Opposition parties make mileage out of Joburg billing crisis
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The billing crisis, which sees residents receiving utilities statements that do not match their consumption of water and electricity, has been with the City of Johannesburg for years. And it is one of the rallying points for political parties garnering votes ahead of the local government elections on November 1.
Opposition parties are naturally cashing in on what is seen as the ANC-led municipality's failures. They say if they gain control of the city council, “inaccurate and incorrect bills” will be a thing of the past.
“We will restore public confidence when it comes to the billing system and bring back the willingness of customers to pay freely and ensure that the municipality is not stuck with irrecoverable debt in the future,” ActionSA national director of operations Funzi Ngobeni said.
“We will appoint competent officials in the right positions to inculcate the culture of appropriate financial management. The era of people occupying positions on the basis of who they know instead of what they know will come to an end. There will be no political interference when it comes to service delivery matters. We understand that there are serious consequences to customers receiving inappropriate bills, this is an unacceptable state of affairs,” the former City of Johannesburg MMC for Finance said this week.
“Bad debt write-off in the municipality is an important function because it can affect its financial position negatively. Bad debts are written off when the customer invoice is considered to be uncollectable.
"ActionSA is a big proponent of the rehabilitation of defaulting customers after their debts have been written off. It is important for bad debts to be removed as assets from the balance sheet, however, it is equally important to rehabilitate these customers and turn them into paying customers and that is largely dependent on them receiving an accurate bill for the services delivered.”
Meanwhile, EFF Joburg regional chairperson Sepetlele Raseruthe said the current ANC administration had no systematic billing system and the scrapping of debt was a viable way to assist the affected residents.
“In fact, the billing system of the City of Johannesburg is not accurate and has not worked for many years. While you are looking at creating a sustainable paying culture in our communities, the first thing that must happen is to fix the billing system and the dilapidated infrastructure.
"The point of departure is to have a proper, accurate, reliable billing system. How do you hold households accountable with a system that doesn’t work? Fix the billing system first. The EFF will employ professional graduates in the IT sector to deploy a reliable accurate working billing system,” Raseruthe said.
“The EFF will give a directive to Eskom to fix the dilapidated electricity infrastructure. When these technical issues have been dealt with, we will create workshops and platforms of engagement to come to some sort of arrangement to foster a paying culture."
Meanwhile, Patriotic Alliance (PA) mayoral candidate Ashley Sauls said it was time to bail out ordinary citizens rather than the cash-strapped state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
“It is our stance that the government must put people first just like they put big business first.
“Big businesses and SOEs receive bailouts of billions of rand while ordinary citizens, who are actually responsible for the very same revenue used to bail out these corporate entities, are neglected and punished with an increasing burden of debt for municipal services such as electricity.
“The PA is in the business of the heart of politics and this type of politics places people above pockets and principles above profits. So when we take over we are cancelling not only Soweto's debt but everyone's municipal debt. We are starting on zero (debt),” Sauls said.
BLF deputy president Zanele Lwana said they have been consistently clear that electricity is a basic right, which must be free for household consumption, and all debts relating to that should be written off.
“A BLF government will make this a reality. The current government has privatised Eskom and other SOEs as a reward by Cyril Ramaphosa to white monopoly capital (WMC) for making him their president.
“Eskom is then used to unleash load shedding and high tariffs until we surrender to WMC’s greed. BLF denounces this privatisation. A BLF government will transform Eskom to serve the people and not white monopoly capital. One company (BHP Billiton) consumes 10% of our electricity and pays practically nothing for it. This should be stopped. Soweto is correct. Free electricity is possible and the government must be transformed to make this happen,” she said.