Ethek­wini splurges mil­lions on con­sul­tants

DA re­veals In­dian developers paid to run mul­ti­mil­lion-rand billing sys­tem

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - NABEELAH SHAIKH

WHILE the ethek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s con­tro­ver­sial billing sys­tem was meant to be a cost-cut­ting mea­sure for the city, new in­for­ma­tion re­vealed by the DA showed oth­er­wise.

In ad­di­tion to the al­most R1 bil­lion al­ready spent on rolling out the Rev­enue Man­age­ment Sys­tem (RMS), it emerged that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is pay­ing con­sul­tants R1.5 mil­lion a month to run the sys­tem.

This was re­vealed at a re­cent full coun­cil meet­ing by the DA’S Rory Macpher­son, a mem­ber of the party’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and plan­ning com­mit­tee.

Macpher­son said the sys­tem is at the heart of the frus­tra­tion and con­tempt felt by ethek­wini ratepay­ers, hard hit by in­cor­rect ex­or­bi­tant util­ity bills in the last two years. But city trea­surer Kr­ish Ku­mar said there was now noth­ing wrong with the sys­tem be­cause it had been “sta­bilised”.

Macpher­son blamed the RMS sys­tem for the bulk of the 189 468 res­i­den­tial dis­con­nec­tions that had hap­pened in the past two years. He said ques­tions were sub­mit­ted to city man­ager Sipho Nzuza be­cause of the com­plaints they had re­ceived.

“We’ve been hear­ing the cries of many who have been dis­con­nected since the RMS sys­tem was rolled out. This was mostly due to them re­ceiv­ing in­cor­rect bills. This sys­tem has placed us in a chaotic state. Some peo­ple (are) un­able to read and com­pre­hend their bills prop­erly be­cause they look so com­plex,” said Macpher­son.

He also raised ques­tions about why the city now has to fork out R1.5m a month to pay con­sul­tants to run the RMS sys­tem, when mil­lions were al­ready spent.

The R620m sys­tem was im­ple­mented to stream­line the city’s rev­enue billing and was first mooted 11 years ago. The city es­ti­mated the sys­tem would cost be­tween R90m and R150m in 2004, but this fig­ure es­ca­lated with time. RMS re­placed the Coins Billing Sys­tem.“we ended up pay­ing way more than we had ex­pected. This was sold to us as an idea that would save us money, some­thing that would be our own and would be con­ve­nient for ratepay­ers but it has proved oth­er­wise. Each time we want to make changes to the sys­tem, we have to pay the developers of RMS, who are based in In­dia, to do this. When VAT in­creased, only they could make the change,” said Macpher­son.

Macpher­son also said Nzuza was un­able to pro­vide fig­ures per­tain­ing to busi­ness dis­con­nec­tions since the RMS was rolled out.

How­ever, Ku­mar said these fig­ures were avail­able but were not pro­vided to the DA im­me­di­ately be­cause of the un­rea­son­able time frame in which the city was given to re­spond to ques­tions.

Ku­mar de­fended the sys­tem say­ing it was fully func­tional and there were no longer any prob­lems with it. He said if res­i­dents or busi­nesses were dis­con­nected in the last few months, it was as a re­sult of non-pay­ment and not the RMS sys­tem.

Ku­mar said the city was con­duct­ing road shows through­out Dur­ban so that the pub­lic could en­gage with of­fi­cials, and any prob­lems could be ironed out.

“I can con­fi­dently say that the sys­tem has now (been) sta­bilised and that we are not re­ceiv­ing com­plaints like be­fore. As with any sys­tem, there will al­ways be prob­lems in the teething phase but we have passed that now,” said Ku­mar.

He said the cost in­curred to pay con­sul­tants was “nor­mal” and hap­pened at most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

“Not ev­ery­thing can be done in-house and con­sul­tants have to be ap­pointed to han­dle cer­tain things. This is a norm.

“The R1.5m is paid to con­sul­tants for the main­te­nance of the sys­tem,” said Ku­mar.

He said the sys­tem was a step in the right di­rec­tion and by 2026, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity would roll out smart me­ters, which could be read re­motely.

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