Durban - An independent investigation has finally been launched into the chaotic billing system in the eThekwini municipality after numerous complaints from ratepayers since the controversial Revenue Management System was introduced.
Mayor Zandile Gumede said on Thursday there were challenges with the system, which had resulted in some ratepayers being over-billed. The admission comes after months of denials by city officials that the system was billing consumers incorrectly.
The system, which produces water, electricity and sanitation accounts, was brought online last year at a cost of more than R620 million, 10 years after it was first mooted, and hundreds of millions of rand over budget.
“Poor people cannot afford to be charged such exorbitant fees,” said Gumede.
She said fixing the crisis was part of her priorities since assuming office.
“We are facing a serious challenge with the RMS system. That is why the first call I made was to Treasury, to say there was a resolution within the council to say they must look at this issue.
Two months from now I must have a report that I will be tabling.”
The mayor said she wanted to make sure that the residents of eThekwini are happy. She was speaking at the Olive Convention Centre on Thursday, where she gave a report-back on the achievements made during her first year in office.
Krish Kumar, the city’s chief financial officer, said the Auditor- General was currently auditing the RMS system.
He said the investigation was looking at the overall functionality of the system.
“We fully support the mayor and we will co-operate with the investigation,” he said.
He did not want to speculate as to what had led to the billing crisis, whether those were as a result of human error or the system itself.
“Let us not speculate what the investigation will uncover.”
He did, however, say the over-billing had been as a result of meter readings and that these had been brought under control.
He urged all residents who believed they had been over-billed to contact the council.
He said there would be further investigation of the matter by the city's internal audit and expenditure unit to look at whether there were any issues worth probing.
When approached for comment, the Auditor-General's office requested more time to respond to The Mercury's questions.
Speaking at the long-awaited event, which had already been postponed twice, Gumede said she wanted the city to get down to business, and improved service delivery was one of her priorities.
“I am putting my foot down. I will not take any nonsense, everyone has to work.”
She said people were losing patience, and therefore there had to be improvement in terms of service delivery.
City manager Sipho Nzuza also laid out his plans for a customer- friendly and smart city. He said wi-fi hotspots had to be created in the city, and security had to be enhanced.
Nzuza said cleaning up the city was one of his pet projects.
The mayor also unveiled plans “to fight crime and grime” in the city centre.
Such a plan included hiring 200 more metro police officers, recruiting additional security guards, deploying unmarked police vehicles to patrol the CBD and renovating surveillance cameras.
In an event filled with pomp and ceremony and in which Gumede entered the hall accompanied by an imbongi singing her praises, the mayor said the city had adopted austerity measures.
These included cutting down on events and overseas trips.
Throughout her speech Gumede launched attacks on the opposition, saying one of the challenges facing the city was that it had “an opposition that opposes for the sake of opposing”.
The DA did not attend the event. Zwakele Mncwango, the DA leader, said the party had not boycotted the event but had felt it would be useless to attend as the mayor "had nothing new to offer”.