Electricity bill outrage

2010-09-20 00:00

THERE is a growing backlash against the Msunduzi Municipality’s turnaround team as residents reel under the onslaught of exorbitant electricity and water bills.

The Witness was inundated with calls last week as residents received their latest utility bills. The common cry was that they — and not those who squandered the money and brought the city to its knees — feel they are being punished.

Fury is building up over the number of different line charges suddenly appearing on utility bills and unforeseen billings because meter readers did not do their jobs or because the municipality installed incorrect equipment. Questions are being raised about how the calculations were done to arrive at the amount the consumer is ultimately charged.

There is anger at the arbitrary change in deposit charges and the lack of paperwork and documentation for changes that are being made.

Residents are talking about a concerted fight-back. A lawyer stood up at the Msunduzi Rates Forum meeting on Wednesday night to say she is researching the correctness of the arbitrary increase in deposits. Similarly, a businessman who was slapped with a huge bill because the municipality failed to do its work in the past and check on his readings and equipment, is working on bringing a class action suit against the municipality.

Work has started in earnest in the different suburbs to form a combined residents’ and ratepayers’ association.

Particularly hard hit are pensioners, who are finding that their electricity bills have doubled and tripled over the past month. Residents at Allison old-age home in Burger Street, who survive on government grants, were shocked at their electricity bills, which leave them with no money for food.

At the MRF meeting pensioners begged for help. A resident told the meeting that he collects his grant of R1 150 at the Civic Centre Hall only to go right next door to pay the entire amount on his electricity and water account.

Forum chairperson Babs Sithapersad said he and committee members have also been swamped with complaints. He met pensioners living in a room and a kitchen whose monthly utility bill with service charges amounts to R2 140 and R1 800 for the month.

“Clearly somebody at city hall is not applying their mind,” he said.

Sithapersad said they have questioned municipal officials and councillors and no one can explain the current light and water bills and the various line charges. He added that the council’s indigent policy has gone out of the window and it is the poor and aged who are bearing the brunt of the council’s hunt to get funds at whatever cost. Households generally pay 43 cents per kilowatt, but those previously on the indigent list are paying 71 cents per kilowatt.

Sithapersad is particularly critical of the abuse that people suffer at 333 Church Street. They are told if they can’t pay then they must sell their house. “What kind of solution is that?” he asked.

A pensioner who previously worked for the municipality said he has never in the history of the city known a period like this, where people are so cruelly heartlessly treated.

 

In his days, the administration at city hall treated people better than they are being treated now, the pensioner added.

The Witness received several calls from residents inviting it to see the mayhem at 333 Church Street for itself.

A staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the situation as extremely ugly, saying staff are turning against staff and they are turning against the public.

The staff member said the only mandate is to get more money at whatever cost and that even if a member of the public is in the right, no one is interested: the municipality just wants the money to fill up its coffers.

A woman standing in the queue, who did not want to give her name saying she feared being penalised, voiced her concern for the many distraught people leaving the building.

“I fear what can happen here is what happened in the department of Home Affairs, where a person committed suicide because they could not get their ID book.

“There is no communication here, people are feeling very frustrated and you must see how the elderly are being treated, it is very sad. Somebody must bring the Human Rights Commission here,” she said.

Another member of the public who also did not want to be named said: “The turnaround team have Operation Pitbull to get money from those who are stealing electricity. The onslaught on ordinary residents should be called Operation Rottweiler. It is extortion of money at any cost and amounts to a rabid attack on the poor,” he said.

Attempts to get hold of Mayor Mike Tarr yesterday were unsuccessful.

DA: CITY MUST EXPLAIN HIKES

THE Democratic Alliance, which has also been getting complaints from residents, issued the following statement:

“The DA fully supports the action being taken by the municipality against electricity and water thieves and also the very strict credit control measures to ensure payment for services rendered.

“However, there are problems. Many residents are finding the latest accounts hard to understand and there have also been the inevitable mistakes on some accounts. Residents with queries are experiencing great difficulty getting through to the department concerned as the phones frequently go unanswered and they are then unable to resolve the problem, resulting in disconnections and other hardships that could possibly have been avoided.

“As there will always be a percentage of mistakes, it is imperative that there is an efficiently managed system to deal with queries. Communication is of paramount importance and residents should be kept adequately informed. Many residents feel that they are suffering as a result of bad governance over the past decade or so.”

 

Frustrated resident

The turnaround team have Operation Pitbull to get money from those who are stealing electricity. The onslaught on ordinary residents should be called Operation Rottweiler.

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