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Friday Feb 24, 2012

R250 000 bill makes Joburg property owner cry at public inquiry

Dolf Kronfuss breaks down in tears, his hands shaking uncontrollably as he faces the National Consumer Tribunal.

He pulls out his council accounts, which show that he owes almost R250 000 for electricity for a building that he owns in Bertrams, but which has been standing empty for six years.

"I used to pay about R1 000 a month for services for electricity but suddenly I started getting bills of R20 000 and R30 000 a month.

"There is no one on the premises, only a security guard, and I have installed a prepaid meter for him," he says.

Kronfuss attended the tribunal hearings yesterday even though his matter was not due to be heard.

He said he had been admitted to hospital twice for a nervous condition, for which he blames the council.

"Every time I go and see them, my whole body starts shaking, and the same happens every time I open a bill. I have been there so many times, and every time I get verbally abused and told to go back to Germany."

The tribunal hearings revolved around the validity of the compliance certificates issued by the National Consumer Commission against the City of Joburg.

The commission probed and upheld 45 complaints against the council, but the municipality did not comply, prompting it to be issued with compliance notices.

The council objected and appealed to the tribunal to review the notices.

It said compliance notices issued by the commission would have serious financial implications for the council, and if it disregarded only five of the 45 notices, the penalties of 10 percent of its

Aturnover council. Furthermore, if the council did not pay the fines, the National Prosecuting Authority could become involved - another serious consequence for the City of Joburg.

"There would be enormous invasive consequences for the council," said attorney Michelle le Roux.

The council argued that the commission did not have jurisdiction over it, that its conduct fell outside the scope of the Consumer Protection Act, that the procedures followed were incorrect, its arguments were not valid, and that most of the complaints fell outside the time frame of the act, which came into effect on April 1.

It also argued that the provision of services such as water and electricity did not fall within the scope of the act, nor did the problem of estimated bills, the non-issuing of clearance certificates and inaccurate bills, as the price of the services offered by the council was not in dispute.

The commission's lawyer, Ontiretse Thupayatlase, asked why compliance orders should not be adhered to by the council, and if this had economic consequences for it, so what?

"It is the law and it has to be abided by. They are not abiding because there is chaos in the billing system."

He said the commission had set up a dedicated structure - an unusual measure - because of the large number of complaints, and had tried many times to engage the council through correspondence and regular meetings.

Thupayatlase said the result was that promises were not kept and no feedback was given on complaints, with the council failing to commit to the commission's process.

The Star

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