Yes, you were over-billed

Mayor fi­nally ad­mits that costly sys­tem has prob­lems

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - Bheki Mban­jwa

AN IN­DE­PEN­DENT in-ves­ti­ga­tion has fi­nally been launched into the chaotic billing sys­tem in the eThek­wini mu­nic­i­pal­ity after nu­mer­ous com­plaints from rate-peers since the con­tro­ver­sial Reve-nue Man­age­ment Sys­tem was in­tro-duced.

Mayor Zandile Gumede said yes-ter­day there were chal­lenges with the sys­tem, which had re­sulted in some ratepay­ers be­ing over-billed. The ad­mis­sion comes after months of de­nials by city of­fi­cials that the sys­tem was billing con­sumers in-cor­rectly.

The sys­tem, which pro­duces wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and san­i­ta­tion ac-counts, was brought on­line last year at a cost of more than R620 mil­lion, 10 years after it was first mooted, and hun­dreds of mil­lions of rand over bud­get.

"Poor peo­ple can­not af­ford to be charged such ex­or­bi­tant fees," said Gumede.

Pri­or­i­ties

She said fix­ing the cri­sis was part of her pri­or­i­ties since as­sum-ing of­fice.

"We are fac­ing a se­ri­ous chal-lenge with the RMS sys­tem. That is why the first call I made was to

re was a res­o­lu­tion within the coun­cil to say they must look at this is­sue. Two months from now I must have a re­port that I will be tabling.”

The mayor said she wanted to make sure that the res­i­dents of eThek­wini are happy. She was speak­ing at the Olive Con­ven­tion Cen­tre yes­ter­day, where she gave a re­port-back on the achieve­ments made dur­ing her first year in of­fice.

Kr­ish Kumar, the city’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, said the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral was cur­rently au­dit­ing the RMS sys­tem. He said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was look­ing at the over­all func­tion­al­ity of the sys­tem.

“We fully sup­port the mayor and we will co-op­er­ate with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said.

He did not want to spec­u­late as to what had led to the billing cri­sis, whether those were as a re­sult of hu­man er­ror or the sys­tem it­self.

“Let us not spec­u­late what the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will un­cover.”

He did, how­ever, say the over-billing had been as a re­sult of me­ter read­ings and that these had been brought un­der con­trol.

He urged all res­i­dents who be­lieved they had been over-billed to con­tact the coun­cil. He said there would be fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the mat­ter by the city’s in­ter­nal au­dit and ex­pen­di­ture unit to look at whether there were any is­sues worth prob­ing.

When ap­proached for com­ment, the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral’s of­fice re­quested more time to re­spond to The Mer­cury’s ques­tions.

Speak­ing at the long-awaited event, which had al­ready been post­poned twice, Gumede said she wanted the city to get down to busi­ness, and im­proved ser­vice de­liv­ery was one of her pri­or­i­ties.

“I am putting my foot down. I will not take any non­sense, ev­ery­one has to work.”

She said peo­ple were los­ing pa­tience, and there­fore there had to be im­prove­ment in terms of ser­vice de­liv­ery.

City man­ager Sipho Nzuza also laid out his plans for a cus­tomer­friendly and smart city. He said wi-fi hotspots had to be cre­ated in the city, and se­cu­rity had to be en­hanced.

Nzuza said clean­ing up the city was one of his pet projects.

The mayor also un­veiled plans “to fight crime and grime” in the city cen­tre.

Such a plan in­cluded hir­ing 200 more metro po­lice of­fi­cers, re­cruit­ing ad­di­tional se­cu­rity guards, de­ploy­ing un­marked po­lice ve­hi­cles to pa­trol the CBD and ren­o­vat­ing sur­veil­lance cam­eras.

In an event filled with pomp and cer­e­mony and in which Gumede en­tered the hall ac­com­pa­nied by an im­bongi singing her praises, the mayor said the city had adopted aus­ter­ity mea­sures.

These in­cluded cut­ting down on events and over­seas trips.

Through­out her speech Gumede launched at­tacks on the op­po­si­tion, say­ing one of the chal­lenges fac­ing the city was that it had “an op­po­si­tion that op­poses for the sake of op­pos­ing”.

The DA did not at­tend the event. Zwakele Mncwango, the DA leader, said the party had not boy­cotted the event but had felt it would be use­less to at­tend as the mayor “had noth­ing new to of­fer”.

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