Msunduzi disconnects hundreds of electricity meters

2018-02-26 16:57

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The Msunduzi Municipality has been accused of “targeting” residents in a desperate attempt for a cash injection, after hundreds of residents’ electricity meters were disconnected over the weekend.

Private contractors “suddenly” disconnected electricity meters, seemingly mainly in northern areas and at flats in the central business district, causing residents to flood the municipal offices in Church Street, which were unusually kept open, to settle accounts.

A spokesperson for the City said the disconnections were part of a programme that started last September.

The Witness reported last week that Msunduzi only has enough cash to last one month.

It was revealed at a finance committee meeting last week that the City had a closing bank balance at the end of 2017 of just R61,6 million.

The Witness visited the municipal offices early yesterday morning to find disgruntled residents querying the electricity disconnections. The majority of those in the long queue were elderly.

Residents who The Witness spoke to accused the City of “blackmailing us into paying” fees which they did not even know were outstanding because of improper billing.

Vis Rutharam, a retired firefighter who lives on Taurus Road in Northdale, said his family were not at home when their meter was disconnected on Saturday. “They told us we had an outstanding balance of R597 from October. This was not reflected on our account and we religiously pay our fees,” he said.

“We paid the latest bill [last] Monday and they came and disconnected us on Saturday. So that means they never corrected our statement to reflect the outstanding amount.”

A pensioner on Silver Road in Northdale, Matthew Anthoo, was confused to find his meter being disconnected as his house is on a prepaid system.

“We went [to the offices] on Saturday and there was a big crowd there and they said we owed more than R4 000.”

Anthoo said a relative explained his situation to staff and he ended up not having to pay any money.

“They reconnected it about an hour later. It was disconnected for nothing.”

He added: “At least I was able to make it to the offices. Most people there were pensioners who were made to queue on a Saturday in the heat. Where would they get the money from to suddenly pay their full arrears amount?”

A resident who lives in a flat on Masukwana (East) Street said their meter was disconnected on Saturday night.

“We have been on a prepaid system since August but they told us we were in arrears of R1 600 for some month before that. So we had to borrow money and go to a Checkers [supermarket] and pay the amount.

“They told us it was not reflected on their system that we were on prepaid, so now they will make that adjustment and we will be reimbursed some money.”

DA member of Msunduzi’s executive committee, Glen McArthur, said residents would be further liable for a reconnection fee of R540. He believed Msunduzi took this action to get residents to pay outstanding amounts to assist with the City’s ailing cash flow.

“We as councillors did an oversight to this same municipal office on Friday and there was no talk of disconnecting electricity meters. Then all of a sudden staff were informed that afternoon that they’d be working on the weekend.”

McArthur said the City was “targeting” residents who generally made good on their accounts. “They [Msunduzi] need a bit of cash ... we know for a fact they haven’t been paying their contractors.”

He said “more than 50%” of people he had seen at the municipal offices were illegally disconnected. “The discrepancy that caused their meter to be cut was false when the resident showed their proof of payments.”

The DA in Msunduzi has called for an amnesty for those liable to a reconnection fee for this weekend.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the City had taken this approach because it had been too lenient with payment defaulters.

She said the disconnections were part of Operation: Qoqa Imali, which started in September.

“We have appointed 20 people including technical staff to work on this project. This team [also] involves finance. It is unlawful for anyone to block us from implementation of the credit control.

“The city has been lenient which is wrong according to auditor-general. The disconnections that are being done are due to non-payments.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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