Water: district gets tough

2019-09-09 15:24
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uMgungundlovu is threatening to disconnect water at the council chambers and management offices of its local municipalities that owe the district.

District manager Dr Ray Ngcobo said this was part of its ongoing revenue enhancement initiative to deal with the thousands of customers who have been enjoying the municipality’s services for free.

To date the campaign has seen hundreds of households, businesses and government institutions being cut off for non-payments.

uMgungundlovu is the water service provider to six of its seven local municipalities.

“We’ve been too lenient to our customers, the amount that we are owed for services is too much. It can’t be right that we are owed R500 million and the people who owe us just continue consuming our services for free,” said Ngcobo.

Last week, Coastal KZN TVET College’s Appelsbosch Campus, in Ozwathini, was also disconnected over its debt amounting to more than R4 million.

Ngcobo told The Witness that the district had several engagements with the college management but there seemed to be no will to deal with the non-payment for water.

“It’s unfortunate that hundreds of students will have to go home if the college continues not to pay … If there is large scale consumption for an organ of state, they are compelled to pay,” said Ngcobo.

For the past few months uMgungundlovu has been disconnecting individual properties belonging to municipalities such as uMngeni but Ngcobo said they would now be targeting the decision makers.

“We are consolidating the debts of municipalities into one and we will be disconnecting council chambers and offices of municipal managers instead of cutting off their rental properties like we’ve been doing with the flats in uMngeni,” he said.

He said the decision makers knew that some of their properties owed uMgungundlovu­ but did nothing because all along the district has been disconnecting according to the meters whose accounts were in arrears.

“We will be hitting them where the decision of payment must come from, including the seats of power,” said Ngcobo.

He said the plan was to use the monies collected to build new water infrastructure and deal with the problem of ageing infrastructure, especially asbestos pipes.

While the DA caucus applauded the efforts to collect outstanding debt, it called on the district to conduct a thorough meter audit as the municipality did not know its customers.

Councillor Hazel Lake said the district’s debtors book was “potentially very inflated” because the meters were not being read so the consumers were not billed correctly. She said this was going to skew the municipality’s budgeting process.

Her colleague, Mike Bond, said the DA had been calling for a meter audit for years because the municipality did not know its customers. He said when he recently joined the revenue enhancement team to Mkhambathini, he was shocked to see that properties that previously had meters were now not even being billed. He said some of the meters were not registered correctly on the municipality’s system.

Ross Strachan said there were new developments cropping up across the district every day and several, such as Hardings Dale, were enjoying free water as they had been illegally connected by the employees of uMgungundlovu and local municipalities.

“That’s our water revenue, that’s millions of rands that are going down the drain every day but we as the municipality are sitting back and doing nothing about it.”

In his response Ngcobo conceded that the district’s debtors book needed to be “cleaned” as there were issues such as duplications. He said the data cleansing process had already started with the support of the Development Bank of Southern Africa whose team were on site. He said the institution would also assist with the meter audit.

“But that can’t be raised when it comes to problems for non-payment. What we said — in actual fact we are not negotiating — if you owe the municipality and you feel you have a valid case, pay and then come and talk to us.”

He said there was a policy which stated that a customer could not continue consuming services and not pay just because there was a problem with the billing. He said uMgungundlovu would credit whoever was found to have overpaid.


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