Anger as City hits off switch

2019-10-01 16:29

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It was lights out even at the Msunduzi Prestbury ward councillor’s office when the City went on another disconnection drive this past weekend, much to the annoyance of ratepayers.

The City has intensified its campaign to reduce its debtors’ book that is nearing R4 billion but some, including councillors and customers, have questioned how it carried out the disconnections.

Msunduzi has been accused of cutting off even those whose accounts had been paid in full or who had pending disputes from being incorrectly billed.

The conduct of the contractors who were appointed has also been alleged to be unprofessional. This past weekend the areas that were affected by the disconnection campaign included Hilton and Prestbury.

Ward 26 councillor Ross Strachan said he had three complaints on Sunday from property owners who had paid their accounts but were still disconnected. The Prestbury Clinic and Strachan’s municipal office were also disconnected for reasons unknown to him. “How do you disconnect a ward office of your own municipality?

“There is obviously a managerial problem at Msunduzi and whoever is supposed to be supervising these disconnections is failing to do their job.”

Strachan said the manner in which the disconnections were carried out was also an indication of a lack of communication and synergy between the finance and electricity departments, otherwise people who had paid in full would not be disconnected.

Businesses have also suffered as a result of these “illegal” disconnections.

The Scaleman’s Warren Stevenson said the contractors who came to his business property were unprofessional and pushed his assistant, whom they would not even give a chance to print a proof of payment to show that their account was paid up. “We were then forced to pay reconnection fees in order to get electricity and not lose any further business … How can a disconnection take place six days after the paperwork was issued without first checking or at least allowing to print a proof of payment?”

Stevenson said Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla recently commented that he wanted to improve the town and business in the city, but how was industry supposed to survive with these type of disconnections taking place.

Stevenson said other issues that need to be addressed were the sub-contractors who had no identification or refused to show their qualifications “if they are even qualified”, and had no protective equipment or safety gear when they conducted disconnections.

“The vehicles that they used are not even roadworthy,” he said.

A Hilton resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was having guests over when her power was cut off on Sunday. She said she owed less than R500 but was not aware because Msunduzi failed to send her a statement last month so she just paid her monthly average. She tried to phone the call centre but could not get through.

Councillor Craig Millar, whose ward includes Hilton, said it was outrageous that consumers were treated inequitably when it came to disconnections, where those that habitually paid were disconnected and those that had illegal connections were allowed to get away scot-free.

“This extortion of reconnection fees, the heavy-handed manner in which they are performed and the failure to comply with their own policy and bylaws as far as issuing letters of demand before disconnections occur, is clearly aimed at a specific sector of consumers — those that pay. That there are others who the municipality chooses to not disconnect points to political interference,” Millar said.

Councillors not exempt

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said Msunduzi was taking a stance to collect the money due to it.

“Debt collectors have been appointed and a clear instruction to recover all amounts due to council.”

She said deductions were also being implemented on salaries of both staff and councillors, whom were also not exempt from disconnections, like any other debtor.

Councillors owed R197 331 at the end of August, of which R78 894 was in arrears by more than a year. The municipal staff debt as at the end of August was close to R3 million, with R873 599 having being owed for more than a year.

“The municipality has also concluded an appointment of debt collectors. This is a team of specialists with vast experience that will ensure that what is due to council is paid by consumers timeously,” said Mafumbatha.

She said other measures to collect money due to the City included attachment of rental income for the consumers who are letting their properties and the blacklisting of defaulters.

She said the municipality was considering keeping the finance office open on Sundays during October. She requested anyone with information of unprofessional conduct by contractors “to share it with us”.

Msunduzi is still processing the 6 035 applications it received for amnesty before the end of May.

Customers with billing-related queries may e-mail billing@msunduzi.gov.za or phone 033 392 2741 or visit the municipality’s offices.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality
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