Electricity: aggrieved businessmen unite to tackle municipality

2011-07-04 00:00

LOCAL businesses getting together to take on the municipality over its electricity billing are adopting a multi-pronged approach.

They are researching issues to provide evidence that the municipality is not always getting it right. They are prepared to talk to municipal and government representatives and if all else fails they will go to court.

The group say they are fed up with the “cowboy antics” of the municipality’s Operation Pitbull team whom they believe are using showmanship to embarrass businesses into paying.

A businessman said he had a Pitbull team member staring at one of his own internal electricity circuits and saying, “Theft — you are stealing electricity.”

He said, “I am not an electrician, so I did not know what was going on. I was hugely embarrassed as there were customers in the business. That is until my own electrician came and told them they were looking at the wrong circuit and … pointed them to the municipal meters.”

First item on the agenda is to tackle the municipality on the blanket labelling of businesses in the city as electricity thieves. They say that from their own research they have found that half of the problems actually result from the failure of the municipality’s own systems.

They cite as examples delays in paperwork from one department to the next , meters not been registered or de-registered on the municipal system, and the large-scale averaging of accounts over the years and the municipality’s interpretation of the prescription period of a debt.

They asked who the real thieves are when the municipality fails to apply its own credit control policies for tenants, allowing them to enjoy free water and electricity without cutting their services and then placing the entire debt, which runs into thousands, on the landlord.

They also believe that the municipality should more clearly explain the R400 million debt owed to the municipality. The group says the municipality has created the myth that this money is owed because there is wholesale theft of electricity. They see a need for a breakdown of the debt across suburbs and across the different services such as electricity, water and rates.

The group are irritated at being called thieves without irrefutable evidence presented that they have indeed been stealing electricity.

One businessman said the municipality has been quick to castigate the business community, yet it says and does nothing about councillors like Rachel Soobiah, who not only flout municipal by-laws, but who have also not been paying for electricity.

So far individual businesses have been taking up their own cases with the municipality. However, they are also looking at working together and bringing class action suits for the various problems that they have encountered.  They are also finding that they cannot get local lawyers to fight their cases, because a lot of them are tied up with work with the municipality.

A businessman said he has been the client of a local lawyer for over 20 years.

“I went to him to represent me in a case involving the municipality. He said he couldn’t do it because he now does work for the municipality and it would be a conflict of interest.”

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