Water bills ‘illegal’

2011-06-28 00:00

MUNICIPALITIES cannot go on and on estimating water accounts. This is highly illegal in terms of the Municipal Systems Act. Estimates for up to three months is okay, but thereafter a proper reading has to be taken.

This helpful piece of information came from the MsunduzI Municipality itself, which took an honest look at its own water billing system and found frightening evidence of the municipality’s own non-compliance with legislation and a dysfunctional meter reading system.

In a report to the executive committee (Exco) yesterday, intervention team member Ben Dorfling said the municipality’s biggest problem is outstanding water accounts, which run into millions.

Dorfling said it is senseless keeping this debt on the books, as in most cases the debt is in poorer areas where residents would never be able to pay it. He said that across the municipality there are dysfunctional water meters and major water leaks and that water is charged based on estimates — sometimes for years.

“There is serious abuse by the municipality of a system of estimation as some estimation has been going on for up to 11 years. This is illegal and council will have to create a way of dealing with this urgently,” Dorfling said.

He added that in some areas the whereabouts of the meters are not known, and in others meter readers do not do readings.

“The current meter-reading process is not up to speed and needs to be changed. The meter-reading company [was] an unlawful appointment, but has been carrying [on] until a new system or contract can be put in place,” said Dorfling.

He told Exco that meter reading must be the responsibility of the electricity and water engineers, who must ensure that the meters are read and that they are working.

“Currently the contract for meter reading lies with finance, which in turn has no fall-back if meters are not read or when a meter becomes dysfunctional.”

Dorfling said that in previously disadvantaged areas like Edendale and Imbali, when subsidised houses were transferred to residents the onus was on council to check that the houses were properly connected to the water system and there were no leaks.

He said he knows for a fact that this did not happen because he searched through the archives and could not find evidence that this was carried out. The result is that there are major water leaks through these areas that have gone undetected. This is because the resident did not receive accounts — of actual or estimated usage — which reflected sudden and excessive spikes in water consumption.

Dorfling added that the leaks are so bad that this runoff of water is beginning to affect road surfaces in the area.

To rectify the situation the provincial turnaround team has recommended the council writes off or writes back water charges where problems it has reported on have occured. It says the muicipality should start afresh and tender decent bills and start charging people for what they are using.

“We have an obligation to tender accurate metered accounts as per the Municipal Systems Act,” said Dorfling.

He added that in the new budget, money had been set aside to repair meters and sort out leaks throughout the city.



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