eThekwini Municipality. File photo.
eThekwini Municipality. File photo.

Millions spent on consultants to run eThekwini's billing system

By Nabeelah Shaikh Time of article published Jun 10, 2018

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DURBAN - While the eThekwini Municipality’s controversial billing system was meant to be a cost-cutting measure for the city, new information revealed by the DA showed otherwise.

In addition to the almost R1 billion already spent on rolling out the Revenue Management System (RMS), it emerged that the municipality is paying consultants R1.5 million a month to run the system.

Also read: Revenue management system concerns raised

This was revealed at a recent full council meeting by the DA’s Rory Macpherson, a member of the party’s economic development and planning committee.

Macpherson said the system is at the heart of the frustration and contempt felt by eThekwini ratepayers, hard hit by incorrect exorbitant utility bills in the last two years. But city treasurer Krish Kumar said there was now nothing wrong with the system because it had been “stabilised”.

Macpherson blamed the RMS system for the bulk of the 189468 residential disconnections that had happened in the past two years. He said questions were submitted to city manager Sipho Nzuza because of the complaints they had received.

“We’ve been hearing the cries of many who have been disconnected since the RMS system was rolled out. This was mostly due to them receiving incorrect bills. This system has placed us in a chaotic state. Some people (are) unable to read and comprehend their bills properly because they look so complex,” said Macpherson.

He also raised questions about why the city now has to fork out R1.5m a month to pay consultants to run the RMS system, when millions were already spent.

The R620m system was implemented to streamline the city’s revenue billing and was first mooted 11years ago. The city estimated the system would cost between R90m and R150m in 2004, but this figure escalated with time. RMS replaced the Coins Billing System.“We ended up paying way more than we had expected. This was sold to us as an idea that would save us money, something that would be our own and would be convenient for ratepayers but it has proved otherwise. Each time we want to make changes to the system, we have to pay the developers of RMS, who are based in India, to do this. When VAT increased, only they could make the change,” said Macpherson.

Macpherson also said Nzuza was unable to provide figures pertaining to business disconnections since the RMS was rolled out.

However, Kumar said these figures were available but were not provided to the DA immediately because of the unreasonable time frame in which the city was given to respond to questions.

Kumar defended the system saying it was fully functional and there were no longer any problems with it. He said if residents or businesses were disconnected in the last few months, it was as a result of non-payment and not the RMS system.

Kumar said the city was conducting road shows throughout Durban so that the public could engage with officials, and any problems could be ironed out.

“I can confidently say that the system has now (been) stabilised and that we are not receiving complaints like before. As with any system, there will always be problems in the teething phase but we have passed that now,” said Kumar.

He said the cost incurred to pay consultants was “normal” and happened at most municipalities.

“Not everything can be done in-house and consultants have to be appointed to handle certain things. This is a norm.

“The R1.5m is paid to consultants for the maintenance of the system,” said Kumar.

He said the system was a step in the right direction and by 2026, the municipality would roll out smart meters, which could be read remotely.

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SUNDAY TRIBUNE

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