Higher tariff ‘is no slip-up’

2009-09-28 00:00

UMNGENI Municipality charging an increased electricity tariff before the due date is no mistake ... “They’ve done it before!”

This is the claim from the Howick business community, which is still trying to recoup the extra money they paid last year.

This information came to light after readers saw an article in The Witness last week that reported that the July 2009 tariff increase of 31,3% was charged for June, and in some instances, for part of May.

At the heart of the issue is an allegation that senior officials are incorrectly interpreting national electricity regulations.

A statement from municipal manager Dumisani Vilakazi seems to indicate this could be the case. For the business community, incorrect interpretation of the regulations smacks of incompetence and questions have been raised as to whether the officials should hold their jobs. Irate residents, on the other hand, allege this is no misinterpretation, but a deliberate attempt to fill the coffers of the municipality.

Businessman Nick McConnell has a file of unanswered correspondence to the municipality, dating back to September last year. According to McConnell, residents did not pick up the discrepancy last year and possibly in previous years because the tariff increases were much lower, unlike this year when they noticed the difference because the tariff went up by 31,3%.

He said larger users who pay out a lot more immediately spotted the error.

He claims that not only has he written to the municipality, but he has personally handed letters to senior officials, all of which have gone unanswered. On September 15, 2008, he wrote: “I request that you immediately issue a press statement to all ratepayers apologising for this error and that all affected accounts be credited immediately for the overcharges.”

This did not happen and McConnell, like other businessmen and -women, is still trying to recoup his money from last year.

On allegations from the business community, Vilakazi responded as follows: “It is the norm all over the country that when meters are read in July of each year, which includes a certain portion of consumption in June, the accounts are levied at the new tariff, which is applicable from July 1 each year. It cannot be expected from municipalities to read all meters again on June 30 of each year in order to levy consumption at the old tariff and then again in July at the new tariff.”

Why not? ask McConnell and the business community. Apparently this is precisely what other municipalities like Msunduzi (and even Eskom) do and this is reflected in their bills.

More importantly, they claim that Vilakazi’s response shows a misinterpretation of the tariff regulations.

Democratic Alliance (DA) caucus leader Pam Passmoor said she had written to the National Electricity Regulation Authority of South Africa (Nersa) about when the new tariff should be applied. She received a response from Fikile Mabaso, who explained that the increased tariff applies to units consumed as from July 1 only. Any consumption before July 1 should be on the old tariff.

Passmoor said the keyword is consumption. You don’t start charging the new tariff on July 1, but at the end of July, when the electricity consumed in that month is charged at the new tariff, she said.

Passmoor claims that prior to 2002, the municipality used to only charge the increased rate on the August accounts, so there was no June consumption involved. If this practice had continued, the municipality wouldn’t have found itself in its current predicament, she added

In light of the complaint from the business community, the DA’s Tim Lindsay-White said it would be prudent to initiate a thorough investigation of the billing system. “This must go back as far as is needed to ensure consumers have been treated honestly and fairly every year.”




The furore over uMngeni charging the new increased tariff for electricity consumed in June has raised another hot potato. This is whether the electricity meters were read in June or not. Municipal Manager Dumisani Vilakazi told The Witness in last week’s story that the meters were not read in June as a result of meter readers transferring to the District Municipality. He said this was why residents were charged at the new tariff for their June consumption once the meters were read in July.

The DA’s Pam Passmoor claims the municipality is misleading consumers. She says the meter readers were transferred to the district two years ago in July 2007. Passmoor further claims that the statement by the municipal manager that the meters were not read in June is not true. “The DA has been contacted by many residents who were present when the meters were being read during June, a fact that has also been confirmed by the meter readers themselves and in fact some residents also phoned in their June consumption as they have been doing for years, but these readings had been ignored,” Passmoor said.

Vilakazi has denied misleading the public, saying the meter readers only read the water meters in June and not the electricity meters as they were no longer reading both water and electricity meters. He said this was because the uMgungundlovu District municipality had taken over the billing of water as from 1 July 2009.

However, his response has raised a further question as to why uMngeni had not made arrangements to have their electricity meters read in June. This is in light of the fact that the district municipality had given all the affected municipalities a comprehensive timetable of the transfer process as early as December 2008.

uMngeni’s own Tariffs Policy states clearly that in the case of directly measurable service, namely electricity, “the consumption of such service shall be properly metered by the municipality, and meters shall be read, wherever circumstances reasonably permit, on a monthly basis. “The policy also says the municipality will ensure that tariffs are uniformly and fairly applied, the tariff policy will be transparent, services will be cost effectively rendered and that tariff adjustments shall be effective from 1 July each year.

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