Coun­cil’s own owe R700 000

8 metro of­fi­cials have to cough up

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - SIHLE MANDA sihle.manda@inl.co.za

EIGHT City of Joburg coun­cil­lors, cur­rent and for­mer, owe the metro a stag­ger­ing R700 000 in ar­rears for their utility bills – though in some in­stances the debt is con­tested.

The mas­sive debt is listed in the city’s 2015/16 annual fi­nan­cial re­port.

Some of those im­pli­cated are no longer coun­cil­lors in the city.

Cur­rent serv­ing coun­cil­lor Dave Dewes sat with the high­est bill, ow­ing the city R340 449.

How­ever, Dewes told The Star that the bill was be­ing set­tled af­ter lodg­ing a query with the city’s billing depart­ment.

He be­lieved that it was a re­sult of the city’s on­go­ing billing cri­sis. Dewes said he had signed an ac­knowl­edge­ment of debt on all his ac­counts.

“The is­sue has been re­solved. There are a few queries out­stand­ing that the city still needs to re­solve, and ev­ery­thing will be in or­der,” he said.

Dewes said he had been try­ing to clear queries on his ac­count for about two years. “If you speak to a ma­jor­ity of Joburg ci­ti­zens, you’ll find that most of them have had is­sues with the billing ac­counts,” he said.

It was the sec­ond time such a large bill had landed in his post. “The first is­sue was re­solved,” he con­firmed, say­ing he once had his va­cant plot of land billed R80 000 in wa­ter con­sump­tion when it did not even have a me­ter.

“Prob­a­bly down the line we’ll pick up the more se­ri­ous ones where there’s ab­so­lutely no re­sponse. We’ll then de­cide to take ac­tion if there’s no re­sponse from a cer­tain coun­cil­lor,” he said.

An­other for­mer coun­cil­lor owed R263 000 to the city, while the other bills in ar­rears ranged from R40 000 to R16, as recorded on June 30, 2016 when the fi­nan­cial year ended.

Be­cause the ma­jor­ity of the coun­cil­lors were as­so­ci­ated with the DA, coun­cil Speaker Vasco da Gama re­ferred com­ments to chief whip and DA coun­cil­lor Kevin Wax.

The Star un­der­stands that some of the ac­counts are be­ing queried by those im­pli­cated as they be­lieved the fig­ures were enor­mously in­flated.

Wax said the metro’s billing sys­tem might be a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to ex­or­bi­tant ac­counts.

How­ever, he said, “we have got in­ter­nal pro­ce­dures that we deal with”.

“Ef­fec­tively, what nor­mally hap­pens is we get a list (of coun­cil­lors in ar­rears), we have a look at it and re­fer it to the dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties through chief whips or di­rectly with the con­cerned coun­cil­lors,” he ex­plained.

“We start off by just ask­ing them to make ar­range­ments and then we fol­low through… even­tu­ally we get to a point of dis­ci­plinary.”

He said he was aware of coun­cil­lors in ar­rears but would not com­ment on the fig­ure.

“We are fol­low­ing pro­ce­dure for them to make ar­range­ments and we are fol­low­ing up on that,” he said.

“The tricky part, in terms of ar­rears, is that there are a num­ber of is­sues to be con­sid­ered.

“It’s not only delin­quency on the part of the coun­cil­lors. A lot of times it’s an is­sue of billing. For years there has been an is­sue with billing in the city,” he said.

Wax said he did not get in­volved with the tech­ni­cal side as most of the time in­di­vid­ual coun­cil­lors went to the billing depart­ment to query ac­counts, “to dis­cuss them, to make ar­range­ments”.

“It’s still a process we are still set­tling into as we are a new coun­cil,” said Wax.

Sev­eral ef­forts to get com­ment from some of the other coun­cil­lors who find them­selves in debt were un­suc­cess­ful yes­ter­day.

SYS­TEM IS­SUES: DA coun­cil­lor Kevin Wax says billing is a prob­lem.

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