A cash-strapped Mpumalanga municipality may need pickaxes and shovels to recover about R18 million in salaries that were paid twice to its employees last month.
An error by officials in the Nkomazi Local Municipality’s finance department saw workers getting paid their salaries on the 15th instead of the 25th.
When the council decided not to pay the workers on the correct pay day, 10 days later, the workers shut down all water treatment plants and other municipal services.
The council bent over backwards and paid the bonanza to contain the service delivery chaos.
Now it wants to recover the money before the end of the 2019/20 financial year in June next year and has suggested deducting 20% from the employees’ salaries, but the workers are having none of it.
City Press understands that there might be another shutdown in municipal services if the deductions are implemented on Monday as workers are looking forward to a bountiful festive season from their windfall.
Nkomazi spokesperson Cyril Ripinga confirmed that an employee made a blunder by paying salaries instead of travel allowances on the 15th.
The municipality paid R18 million on October 15 and another R18 million on October 25.
“It was a genuine mistake by the official. We phoned the bank not to release the money after realising the mistake, but the bank went ahead and paid,” Ripinga said.
“We will deduct the money from their salaries. It’s sad because the official who made this error wanted to commit suicide after this … It was a genuine mistake.”
An insider in the municipality’s management said most of the workers would not be able to refund the municipality because they were generally in debt.
“The fact of the matter is that even though the first payment was a mistake, council should not have agreed to pay the second time as this was in contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act,” said the insider.
“This was reckless lending and it was wrong to pay employees in advance. The council was irresponsible and this will lead to financial trouble.”
Mpumalanga SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) secretary Saul Simelane said the union’s worry was that council had imposed a blanket 20% deduction without considering the affordability and circumstances of each employee.
“The correct procedure is that there should be consent from individual workers for deductions to be made. Some of our members cannot afford the 20% deductions. The viable solution is to determine how much each employee can afford,” said Simelane.
He said the matter called for an investigation as it smacked of malfeasance.
“This error must be accounted for. It must be investigated if this was the first time it happened or not. The council must give clarity.”
Nkomazi Local Municipality works on a shoe-string R1.1 billion annual budget, 70% of which comes from the national fiscus.
Its revenue collection rate is low as only businesses and residents in Malalane, Hectorspruit and Komatipoort can afford rates and taxes, while the majority of residents in 54 rural villages cannot.