CAN MAYOR MEET HIS

BILLING UN­DER­TAK­ING?

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ANNA COX anna.cox@inl.co.za @an­na­cox

JOBURG mayor Her­man Mashaba will probably be “kicked out” by res­i­dents if their billing prob­lems are not re­solved by De­cem­ber 31.

Ear­lier this week Mashaba, speak­ing on the billing cri­sis af­ter he had announced that he was per­son­ally in­ter­ven­ing, said res­i­dents should “kick him out” should this not hap­pen.

But at­tor­neys and agents who as­sist res­i­dents and clients re­solve their billing is­sues said the billing cri­sis will never be re­solved by De­cem­ber as it was a mas­sive job.

At­tor­ney Chantelle Glad­win, who spe­cialises in mu­nic­i­pal mat­ters, said there is no way that all the prob­lems can be fixed by De­cem­ber.

“It is a se­ri­ous sys­temic prob­lem. The city re­cently announced that there are only 15 000 com­plaints a month, but this is mis­lead­ing be­cause the coun­cil’s IT sys­tem au­to­mat­i­cally closes down queries as re­solved af­ter 30 days.

“This means that res­i­dents have to re-log calls ev­ery month, so the sta­tis­tics is­sued by the mem­ber of the may­oral com­mit­tee (MMC) for fi­nance, Ra­belani Da­gada, are de­ceiv­ing,” she said.

She is per­son­ally deal­ing with hun­dreds of ac­counts which are in­cor­rect, she added.

Glad­win said she had writ­ten to Mashaba to of­fer him as­sis­tance and ad­vice on how to get the queries re­solved, but she has had lit­tle re­sponse.

“I es­ti­mate that there are about 50 000 queries a month,” she said.

Two months ago, in an interview with The Star, Da­gada ad­mit­ted there was a billing cri­sis in the city of Joburg worse than ini­tially thought.

Da­gada said he had “grossly” un­der­es­ti­mated the amount of work needed to fix the billing cri­sis. He thought it would take about six months, but now es­ti­mates that it will take be­tween 18 and 24 months.

An agent who as­sists res­i­dents and busi­nesses with billing queries, René Kil­ner, said it was im­pos­si­ble that all the er­rors and sys­tems would be fixed by De­cem­ber. She has about R33 mil­lion worth of queries on her desk, she added.

“The coun­cil needs to start us­ing tech­nol­ogy – there are too many spread­sheets con­tain­ing dif­fer­ent in­for­ma­tion and data about res­i­dents and busi­nesses in dif­fer­ent de­part­ments. There needs to be com­plete data cleans­ing,” she said.

Me­ter read­ers, some of whom have “fin­ger” prob­lems and in some cir­cum­stances pose se­cu­rity threats, should be done away with, she said.

Tech­nol­ogy must be im­proved be­tween the city its res­i­dents and busi­nesses, es­pe­cially when it comes to up­load­ing in­for­ma­tion. The morale of the city staff also has to be up­lifted – it is no use sim­ply chang­ing man­age­ment.

“There is no way this will all be done by De­cem­ber. The train­ing of staff is also needed,” she added.

Da­gada told Metrowatch on Wed­nes­day that there was no billing cri­sis and that queries were be­ing re­solved. He was adamant that cut-offs for ar­rears would not be stopped, as this would “bank­rupt” the city within two months.

PIC­TURE: SUP­PLIED

DES­PER­ATE: Wing Him Samm, 72, has been charged R71 000 for a prop­erty next door where the wa­ter and elec­tric­ity me­ters have been dis­con­nected.

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