City of Joburg must pay R500K contempt of court fine for failing to fix electricity bill
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Johannesburg - One of the country’s biggest municipalities must pay a R500 000 fine for contempt of court after bungling the implementation of an order to fix an electricity billing complaint for more than three years.
The City of Johannesburg has been found to have not complied with an order, granted in March last year, to provide a block of flats in Berea with a proper electricity bill, by Acting South Gauteng High Court Judge Allyson Crutchfield.
This is despite having been first forced by the same high court to fix the electricity billing challenges faced by Preston Place in 2018.
The body corporate of Preston Place, a high-rise building not far from Johannesburg’s central business district, was first granted a court order against the municipality in March 2018, forcing it to provide a full and precise statement of account of amounts owed and duly supported by actual meter readings and/or proper proof thereof, and adjustment of the account and payment of any credits.
A settlement agreement was reached and made a court order. However, the City of Joburg failed to implement the order and the body corporate asked the high court to hold the municipality and then city manager Dr Ndivhoniswani Lukhwareni in contempt of court for failing to implement the March 2018 ruling.
Lukhwareni was Joburg’s city manager between 2016 and February this year.
In March last year, a full Bench of the South Gauteng High Court – judges Leonie Windell, Lotter Wepener and Seena Yacoob – then set aside the March 2018 order after the body corporate of Preston Place appealed against it.
Judges Windell, Wepener and Yacoob found the City of Joburg in contempt of court and fined the municipality R500 000, but suspended the payment of the fine on condition that the municipality complies with their order within 30 days.
Still, the City of Johannesburg did not comply with the March 2020 ruling and the body corporate again approached the high court to enforce the suspended contempt of court order.
”The respondents’ (City of Joburg and the city manager’s) conduct, objectively assessed, demonstrated in my view wilful and mala fide (bad faith) non-compliance. The finding of wilfulness and mala fides against the respondents is justified, this being the only inference established by the respondents’ conduct,” said Acting Judge Crutchfield in her October 5 judgment.
According to the acting judge, absent the City of Joburg’s compliance with the court order, unless it was able to establish conduct that was not wilful and mala fide, it was in contempt of the order and obliged to suffer the consequences.
“The respondents failed to advance evidence that established a reasonable doubt that their non-compliance with the court orders was wilful and mala fide,” Acting Judge Crutchfield said.
In its court papers, the City of Joburg claimed that Preston Place’s meter number belonged to a different complex in Oaklands.
The body corporate of Preston Place initially wanted the City of Joburg to pay a fine of R1 million and for the city manager to be sent to prison for contempt of the March 2020 order by virtue of the municipality’s non-compliance.
The City of Joburg’s Nthatisi Modingoane said the city is going to appeal the judgment.