Recent coverage of the Onrus/Vermont SRA initiative in The Village NEWS has been generous and yet conspicuously uncritical. At the public meeting of property owners held a couple of weeks ago there appeared to be a good deal of criticism from the floor, but none of this was reported, or even alluded to, in your recent coverage – no mention of the fact that SRAs set up in some other municipal areas have conspicuously failed, for example.
The concept of an SRA seems to have originated in Canada where their purpose was to raise additional funds from ratepayers to help with the revival of areas that had gone to seed. Transplanted into South Africa, their purpose seems to be the mirror image of that: SRAs are typically set up in areas that, like Onrus/Vermont, are relatively privileged, well run and affluent to start with. Indeed the perception study undertaken in Onrus/Vermont by the SRA promoters indicated that the majority of ratepayers were generally satisfied with the municipal services currently being provided.
So, rather than a desire to gild the lily, the real reason behind this initiative seems rooted in a gloomy expectation that standards will decline – you’re not seedy yet, but you will be if you don’t cough up more cash. Much is made of the fact that the additional funds raised by the SRA will be “ring-fenced” to be spent only in the SRA area. All well and good, but the normal rate payments aren’t. The temptation for a cash-strapped municipality to say “You’ve got your own money – you fix your own potholes” will surely be overwhelming. The money property owners pay anyway – rates, which have increased 100% in the few years I’ve lived here – will be allocated to other areas.
Far from being a jolly good idea, SRAs seem to be yet another manifestation of a South African disease whose principal symptom is throwing money at a problem and hoping it goes away, or at least doesn’t come any closer. Rather put effort into ensuring that those entities receiving public money for public services are held strictly to account. If you feel the need to raise money, do it for the genuinely deserving, rather than feeding it into a bureaucratic machine.