How did the city perform in 2013?

2013-12-30 00:00

IN this last Witness Warriors column for 2013, it is worth reflecting on what’s working, what’s improved and what is in desperate need of fixing at Msunduzi Municipality. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so let us have your own bouquets and brickbats for the municipality.

Working well

The water and sewage section is definitely on top of its game. Repairs are dealt with promptly and the section is responsive to complaints from Witness Warriors. This view is shared by Umgeni Water and The Dusi-Umngeni Conservation Trust (Duct).

The electricity department

The response to consumer complaints has been good, especially since the second half of 2013.

But the electricity department still faces huge challenges as a result of years of neglect in maintaining infrastructure. This was a direct result of funding not being properly prioritised, a situation that led to the municipality being placed under administration.

There is now funding for maintenance and upgrading the city’s electricity infrastructure. A fitting new year wish would be for fewer power outages and for the municipality to find the political will to deal with the massive electricity theft problem in the city.

It seems waiting for the informal settlements to be electrified might be a long-term solution, but more needs to be done in the short-term. Thousands of rands are wasted clearing away tons of illegal cables every month. However, there is a bigger price and that is the lives lost as a result of people being electrocuted.

The toll of known deaths by electrocution at the end of last week was 12.

Waste management

This section deserves a huge pat on the back. There has been vast improvement in waste collection. A routine seems to have been established and there has hardly been a complaint this year about rubbish not being collected.

The trucks are spotted early enough in the day doing their rounds. I am not sure if this is the case in other parts of the city, but in my suburb we have the friendliest bunch of waste collectors. They are always polite and clean up any spills if a bin bag breaks or rubbish falls out of an over-flowing bag.

Call centre

There have been vast changes in the call centre, but there is still room for improvement.

The men and women on the other end of the line are polite enough and there is not a long waiting time before calls are answered.

The problem lies with the follow-up. Residents call and are given a reference number, but it seems that the complaint then disappears into thin air.

We’ve had complaints to Witness Warriors where residents have been given up to five different reference numbers, all for the same complaint and without it being fixed.

It seems that a monitoring system needs to be put in place to check whether the complaint was referred to the correct department and whether the complaint had been tackled.

There should also be feedback to the call centre, so when a resident phones, the staff can look up the reference number and inform the resident of the status of their complaint.

Street lights

While there has been some improvement in this section, there are still suburbs like parts of Pelham, Scottsville and Northdale that have endless street-lighting problems.

Urgent, please fix the phones

Nobody answers the phones at city hall.

This has been an ongoing complaint for almost the entire year, and so far complaints on this issue appear to have been ignored.

Either the muni­cipality needs a vastly upgraded phone system or more staff to answer the phones.

However, there has been some improvement at the switchboard level.

When you dial 033 392 3000, you do not automatically go to voicemail, as was the case for much of the first half of this year.

There is usually somebody that answers the phone. However, the problem lies when the phone is transferred to a department and nobody picks up.

There should be a system for when the call should revert back to the switchboard or be diverted to another extension.

Hopefully, 2014 is going to be different, as the municipality has put together a customer service charter due to be implemented in the new year — top on the list of resolutions is a better response time to those ringing telephones.

Meter readings

This has been the bugbear of 2013 and the meter reading section remains the most notorious for not answering its telephones.

Residents who go down to 333 Church Street to personally hand in their meter readings have told Witness Warriors that there is usually just one person on duty. When this person is seeing to customers, they hear the phones ringing non-stop in the background.

They have also complained about boxes of slips with meter readings that appear to be lying around. It did not appear as if anybody was making an effort to enter the readings onto the computer.

Perhaps what is needed in the new year is for the oversight body, the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (MPAC), to carry out some spot checks.


By far the largest number of complaints received by Witness Warriors was over the non-payment of refunds owed to municipal customers.

People have been waiting for years to get their money. They are angry because if they are even slightly late on any payment to the municipality, they are charged interest, yet never get any interest on the money owed to them by the municipality.

2014 has to be the year when the municipality finally sorts out the backlog in its refunds section. This is another area that should come under scrutiny by MPAC and Witness Warriors will be closely monitoring developments on this front.

Insurance claims

This is another slow moving area that will come under scrutiny in the new year.

The traffic department

This section has been largely invisible for the past year, except when some revenue needs collection and the speed traps come out.

Pietermaritzburg’s collective wish for 2014 must surely be for a more visible, safety-conscious and pro-active traffic department.

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