing the bureaucrats to win twice, first when you pay them and second when you suffer for the lack of a needed service.

Consider rates as just another unexplained and unexpected tax, like a transformation tax, or a fuel levy hike. Pay it for the same reason you always pay your taxes, to avoid going to jail. And having paid the tax, forget about it, just as you do for all the other taxes you already pay but for which you expect to receive nothing in return.

Just bypass the bureaucrats in local government. Stop playing their game by their rules. Write them off as the useless incompetents that they are. Begging some lazy and unmotivated municipal official to finally get around to fixing your specific problem is a shortcut to a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. 

Of course it is expensive. Of course you have a right to service for your taxes. Of course something should be done. But have you noticed that the situation has been like this for years, that it is not getting better, and that the quality of your life is getting worse? How bad does it have to get before you try a different approach?

Pay as little tax (rates) as you possibly can. Don’t waste your time begging for services. Organise yourself and your neighbours to provide the services you need, for yourselves. Farmers have been doing it for years – if your water is no good, sink your own borehole and filter it yourself. If the road outside your house is full of potholes, fix them. If your sewerage is overflowing, put in your own septic tank, or hire a private sewerage disposal company.

There are some key issues to consider:
  • Don’t try to become a parallel municipality, where now you are in charge. Everything must be voluntary, or else it is just another tax. If you can’t get enough people to support a particular idea or project, then it shouldn’t be done.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid complexity.  Form small, local street committees amongst people you see everyday. Have many projects and few meetings. Plan to have fun.
  • Never require payment for something in advance of its imminent delivery. Only ask for funding for very specific purposes, rather than large annual contributions for no specific project. Small projects with early completion dates costing a small amount are much better than huge projects with giant war chests which must be collected before they can even begin.
  •  Don’t worry about free riders. If YOU and a few others think it is worth doing, then do it without giving a thought to others who may benefit without paying. They are free riders today, tomorrow you will free ride on them.
  • Get organised. Understand the difficulties up front. Know what you are letting yourself in for. This is almost certainly not a full time job for you. Don’t be embarassed to make a profit, and pay a dividend to your members/workers, because all unpaid voluntary work ends in disillusionment after about 9 months .
  •  Keep close track of the money. Disagreements over money destroy many successful relationships and partnerships. Use an accounting system.
  •  Communicate often, clearly and briefly. Use technology. Don’t go dark. Advertise your successes, acknowledge your mistakes
  • Be willing to cooperate as much as possible. Don’t succumb to “not invented here” syndrome, or the desire to own and control everything.
  •  Be careful of democracy. Just because a majority thinks something is a good idea does not mean you can force someone who doesn’t like the idea to do it. Remember, the only power you may exercise is persuasion.

Specific ideas for Jeffreys Bay
  •            Consider bringing many small projects together under one loose umbrella. You don’t need to duplicate bank accounts and charges, membership databases, accounting systems, communication and administration costs, audit fees, etc, if you can work out a fair and cooperative structure between new and existing organisations.
  •       For example, consider using the Jeffreys Bay Residents Association (JBRA) or some similar existing organisation as the umbrella body.  Use its bank account, membership database, accounting system, website, and communication channels, rather than develop duplicate ones. For each street committee, project, conservancy, etc, establish a unique identity and account within the JBRA accounting system. Ringfence funds to and from these projects. Publish monthly accounts.
  •             Strengthen the JBRA committee structure to incorporate all sub-structures such as Dorp van Drome, Kloof conservancy, etc. The JBRA would have no say in how these sub-structures organise themselves, but would simply provide common administrative and accounting facilities. If these are already in place, consider sharing them.
  •       Beware of possible fraud and malfeasance with many new, small structures requesting funds and offering services to the community. Some sort of credibility and accountability must be provided, otherwise every chancer will start a street committee and request payment in advance, into his own bank account.
  •       Allow for failures. Most good ideas degenerate rapidly into work. Very few voluntary committees keep their enthusiasm for longer than 9 months. Setup  a structure with some history, some continuity, some legal standing.

This short note outlines an alternative, non-violent and non-confrontational way of dealing with the reality of collapsing services in South Africa. Instead of burning infrastructure in violent and usually pointless confrontations with authority, simply bypass them and get on with building and repairing your own infrastructure.

Trevor Watkins

The real “state” of the municipality

The Jeffreys Bay Residents Association (JBRA) is holding a public meeting at 6pm on Monday 10th of December 2012 in the Newton Hall in Goedehoop street. At this meeting we will discuss with concerned residents some of the burning issues flooding our small town.
We seem to always have too much or too little of this vital fluid, in the wrong places, of the wrong colour and content, and at the wrong times.
The borehole water supply to Wavecrest is totally unacceptable. It is polluted with manganese and iron, it frequently comes out brown or worse, it is undrinkable, destroys clothing washed in it, and clogs up filters within hours.  An expert from the Department of Water Affairs (DWAF) was contacted by the JBRA. He has investigated the borehole supply and will be submitting a report to DWAF and the JBRA shortly. His preliminary conclusions indicate that the brown water problem is due to inadequate filtering at the pump station, inadequate settling time in the reservoir, resulting in manganese precipitating out in the Wavecrest pipes themselves, leading to the regular incidents of discoloured water. The solution is to reduce the load on the existing boreholes by sinking more boreholes, by ensuring that all filters are adequately serviced, washed and in use, and to allow more time for the heavy metals to settle out of the water before being pumped into the pipe network. All of this will take money and will from the municipality, which is in even shorter supply than drinkable water in Wavecrest.
A major sewerage leak into a public road outside the Waste water treatment works behind the mall has been going on unchecked for months. A resident brought this situation to the attention of a JBRA committee member, who confirmed the spill and photographed it. This spill was shown to the expert from DWAF, who was horrified. He found that the spill was caused by a blocked drain at the treatment plant.  He contacted the responsible department at the municipality immediately, and received the assurance the problem would be fixed. For  3 subsequent weeks the JBRA committee member checked and photographed the flow continuing as before. Finally the DWAF expert visited the scene personally again and held a meeting with municipal officials immediately thereafter. Finally, this flow has stopped and the stream of sewerage in the road has dried up.
Although there have been no recent sewerage leaks onto main beach, the stormwater drain next to the ski boat club continues to look like a cess pit. Apparently the aging pumps here have been replaced.
The DWAF expert took samples of the permanent water from the side of the Aston Bay road below Ocean View and found this to be essentially raw sewerage with an e-coli count in the millions. This constitutes a massive health hazard to the local residents, and any passers-by. DWAF has issued an instruction to the municipality to resolve this situation immediately. So far, no progress has been reported.
The recent heavy rains caused many new potholes to emerge in our roads. The council has fixed some, the residents have fixed many others, and some whoppers still remain. Although serious, we are better off than our neighbours in Aston Bay and Paradise Beach, where some roads are still underwater or unnavigable. The only long term solution to this problem is to resurface the affected roads.
Kouga continues to use a bucket system for sewerage collection in our townships, despite claims to have eliminated it. This is a disgrace and discredit to our region.
Disaster Management
Kouga has had its fair share of disasters this year, and we have not coped well. Floods have knocked out the bridge to St Francis twice, fires in St Francis have destroyed half a billion rands worth of value, sewerage spills on main beach cost us our Blue Flag status for awhile, and may have cost us the Billabong. Crime continues to plague our residential areas.
When asked, the municipality was unable to produce a current disaster plan, despite having a disaster planning manager.  The fire services in St Francis were terminated against the objections of the residents. The Humansdorp fire department took 15 minutes to get to St Francis, and had to negotiate a temporary sand bridge to get there with their trucks.  If another fire broke out in St Francis on a windy day, or a fire amongst the upmarket thatch houses in Jeffreys Bay, would the results be any different now?
Financial Situation

According to reliable reports, the financial situation of the municipality is getting worse, not better. The level of collections is closer to 60% rather than the 90% so optimistically forecast. Major creditors such as NMMC water and Eskom remain on the books. The salary bill remains sky high. The public financial watchdog committees do not meet or report.
There is a real possibility that the Kouga Municipality may be held liable by the insurance companies and property owners for some of the losses sustained in the St Francis fire. If that is the case, then we can only expect a massive increase in rates to pay for the losses, or the court case to avoid paying.
The Kouga Municipality is proceeding with its plan to add 2,500 houses to the area between Ocean View and Aston Bay, despite its complete inability to deal with sewerage overflows in that area from the current housing. Without adequate planning and infrastructure, this scheme will be just one more disaster to add to the Kouga Municipality’s already impressive record. The JBRA has been enrolled as an interested and affected party in all future planning in this area.
The C Place office
A small item of good news. The JBRA and other organisations has long battled to find a reasonable place in which to hold its meetings, begging space from local sports clubs and bars when needed. Following an initiative from Trevor Watkins, the ward 11 council office in Kwagga Street is now available for meetings, and is being setup as a local community office. Despite frequent requests, the Kouga Municipality was unable or unwilling to supply furniture for this office, so a cheap desk and chairs has been purchased and installed. If anyone needs a venue for a meeting, please contact Trevor on 042 293 1405 or 083 4411 721.
The residents association

The JBRA has had an interesting year. We have been active participants in 3  succesful marches on city hall to protest the lack of service delivery. Arising from these marches we have taken our right to march and assemble to the high court in Grahamstown, which found that the municipality did not adhere to the law.  We have participated in numerous meetings, including on the financial oversight committee and district roads forum and on proposed changes to the liquor trading hours. Our JAG1 email discussion group has finally gained some traction and is now a regular conduit for information to residents. Our chairman has had a number of articles published in the local press.
Unfortunately we have not focussed strongly on increasing paid membership during the year,  which languishes around 50 paid up members. We are hoping that more paid-up members will join at our forthcoming general meeting on the 10th.
In order to be effective, the JBRA requires a full and functional committee. We have battled through the year without even a secretary, which means that the chairman must pick up a great deal of the load.  The need for an active and aggressive residents association has never been greater, but this can’t happen without commitment from members. We appeal to residents with some time and energy to spare to contact the chairman Paul Hjul as soon as possible on 042 293 3167 or 071 956 5953.
During 2011 the JBRA floated the idea that residents should take the maintenance of the town into their own hands. This idea has taken off wonderfully with the formation of the Dreamers by Ernst Marais and others. They have got themselves organised, can be seen doing great work all over town, and have even bigger plans for the New Year. The JBRA salutes these Dreamers, and wishes them the very best for the future.

Please plan to attend our public meeting on Monday 10th December at 6pm at the Newton Hall.