EXCLUSIVE: ANC caught in JHB billing blunder

South Africa
In May Luthuli House was hit with a R3,5 million bill, despite the ANC headquarters municipal bill being up-to-date Picture: Dianne Hawker
ANC headquarters Luthuli House in Sauer Street, Johannesburg, seen at dusk on 12 June 2013. Picture:

JOHANNESBURG - The ANC owes the City of Joburg more than R3-million in rates, taxes and electricity…that’s if the city’s billing system is to be believed.

Although a recent bill delivered to the ruling party for services on its headquarters indicates that the ANC is behind on its municipal bill, to the tune of R3.5 million, the party’s account is paid up and is in fact in credit.

The bill, dated 24 May 2013, goes so far as to threaten legal action.

“You are herby notified that unless immediate payment of the outstanding amount is made, the Council will issue instruction to cut off services and institute legal action,” the bill reads.

ANC spokesman Keith Khoza said once the ANC had received the bill, it had "lodged a formal complaint disputing the amount shown against what was paid."

"It's part of many bills sent out to many residents that was faulty," Khoza said.

"What we know is that the City of Joburg has set a process in motion to deal with complaints to a point where they publicly visited communities. There might be some residual bills that still need to be rectified," Khoza said.

He added that the ANC had brought the billing error to the attention of the municipality and the problem had been amended.

The City of Johannesburg was reluctant to comment, saying it did not discuss client accounts, save to say that the ANC does not owe the municipality any money.

City of Joburg spokesman Stanley Maphologela said: "The Luthuli account is among the well paid accounts on the monthly basis without fail.”

Why then the massive discrepancy in the account?

The answer lies in the City of Joburg’s billing system, which is still being remedied after in 2011 customers complained of being incorrectly billed.

“The billing department is not where it should be, but we are definitely not where we used to be and slowly moving in the right direction. Improvement is being seen and felt by customers,” Maphologela said.

He added that the City was happy with its billing crisis turn around strategy which kicked off two years ago, following customer complaints.

Maphologela said the municipality's Revenue Step Change Programme, which was meant to deal with the billing crisis was scheduled to be finalised in June 2013.

"However some of the deliverables of this plan will take longer to implement and may extend beyond June 2013...The intention of the project is to enhance the customer experience when dealing with the City by improving billing accuracy...," Maphologela said.

In the short term, the city began addressing the property valuations backlog, reducing query resolution times and increasing the number of statements delivered to customers. However, the long term plan is aimed at resolving several systemic issues, Maphologela said.

Opposition parties say that overall, there appears to have been marked improvements in what was a chaotic billing department, yet there are still some “stubborn problems”.

According to the Democratic Alliance’s John Mendelsohn, the “high level task teams” sent to resolve queries in various areas have been successful. But he continues to receive complaints relating to incorrect categorisation of properties and failures to fix incorrect metre readings dating back 6 months or even two years.

Freedom Front Plus councillor Franco de Lange said he was still receiving complaints from constituents relating to incorrect bills which he tried to help rectify. He did not have specific numbers but said the complaints had decreased since the height of the billing crisis.

Maphologela said the City's meter reading programme was among the long term measures being implemented.
"In addition to establishing an accurate meter reading for every property, it will also establish whether or not every property actually has a functional meter and will include the installation, repair or replacement of new or faulty meters," he said.

He said the backlogs of outstanding queries "has been reduced by more than 99%”, with the almost 200 000 queries having been reduced to 140.

Among the improvements are a 36-day turnaround time in query resolutions, while frontline staff received specialised training.

Municipal meters are also being audited to ensure accurate readings.
 

-eNCA

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