A slip-up or a rip-off?

2009-09-21 00:00

GROSS incompetence or a deliberate attempt to fill the coffers of the uMngeni Municipality unfairly? The jury is still out among irate Howick residents who discovered that they have been charged an increased electricity tariff of 31,3% long before the implementation date.

Residents found that for the whole of June and for much of May their electricity usage was charged at the increased tariff, which was only due to come into effect on July 1.

Municipal manager Dumisani Vilakazi said it was a mistake that will be corrected, but angry residents aren’t convinced.

Notice of the implementation date was given to municipalities by both the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) and the National Treasury. These notices clearly state that the increased tariff only applies to units consumed as of July 1, 2009.

Furthermore municipalities are bound by regulations to publish the new tariff structure and implementation date for residents’ information.

Furious residents are asking how such a mistake was made when the municipality itself published the implementation date in the local newspaper.

The Howick Concerned Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association has started a lobby for the town to fall directly under Eskom — at present Merrivale and parts of Howick West pay directly to Eskom.

The municipal accounts offices have been inundated with complaints by angry residents. Vaughan Robinson said he was standing next to an elderly man who was shocked that his electricity bill, which was previously a few hundred rand, had come to well over R1 000.

“He tried explaining to the clerks, but they told him he had to pay the amount reflected on his bill.

“I was so angry I went to the local ANC office and told them they must do something,” said Robinson.

A Howick accountant said that big businesses, which are larger consumers, have been overcharged by tens of thousands of rands as a result of the early application of the higher tariff. He said that there are about 3 770 people in the town who pay electricity directly to the municipality.

If the mistake had not been spotted or no one had made a fuss, the municipality would have pocketed well over a million, he said.

Vilakazi said the incorrect tariff was a mistake as a result of the billing system being changed. Water is now being billed by the uMgungundlovu District Municipality.

“Our meter readers who had been reading both our electricity and water transferred to the district municipality. We did not read our meters for June. When we did it was just before July and the new tariff was applied. My office picked this up and we are reversing the error. It will be reflected in this month’s account.”

Residents are not happy with Vilakazi’s explanation. They ask why, if the municipality picked up the error, the information was not passed on to residents who have been inundating the offices with their electricity queries.

They claim that until Friday they were still not getting inadequate explanations from the clerks who deal with the public.

THE exorbitant cost of electricity in uMngeni has encouraged the Howick Concerned Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association to lobby to come directly under Eskom.

The association believes that electricity charges in the town have increased by 74% in the past two years; that the municipality is losing more than R2 million a year as a result of poor debt collection; and that if they come directly under Eskom, consumers will save 20,56%.

The DA in Howick has noted that uMngeni residents living in the World’s View and Hilton areas are supplied electricity by Msunduzi Municipality (increased by 13,4%).

Merrivale and the uMngeni rural areas are supplied directly by Eskom.

Both the Msunduzi and the Eskom accounts show that June and July are charged separately at the applicable old rates and the new.

Unlike the uMngeni bill, the invoices from both Msunduzi and Eskom show the different kilowatt-hour and service charges.

SOME uMngeni residents have picked up problems with their water accounts since the uMgungundlovu District Municipality began billing water directly for the first time. Residents were invoiced for two months only to find they were credited with one month’s worth of free water (six kilolitres instead of 12kl).

District municipal manager Sbu Khuzwayo said he will investigate the complaints with the chief financial officer and any faults will be rectified.

“We had similar challenges in Richmond and there have also been errors in Mpofana. We will be visiting that municipality on Tuesday to see what went wrong,” he added.

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