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Wednesday Apr 11, 2018

Joburg apologises for R48 000 bill

The City of Joburg has acknowledged it is still facing "challenges" with its billing systems, despite promises in August by mayor Herman Mashaba that he was personally getting involved to improve the system.

Yesterday, the member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for finance Funzela Ngobeni visited an irate Maraisburg property owner, Keenen Whittaker, who has been slapped with a R48 000 bill for services, despite making regular payments for years.

He has been battling with incorrect accounts since July and services to his property were cut off regularly, without pre-termination notices.

"I am frustrated and angry that I get treated so rudely by municipal officials and contractors, who have disconnected my services several times, saying I must pay upfront and then they dispute the amount.

"Despite having queries on our account, we have been charged pre-termination and disconnection fees. I am grateful for the MMC's visit and his apologies," he said, adding that the city's constant threats had put pressure on his marriage.

Ngobeni apologised to him and other affected residents about the poor treatment they had received at the hands of city officials.

He intervened and ensured City Power changed the meter which will soon be replaced with a pre-paid meter. Representatives from the city's revenue department were present during the MMC's visit and undertook to rectify the account.

"I have come to apologise personally to Keenen for what he endured in trying to rectify the problem.

"It is not acceptable what he and other residents go through trying to get correct bills," he said.

Ngobeni acknowledged that promised resolutions by the city to rectify the billing problems by the end of last month were not been fulfilled, and that there were many challenges.

The mayor said last year that, if asked by residents, he would resign in December if the billing problems had not been resolved. But Ngobeni said some progress had been made since he was appointed head of finance two months ago, with about 65% of errors resolved, which is set to increase to 85% by next month.

"We aim to change the attitude of our staff to customers. We need to be held accountable. We are dealing with different utilities and departments and trying to bring all of them together.

"We are also negotiating a new meter-reading contract, because this seems to be a problem in the billing system.

"We are also placing huge emphasis on retraining call centre operators who often do not treat customers correctly.

"We are meeting with walk-in and call centre staff to see what issues they have, so that we can address their problems. We want to emphasise that customers are king. We cannot have our ratepayers being treated rudely," he said.

Last year, the mayor said it had taken time to analyse the full magnitude of the billing crisis in the city's finance department.

The new administration had inherited a billing system where levels of corruption and mismanagement "have historically flourished in an environment of chaos and disorder", he said at the time.

Anna Cox
The Star

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