If there is light at the end of the tunnel on the Joburg municipal billing crisis, then it is faint and a long way off.
Improvements may only be seen in six weeks’ time. And the biggest problem the council faces is with the meter system: many are old or broken or read incorrectly and then the central accounts administration captures the information incorrectly.
This is according to the office of City of Joburg’s finance MMC, Rabelani Dagada, whose department has spent the past 10 months analysing the systemic issues that led to the billing crisis.
Deidre Hendricks, a director in Dagada’s office, said they found that technical issues raised queries on the bills and that, for multiple reasons, these queries go unresolved.
“This perception leaves the municipal account with question marks around its credibility.”
Group finance department spokesperson Stan Maphologela said some issues included low coverage of physical meter reading, incorrect estimates, incorrect meter reading from entities such as City Power and Joburg Water, incorrect readings used by the Revenue Shared Services Centre, inconsistent processes, fraudulent devaluation of properties and inadequate customer care.
Dagada last month said the city’s billing issues had reached crisis levels following complaints by residents of double billing after its “failure in its customer statement delivery system” relating to the April accounts.
This resulted in 412 000 account holders not being issued monthly statements, with a further 97 000 account statements being issued incorrectly. In the same month, The Citizen was notified of complaints by Joburg residents who claimed to have been billed incorrectly.
A small business owner in Parktown North claimed to have been billed R45 000 when their usual monthly bill was R3 000.
“Just recently, I reported water running down the street. Men from the municipality came to fix the problem but said the issue was on my property. When I called my plumber he found the roots from the tree on the pavement had broken the pipe, making it a municipal problem. I have now received a bill for R45 000 and the municipality says it is correct.”
Maphologela said that when the city’s back office was introduced in April to deal with queries, there were 48 476 open queries, of which 26 491 were between 90 and 365 days old.
“In May, the open queries were significantly reduced to about 12 600 and more are still being worked on.”
The billing turnaround plan involves tightening up on procedures like meter readings, better coordination between departments, recruiting qualified staff and reviewing processes, policies and procedures.
These interventions, Maphologela said, included the establishment of a technical support services unit.
Group finance was also working with the department of environment and infrastructure services to review the water and electricity by-laws with a view to reducing the period for which the municipality is allowed to use estimated readings.