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​The deputy minister in the Presidency was brought up to speed on Joburg’s progress in dealing with its billing issues, which are being resolved.
THE City’s billing crisis got more attention yesterday, when Executive Mayor Parks Tau met Obed Bapela, the deputy minister in the Presidency for performance monitoring and evaluation, and Humphrey Mmemezi, the Gauteng MEC for local government and housing, to discuss the issue.

Deputy minister Obed BapelaDeputy minister Obed Bapela: Joburg making progress in resolving billing issuesThis meeting was called after there was a spate of phone calls and complaints to the presidential hotline.

Bapela reassured the City that the Presidency had no intention of intervening in its administration. “We came because we wanted to understand how the City is now engaging with the thorny issue of billing systems, which has been a problem raised by quite a number of residents and some of them have been writing to the presidential hotline, saying that they are unable to get satisfactory responses from the City.”

Steps have already been put in place by the City to resolve billing problems, which have affected Joburg residents for over a year. People complained of inflated bills and service cut-offs, caused by technological glitches and mismanagement of Project Phakama, the City’s database and information technology system used to manage revenue and customer service.

Glitches in the interface between Phakama and the Deeds Office were the main cause of the problem, but mismanagement of the system contributed and the City took disciplinary action against guilty officials.

It also released a billing roadmap in November 2011, a comprehensive 19-month strategy aimed at improving revenue collection and the accuracy of the billing system.

Customer service
It is divided into three stages: the first stage focuses on quick wins and customer experience, phase two on stabilising the billing system and the third phase looks at maintenance and sustainability.

“The roadmap is designed to bring about a step-change in Johannesburg’s billing and revenue collection system and to improve the quality of the customers’ interaction with the City,” the City spokesperson, Gabu Tugwana, said before a progress report on the roadmap on 7 March.

Kgamanyane Stan Maphologela, the City’s acting director of customer communications, was also at the meeting on 19 March and said that customers should also play their part. Municipal account holders in arrears needed to bring their accounts up to date to avoid being cut off.

“Levels of non-payment have increased dramatically over the past eight months and we are preparing to issue 22 000 final letters of demand in cases where account holders had not logged queries on their accounts by the end of February 2012. We urge customers to come forward and settle their accounts or make the necessary payment arrangements to avoid having the services disconnected,” he said.

The municipal bill allows 21 days from the due date for payment to be made; thereafter the account is considered to be in arrears.

There are two main settlement arrangements that the City offers – debt arrangements and interest reversals. In terms of debt arrangements, customers who sign an acknowledgement of debt with the City will not be required to pay a deposit, as from 1 April. The arrangement term has also been extended from 12 months to 24 months, with necessary cases being allowed up to 30 months, based on consultation and review of affordability.

Defaulters
“Customers who default on their arrangements will immediately be entered in the credit control queue and services will be terminated without prior notice,” he said.

Interest reversals will come into effect on 1 April and last until 30 May; under this arrangement, customers in arrears for over 60 days will get the opportunity to settle their accounts in full with a total reversal of all interest on the account.

“The City does recognise that the current financial environment has placed huge pressure on ratepayers. While tariffs and taxes are strictly governed, the City has looked at mechanisms to assist with mounting arrears.”

“The City would like to reiterate and remind customers that their accounts are payable on or before the due date. It is important to pay in full and on time to avoid having credit control action,” said Maphologela. “We have cash payment facilities across the city and customers can also pay either at their bank branches, through the ATM system or via their internet banking facilities.”

To take up either the interest reversal offer or zero deposit payment arrangement, customers can visit the following customer service centres from 1 April to 30 May between 7.30am and 3.30pm during the week, and 8am and 11am on Saturdays:

Thuso House Customer Service Centre;
Roodepoort City Hall;
Dobsonville Customer Service Centre;
Midrand Customer Service Centre;
Randburg Customer Service Centre;
Roodepoort Civic Centre;
Jabulani Civic Centre;
Lenasia Civic Centre;
Eldorado Park Customer Service Centre; and
Ennerdale ext 9 Customer Service Centre.
Queries can be logged with the Joburg Connect call centre on 011 375 5555 or emailed to joburgconnect@joburg.org.za.

Yesterday’s meeting between Tau and Bapela was a further step in cementing a long-term solution to the problem. It took place at the Metro Centre in Braamfontein.

Related stories:

City on course to resolve billing issue
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Dealing with the billing crisis
Roadmap to billing health
City calls on Consumer Tribunal
Billing queries being cleared