Despite meeting on numerous occasions with members of the eThekwini Municipality Water and Sanitation Department (DWS), the eThekwini Ratepayers Protest Movement (EPRM) said they still have not reached a resolution over the free water back-billing issue.
On Tuesday, EPRM met with DWS for the third time to try and find solutions to the many concerns it had with regard to the municipality back-charging for its billing error.
“We are nowhere closer to resolving this back-billing issue with the City,” said Asad Gaffer, EPRM chairperson.
Tuesday’s meeting, according to Gaffer, was no different from others, as City officials danced around the table when it came to giving direct answers about concerns that EPRM raised.
This was specific to the questions EPRM posed about the meter reading practices of the eThekwini Municipality.
“Why are the water meters not being read within 65 days, as per their own policy?
“Why are they not accepting the readings from residents when they are unable to read the meters?
“Those who were affected by the back-billing issue and now adversely affected by a further high water bill, due to non readings, how will they deal with the AOD (admission of debt) for both these scenarios?” Gaffer asked.
During a meeting with DWS in January, Ian Govender from the Business Unit indicated that the City had not read meters for a period of time because they were in the process of acquiring a new contractor.
Govender also told the EPRM that a specific team within DWS, separate to the Sizakala Customer Care Centre, will be set up to deal with the issue, but Gaffer said the team was never set up.
The DWS was made aware of the free water error by the Auditor-General around June or July, 2023, Govender told IOL, but the City did not notify affected residents of the bill.
In December, around 49,000 ratepayers received a high bill, described as back-charges for water and sanitation, some of which were in excess of R6,000.
Gaffer mentioned that those people who were charged over R6,000 for the free water billing error, had their bills reduced and interest charges were reversed.
The problem with the high bills was that it was not clear how the City came up with such amounts, given the fact that all 49,000 ratepayers were charged for the same amount of water.
The recent statement by the eThekwini Municipality regarding the free water billing drama indicated that the matter was resolved.
The City’s communication unit said that the 49,000 residents affected by the error had to sign up for a payment plan to settle the debt at a cost of R180 per month over 36 months.
It said customers must sign an acknowledgement of debt by March 31, 2024.
“The above conditions only apply to customers who were affected by water billing adjustments. Should customers fail to visit our Customer Service Centres and enter into a payment plan on or before the deadline, credit control and debt collection measures will come into effect,” spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said at the time.
The municipality is claiming back funds that it lost due to an error for three financial years, dating from June 2020 to July 2023, according to DWS.
The back charge was due to a technical error, City Manager Musa Mbhele indicated.
But Gaffer said that the City continued making the error, despite being notified of it by the AG.
“Most of you (49,000 affected) were still receiving the free 6kl water since July up to January. The municipality could not answer as to why this continued, even after they were made aware of the issue in June,” Gaffer said.