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City billing shock: 7000 meters not read for a year.

Category Newsletter: Property

Durban - MORE than 7000 electricity meters have not been read by eThekwini Municipality for more than a year, leaving thousands of residents paying for the utility based on a monthly estimated value.

The shocking revelation was made by the city's audit committee and brought to the attention of the executive committee (Exco) in a report yesterday.

Committee chairperson Nala Mhlongo recommended that city management urgently attend to the state of the electricity department and establish the reasons why thousands of meters had not been read.

The Revenue Management System steering committee could not provide reasons why thousands of electricity meters were not read for so long.

The DA's Nicole Graham said the "damning" report showed that some municipal systems were not working and resulted in residents suffering.

"These are ordinary people suffering and in terms of billing, they have to pay those amounts whether estimated or not," she said.

Graham demanded the Electricity Department compile a report as to why these households were not serviced and how it planned to address the situation.

In the city's latest tariff increases, electricity was increased by 13.07%.

At the time the chairperson of the Bluff Ratepayers and Residents Association, Ivor Aylward, said the tariff increases were "enough to put people in their graves" as the financial burdens they faced were already overwhelming.

Speaking to The Mercury yesterday, Aylward said the financial burden could have been "a little less" for the 7000 households if their meters were read.

"Say their meters were read and they used less electricity for that month. They could have paid less but now they have been paying an estimated value. The municipality should tell us who these 7000 people are so they can take the matter to the ombudsman," he said.

Aylward said that too often, residents accepted the municipality's failures and moved on, "but it's time the municipality was held accountable".

He said that he also fell victim to estimated meter readings which went on for about three years at his household.

"I found that my bill was coming even as high as R8000 when I usually paid around R2800.

"It's sad to say but I had to pay the full amount if I didn't want my power cut. I reported the matter to the ombudsman," he said.

Aylward urged that municipal workers should try more than once to retrieve a meter reading from a home that had its electricity meter installed inside the property.

He also warned residents to submit their meter readings to the municipality electronically, regardless of if a municipal employee had captured the reading.

"You should have your own paper trail of readings monthly so if it does come down to it, you have a stronger case," Aylward said.

According to the municipality's by-law Section 17(3), an estimation of electricity use should not be made for longer than six months. The by-law states: "Meters will, as far as practicable, be read at intervals not exceeding six months and electricity consumed between meter readings shall be deemed to have been consumed evenly between such meter reading dates."

The report not only revealed the city's failure in the electricity department, but exposed poor management in other units.

The audit committee found that R52million in irregular expenditure was recorded in the third quarter - ending March 2019 - and highlighted a severe lack of consequence management.

Mhlongo said although they found no fraud was committed, employees had not followed due processes. The committee recommended that consequence management should also be taken against deputy city managers who failed to take corrective actions on matters associated with irregularities.

Among its other findings, the committee found that the disciplinary board, established two years ago, had never accounted to Exco or the Municipal Public Accounts Committee on its activities.

Mhlongo said it also lacked the authority to do proper oversight while the backlog of its cases remained high.

The city's Integrity and Investigations Unit also came under the spotlight after it was found that 400 findings and recommendations by the unit were never implemented.

Mhlongo said the committee also found that two employees arrested for fraud and corruption remained in their posts and were still active in the day-to-day operations.

He described this as "shocking", saying if the employees were still in their posts, tampering with evidence and intimidation of witnesses could occur.

"This sends a wrong message to the staff, and a bad perception that the city is tolerant of corruption may be created among other employees," Mhlongo said.

The committee also recommended that all tenders exceeding R50m should be audited.

Council speaker William Mapena suggested that the city manager's office provide feedback on the implementation of the committee's recommendations, adding that the city's legal department was in the process of strengthening its compliance manpower to deal with issues that had been flagged.

Report unread electricity meters to the Ethekwini Municipality on the following contact numbers:

(031) 311 9409 or (031) 311 94 59

Report unread water meters to the Ethekwini Municipality on the following contact numbers:

080 131 3013

Author: Iol

Submitted 28 Aug 19 / Views 75

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