Johannesburg - The City of Johannesburg said on Wednesday it has stopped disconnections of services aimed at enforcing payments of outstanding accounts because of thousands of billing disputes, but it assured residents that it remained "financially sustainable and resilient".
Some customers are complaining that due dates for their accounts have been inexplicably brought forward by weeks and as a result they receive two bills in one month. Complainants said their accounts were unfairly placed in arrears, which accumulate interest. In addition they were charged fees for pre-termination notices.
The City has hired a private company to sort out the billing mess, which has plagued Johannesburg for years.
When the billing crisis was at its peak, the city was receiving about 15 000 new complaints each month. Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has personally got involved in a bid to expedite resolutions.
Recent reports quoting the former mayor Parks Tau have suggested that the City's finances were in a dire state allegedly because of poor revenue collection.
Two months ago Tau, who lost his position as mayor during the local elections in August 2016, said Johannesburg was headed for a credit downgrade.
"We cannot afford a situation where Africa's pre-eminent city collapses without us intervening," Tau said at the time.
However, on Wednesday the City's treasury acting group head, Seth Mukwevho, said: "The City would like to give investors and all other stakeholders, assurance that there is no financial crisis and the municipality remains financially sustainable and able to meet all obligations as they fall due".
Mukwevho added: "Notwithstanding, reference to the billing issue is best understood within its context. As the Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba noted, the billing regionalisation project that was implemented in February 2017 resulted in some of the customers being billed twice in one month.
"The project was aimed at reducing the time between consumption and payment for services through the re-alignment of the billing portions by the geographic regions of the City."
Mukwevho said 41,208 out of more than one million customers were affected. He said all interest and penalties charged on affected accounts have been reversed. "Noteworthy, no further penalties will be charged until the accounts have been normalised," Mukwevho said.
"Moreover, the City has instituted robust credit control management to ensure that the municipality recovers billed monies from all customers who are in arrears, and we are pleased to announce that great strides in collecting outstanding monies are being made."