After weeks of anxiety, the eThekwini Municipality and the eThekwini Ratepayers' Protest Movement (EPRM) met to discuss solutions to the surprise water bill that about 49,000 residents received, relating to the free water programme.
On Friday, council members, including City Manager Musa Mbhele, met with the EPRM and its chairman, Asad Gaffer to address the many concerns ratepayers shared over the billing practices of eThekwini.
Some of the solutions stemming from the meeting include no charging of interest on the debt owned by residents, no charging of deposits on the debt, and a maximum monthly instalment of R180 per month.
Furthermore, it was agreed that each case be dealt with individually and not as a collective in the event of abnormal bills with large amounts.
These solutions revolved around the issue that residents who were given a utility bill were charged extra for the six kilolitres of free water they received for a number of years.
The City then stated that it will recover the funds, as it made a technical error in its billing and did not realise it was giving away free water for a number of years.
The EPRM also emphasised that some opportunistic political parties in the city were trying to use the debacle to acquire votes, calling for a write-off of the debt, which Gaffer said was unrealistic as per city laws.
“No member or resident should sign any AOD (acknowledgement of debt) at any customer service centre [Siza Kala] that forces them to put down a deposit, pay a monthly instalment that exceeds R180, and levy interest charges.
“We are in constant communication with the city to ensure this process is efficient, streamlined, and easy for families to reach.
“EPRM will have ongoing discussions with the designated officials to verify each case. Each case differs from each other,” the EPRM said.
Residents were given the free 6kl because their properties were thought to be valued under the R250,000 threshold, but this was not correct.
These affected residents were mostly made up of the financially vulnerable and elderly, Gaffer told IOL in previous conversations.
City Manager Mbhele said this was because of a technical error, as the City deals with over 550,000 bills monthly.
However, as per City policy, they are within the boundaries of the laws that govern them, to backdate charges and correct such errors.
One thing that both parties did not agree on, however, was the signing of the AOD.
This is what Mbhele said: “This means we will ring-fence the debt and not allow any interest to accrue, and no services will be cut off due to the billing adjustment, provided acknowledgement of debt has been signed.
“We will further allow ratepayers to settle the debt over 36 months or until the full amount is paid if the amount due is more than the average of approximately R6,000.
“We will standardise the debt, which means that those affected will pay an additional R180 per month, instead of the full amount now.”
Both parties stressed the need for better communication between them and to have a better working relationship in efforts to improve the levels of service delivery in eThekwini.