Residential electricity meter box. File Picture: Dumisani Dube
Residential electricity meter box. File Picture: Dumisani Dube

Concerns over incorrect and unfair KZN municipal billing systems

By Sakhiseni Nxumalo Time of article published Apr 28, 2021

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DURBAN - THE KwaZulu-Natal Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) department has been called on to conduct an investigation into the incorrect and unfair billing practices of municipalities in the province.

The request was made by the DA, who wrote to the department urging it to implement a provincial strategy that would protect residents and ensure that municipalities have functional and fair revenue management systems.

The party said they ran a survey of over 770 respondents from across the province as part of an ongoing probe into the state of local government.

Chris Pappas, DA KZN spokesperson on Cogta, said the assessment identified billing as a key challenge, with most municipalities failing to provide an adequate and fair billing service to residents.

According to the party, about 47% of residents in the province are receiving estimated bills, while 26% of residents indicated that their water meters are never read. A total of 29% of residents indicated that their electricity meters are never read, and 28% of municipal self-reporting services do not work, it said.

The party further said 19% of respondents have received an incorrect bill more than once, while 12% say every bill is wrong.

“This finding is supported by our councillors across the province who are inundated monthly with complaints about incorrect and unfair municipal bills. We are extremely concerned about the poor quality billing that is taking place and which is leading to incorrect and unfair municipal accounts,” said Pappas.

He described the survey’s findings as shocking and alarming.

Pappas said they were worried that KZN’s residents were being unfairly treated by inefficient and ineffective revenue management services.

He stated that not only does this affect residents’ pockets, but it also affected the financial viability of municipalities.

Furthermore, the party said 86% of residents claimed that their municipality did not respond to complaints efficiently and effectively.

A further 52% said that municipal dispute resolution processes did not work. About 71% indicated that they were not aware of any debt relief programme within their municipalities, said Pappas.

In a written parliamentary reply, KZN Cogta MEC Sipho Hlomuka said that the department had received complaints of inaccurate billing at two municipalities, namely Msunduzi and eThekwini.

Hlomuka said that meter reading was significantly affected during the Covid-19 lockdown as employees could not go out to read meters.

“It must be noted that when municipalities cannot read meters due to not having access to the property, municipalities continue to estimate until they are given access to read meters on these properties. This sometimes takes longer than three months,” he said.

Hlomuka added that annually, the department reviewed municipalities’ credit control and debt collection policies to ensure that they had sound practices.

He said that the department did address queries received and supported municipalities on revenue management through revenue and debt steering committees.

THE MERCURY

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