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Monday Sep 10, 2012

Joburg billing chaos grows despite claims that it has been resolved

About 23 percent of electricity readings being done by the City of Joburg are incorrect and "implausible".

This was revealed in documents handed to councillors at last week's council meeting.

This means that claims made by city manager Trevor Fowler last month that the billing crisis was being resolved and that all but 1 800 old queries had been resolved, were untrue.

Fowler also said there were only 15 000 new ones received on a monthly basis.

According to the documents, at the end of June, the city was taking about 262 000 meter readings and of these, about 61 000 - almost a quarter - were logged as "implausible meter readings". It was also noted that meter reading problems continue.

The Star continues to be inundated with complaints about incorrect meter readings.

Earlier this week the DA tried to hand over their first batch of thousands of unresolved billing queries it had gathered - all with reference numbers and many of them old. Many of the complaints were about incorrect meter readings or over-estimated readings.

But the city refused to take them, accusing the customers of trying to jump the queue, and told customers they could just bring their complaints directly to the city.

Now in another admission of the problem, the city has decided to hire someone to deal with all those irate residents.

Nathi Mthethwa (not to be confused with the national minister of Police) has taken up the daunting task of group head for urban management and citizen

Arelationship management.

The mayoral committee had decided to fill the empty post in November, but struggled to do so.

According to council minutes, the city initially hired a recruitment agency to find a suitable candidate. Adverts were run and 90 applications were received. Council minutes note that "four applicants met most of the requirements for the job and were worth considering".

But after interviewing all four, the interview panel - which included two MMCs, the city manager and chief operating officer - decided none were suitable.

A headhunting process started, and two were found.

Mthethwa was the successful candidate and his appointment was approved by the city last month.

Mthethwa's qualifications include an MBA, an M Phil, a Bachelor of Public Administration and a diploma in municipal administration.

The council minutes note that he has 10 years of experience in municipal management , including managing inner-city regeneration and "is experienced in monitoring effective service delivery" and managing teams effectively.

The council minutes note the good news for the city of a much bigger than expected surplus for the financial year that ended in June: "The actual year to date direct revenue is over budget by R939.5 million and the actual direct operating expenditure is under budget by R684.3m. The nett effect resulted in an operating surplus of R2.8 billion against a year to date budgeted surplus of R1bn."

The reasons for getting more revenue than expected included getting an extra R500m in rates payments (10 percent more than expected), and an extra R100m in fines (about 30 percent more than expected). With ongoing billing issues, Mthethwa has his work cut out for him.

The Star

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