Billing cri­sis: mayor acts

Mashaba says sorry to res­i­dents Of­fi­cials put on terms, heads will roll

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ANNA COX @an­na­cox

JOBURG’s wors­en­ing billing cri­sis has forced the city to halt dis­con­nec­tions un­til the read­ings have been sorted out by a new com­pany ap­pointed to clean up the records.

The move is a wel­come re­prieve for Joburg res­i­dents who have been re­ceiv­ing dou­ble bills over the past few months be­cause of the re­gion­al­i­sa­tion of the billing sys­tem.

Res­i­dents were given the choice of the date they wanted to pay, but this re­sulted in many get­ting dou­ble bills and then be­ing dis­con­nected.

Mayor Her­man Mashaba yes­ter­day an­nounced that res­i­dents who have been in good stand­ing with the coun­cil for 12 months will not be ter­mi­nated.

Mashaba said he was per­son­ally get­ting in­volved in the billing cri­sis that has left some house­holds with­out wa­ter or elec­tric­ity.

“To­day, I am per­son­ally tak­ing charge of the billing cri­sis that con­tin­ues to leave our res­i­dents suf­fer­ing in the City of Joburg. When I was elected ex­ec­u­tive mayor, I promised the res­i­dents they would get our very best to re­lieve them of the mis­ery they have en­dured at the hands of our billing sys­tem.

“Un­for­tu­nately, to date, they have not re­ceived this,” he pointed out.

The mayor said it has taken time to an­a­lyse the full mag­ni­tude of the billing cri­sis in the fi­nance de­part­ment.

“We in­her­ited a billing sys­tem where lev­els of cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment have his­tor­i­cally flour­ished in an en­vi­ron­ment of chaos and dis­or­der.

“For years, the sys­tem has failed our res­i­dents and treated them with con­tempt. To­day, I re­port to the res­i­dents of our city that I have put the en­tire lead­er­ship of the de­part­ment on terms. Ei­ther there will be a res­o­lu­tion of the city’s billing sys­tem or there must be con­se­quences.”

The last straw for Mashaba, was a computer pro­gram to re­gion­alise the billing sys­tem, with the aim of re­duc­ing the time gap be­tween con­sump­tion and pay­ment for ser­vices.

This ef­fec­tively brought for­ward the due date for billing by about three weeks, re­sult­ing in many ac­count hold­ers re­ceiv­ing two bills in one month.

Ac­count hold­ers who did not pay both ac­counts were un­fairly placed in ar­rears, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing in­ter­est on ar­rears and be­ing charged fees for

pre-ter­mi­na­tion no­tices.

Mashaba con­demned this treat­ment of res­i­dents and im­me­di­ately in­structed of­fi­cials to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion as fol­lows:

All res­i­dents, who have been in good stand­ing with the city for the past 12 months prior to Fe­bru­ary and have been put into ar­rears by bring­ing for­ward the pay­ment due dates, will have their in­ter­est ow­ing on ar­rears and any costs re­lat­ing to pre-ter­mi­na­tion no­tices and dis­con­nec­tions re­versed.

It is to take ef­fect im­me­di­ately and will show cor­rected in their Septem­ber state­ment, the mayor said.

Re­gional open days on Satur­days, where of­fi­cials will avail them­selves to res­i­dents at the re­gional of­fices to as­sist res­i­dents with billing-re­lated prob­lems.

A new ser­vice provider has started work on a full di­ag­nos­tic probe into the root causes of billing in­ac­cu­ra­cies. The city will drive the so­lu­tions to rem­edy the billing sys­tem.

The mayor has pledged to com­mu­ni­cate reg­u­larly with res­i­dents on the progress in this re­gard.

All key va­can­cies within the de­part­ment are to be filled as a mat­ter of urgency.

Se­nior po­si­tions such as the group chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and the group in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer will be ap­pointed at the Au­gust coun­cil meet­ing. Other strate­gic po­si­tions within the de­part­ment such as head of rev­enue and the head of ac­count­ing will be filled by Oc­to­ber.

The de­part­ment has op­er­ated with over nine se­nior act­ing ap­point­ments in key po­si­tions in the rev­enue di­vi­sion. Th­ese po­si­tions will be filled with the best tal­ent avail­able in the in­dus­try by the end of 2017, the mayor pledged.

Ef­forts are to be fo­cused on the res­o­lu­tion of billing queries logged by the rev­enue call cen­tre. Cur­rently, the turn­around time, lack of feed­back and cus­tomer care ex­pe­ri­enced in this re­gard are “un­ac­cept­able”, Mashaba said.

The de­part­ment has been tasked with turn­ing the sit­u­a­tion around and en­sur­ing that all billing queries are dealt with faster and with bet­ter care of res­i­dents.

“I would like to of­fer the res­i­dents of our city my sin­cere apol­ogy for the man­ner in which they have con­tin­ued to suf­fer from both the con­tin­u­a­tion of the billing cri­sis, as well as this lat­est prob­lem,” he added.

FED UP: Her­man Mashaba apol­o­gised.

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