Deputy Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Obed Bapela meet with Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau today to discuss the city's ongoing billing saga, where he later met with the media to brief them about the outcome.791
Picture: Matthews Baloyi 3/19/2012
Deputy Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Obed Bapela meet with Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau today to discuss the city's ongoing billing saga, where he later met with the media to brief them about the outcome.791 Picture: Matthews Baloyi 3/19/2012

Joburg can’t get act together to fix billing mess

Time of article published Mar 20, 2012

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ANNA COX

THE CITY of Joburg is no closer to solving its billing crisis. In fact, figures released by the council yesterday, showed that there were 62 188 new complaints recorded in the three-and-a-half months between October and March 13. Of these, 35 000 remain unresolved.

This is over and above the 132 850 recorded up to October 31, a date when the backlogs were ring-fenced. And of those, 66 000 are still a mess.

This is in spite of promises made in November – at the launch of a roadmap to sort out the billing crisis – that an 18-month plan would finally solve the billing chaos.

The first deadline was February 28.

The council promised there would be accurate bills, query resolution and meter-reading accuracy, “and significant progress must have been made to resolve customer queries, including the resolution of clearances and change of ownership queries.

“By that time the city should have an improved customer interface underpinned by a set of implemented basic standards of service to which city officials would be held accountable; the backlog in property valuations would be cleared; and customer queries largely resolved,” City of Joburg manager Trevor Fowler promised.

Instead, according to the figures released yesterday, the number of complaints has risen dramatically in the past four months.

The Deputy Minister of Performance Monitoring, Obed Bapela, was in Joburg yesterday to investigate the city’s billing crisis for himself after the Presidential Hotline received about 8 000 complaints.

Bapela said he had decided to visit the council to get answers.

“We are not here to interfere in Joburg’s work, but to co-operate in the spirit of co-operative governance and intergovernmental relations. I am satisfied that work is being done by the city to speed up resolution of the problems,” he told a press conference.

“There are external problems such as working with the Deeds Office in relation to the transfer and registration of property, and there is a capacity problem there, but the city is looking at other mechanisms to improve communication between the two departments,” he said.

“The city’s response to the billing crisis is satisfactory. It has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to slackness of staff, and it has been made clear to them that it is no longer business as usual. All staff, including heads, have been told that. We have to realise that we are dealing with human beings, and we must respond to their issues. We are a caring government, and even if customers are angry and frustrated, we have to serve them with pride. We must change the perception that government doesn’t care,” he said.

Bapela added that Joburg residents had to play their role and pay their accounts.

Gauteng Local Government and Housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi said the province was working with the council to resolve the problems, and met officials on a weekly basis to monitor progress.

“The city must be an example of one of the best-run ones in the country, and these small obstacles must be removed,” he said.

City of Joburg MMC for finance Geoff Makhubu said the roadmap to resolve the city’s billing problems, launched in November, was on track and things had stabilised.

“We are confident we are on track. We still have backlogs but they have been ring-fenced.

“We are committed to issuing correct bills – it is the customers’ right,” he said.

Bapela and Mmemezi were taken on a visit to Thuso House in Jorissen Street.

Bapela said the computer system had crashed when they arrived and some customers were angry.

“There is a 15-minute waiting period usually, but because the systems were down, today people were waiting between one and two hours,” he said.

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