Joburg Advocacy Group (JAG)

Friday, July 8, 2016

WELCOME

The Joburg Advocacy Group aims to empower residents to take action on their own behalf, either as individuals or through residents' associations and civil society groups. Please note that, as a small, voluntary group, we are unable to assist with individual complaints or queries. Contact your ward councillor should you need assistance with service delivery matters.

Should you need to log or follow up on a municipal query, complaint or dispute, please refer to the 'Log a Complaint' section in the sidebar for further information. 

The contact information for consumer, government and oversight agencies that may be able to help with various issues facing residents can also be found in the sidebar.

If you would like to know more about simple ways in which to become involved in working for change in the City of Joburg, there is further information in this post. Links to information leaflets for residents and businesses affected by the billing crisis and the city's cut-off campaigns are also available there, as is a link to JAG's document archives

All posts on this site dealing with the billing crisis are tagged 'Municipal Billing Crisis Campaign', and can be accessed from the 'Labels' section in the sidebar. 

BILLING CRISIS STATUS AS AT 1 JUNE 2016:
1. Remember that the City of Joburg cannot discontinue any of your services if you have an unresolved billing complaint, query or dispute. A court order restraining it from doing so was issued on 11 December 2011.

2. We regret to advise that the Public Protector has never released the 'comprehensive report' on the Joburg billing crisis that she personally undertook to supply to JAG four years ago (and then only after repeated requests for intervention over a period of two years prior to that). All follow-up e-mails addressed to her have been ignored. Every time we attempt to follow up on this or ask a consumer journalist to do so, the PP issues a media statement to the effect that the report will be released soon. As at the date of writing, the report has not been released and residents continue to experience on-going problems with municipal billing. 

RESIDENT ALERT: MUNICIPAL BILLING


A landmark case heard recently in Gauteng means that your municipality now has to prove your bill is correct (more here) - it can't just demand that you pay inflated and/or incorrect bills.

"The important precedent set by this case (Euphorbia (Pty) Ltd t/a Gallagher Estates v City of Johannesburg) is that, in meter disputes, it is not the consumer’s responsibility to prove that the charges billed are wrong or based on a non-functioning meter. It is rather the municipality’s responsibility to first prove that the charges are correct and/or based on a functioning meter. Once a consumer has logged a revenue-related query based on justified inferences that the billing is wrong, the burden rests on the municipality to investigate the issue, and the meter, if necessary."

This is a big step forward in dealing with the on-going problem of incorrect municipal bills in the City of Joburg.

Thanks to Schindlers Attorneys for the information.

Monday, April 11, 2016

RESIDENT ALERT: LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR VOTERS (via EWN, 10 April 2016):

"The IEC says 15.9 million addresses are missing from its database. Please check if your details are captured correctly." Even people who registered a month ago may be affected.

In order to check the status of your voter information, SMS your ID number to 32810. You will receive a reply confirming your registration and voting station, and possibly get a second message to say that the IEC doesn't have your address.

If your address is not on the voter's roll or if you're not registered and would still like to do so, please go to any IEC office to do the necessary.



JAG contacted the IEC to ask whether voters with incomplete address records would be permitted to vote and received the following response at 13h20:

You are asking a very fundamental question – which is exactly the question on which the Electoral Commission is seeking clarity from the Constitutional Court in our appeal which is scheduled for hearing on 9 May.

The Electoral Commission strongly believes that being compelled to remove registered voters for whom we do not have addresses in our possession will deny them their Constitutional right to vote. But we await the guidance from the Constitutional Court on this issue – which we hope to receive soon.

In the meantime, we do not want to merely sit back and wait for the outcome. Having up to date and accurate address information for voters is a legal requirement and enhances the accuracy and credibility of the voters’ roll – and thereby the integrity of the elections. For this reason we are urging all voters for whom we do not currently have address details on record to please use this weekend’s registration opportunity to update their address details at their voting station.

As this information only came to light for many voters after this past registration weekend, we have subsequently requested a response on two further questions and will advise the IEC's feedback once this has been received.

UPDATE (Monday, 18 April 2016):
Regretfully, we have received no response to the further questions posed to the IEC last week, and there is still no clarity as to whether the problem with address details on the voters' roll will have any influence on voters' right to vote.

The most recent update on TimesLIVE gives an indication of where things stand at present.

Monday, July 20, 2015

RESIDENT ALERT: JOBURG BILLING


Please be advised that we have had a number of complaints about grossly inflated municipal bills for the June 2015 billing cycle (i.e. bills dated the beginning of July).

We recommend that all residents check their latest municipal bills carefully and, should they be incorrect, that they log a complaint with the City of Joburg as soon as possible.

In order to do this, dial Joburg Connect on 011 375 5555 or 0860 JOBURG. Insist on an 0800 reference number when logging your complaint and, if it is not resolved within a week, follow up regularly until it is.

If the call centre agent advises you that the complaint has been resolved, ask for a revised bill to be sent to you by e-mail.

Monday, October 27, 2014

THE GREAT TAX DEBATE

The new Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene, presented his first Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement on Wednesday, 22 October, and reaction has been swift.

 
While every day brings new reports of financial losses due to corruption, graft and inefficiency at national, provincial and local level, the Minister intends to look to taxpayers for an additional R15 billion in the next financial year.

According to research conducted by the Solidarity Research Institute, personal income tax accounts for 33.7% of the state's revenue, company tax (tax on shareholders) accounts for 19.7% , VAT accounts for 27% and the remaining 19.6% is made up from taxes such as the fuel levy and import tariffs. All of this tax - every single cent of it - is paid by individuals. All of it - every single cent of it - is spent or misspent by government and state-owned entities.

In the City of Joburg, for instance, the administration continues to battle a large deficit, partly due to poor management and collapsing infrastructure, and partly due to its failure to collect rates and service fees in areas where there is a high rate of illegal usage and/or payment defaults for legitimately supplied utilities. This is without even going into the state of service delivery as a whole.

Despite this, the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) has ruled that rates cannot be withheld by residents even if the services they are intended to finance are not being delivered. This is due to the fact that rates are classified as a tax, and because there is no direct and causal relationship between the payment of this tax and the delivery of individual services.

At national level, there is also little or no opportunity to withhold taxes from a government that is not using tax revenue properly. A civil disobedience action like this would need to be broad-based and very well organized in order for it to be effective.

So what's to be done in the face of what appears to be such a hopeless situation? Are we doomed to simply continue being fleeced by a corrupt and inefficient government?

In a comment following a feature entitled Medium-Term Budget: Nene's House of pain and cutbacks (Daily Maverick, 23 October 2014) a reader by the name of Robyn Burger has suggested what we feel is a genius option. As a large part of government's revenue is made up of income from VAT, a radical reduction in consumer spending would impact significantly on this revenue stream.

To quote Burger: " ... stop buying anything that you can make/do for yourself like pizzas, Christmas crap, cars that are still good (screw the warrantees - they are a rip-off anyway, sold to you for profit to alleviate anxiety ...), schlepping around the world pretending to yourself that it is good for expanding your mind (go by Google instead) and updating technology that is only an improvement of style, not substance.

In brief, stop spending ...


"Believe me, a spending boycott will be devastatingly effective because the more VAT goes up, the more you will save.


"The core issue is that no-one has to do without; it is really just about doing with less."

As we are all aware, consumer boycotts were very effective during the apartheid era and
perhaps it's time for consumers to start flexing their muscles again. And, yes, that means making a conscious decision to do without some creature comforts and status symbols but, hey, it's certainly an effective way of reducing the state's income from VAT.

Other ways of reducing the state's revenue from tax include
opting for contract work rather than employment, as contract workers pay way less income tax than their compatriots in formal employment. And aiming to be debt-free is also important. The financial services sector is a vast cash-cow for government, and the sector depends on business and consumer debt for its very healthy bottom line.


So, if you want to know what you can do to make a difference when it comes to the great tax debate, start by spending less.

FOR FURTHER READING: Check out Analysis: Civil disobedience, revisited by J. Brooks Spector (Daily Maverick, 27 October 2014).  

Friday, October 24, 2014

CUT THE PLASTIC HABIT

Did you know that only about 9% of the plastic produced annually is recovered and recycled - and that every piece of plastic ever produced still exists? Plastic never biodegrades, it only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that will pollute the environment indefinitely.

Click through to this handy Put Down the Plastic infographic to find out more - and think twice before using plastic.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

BILLING CRISIS UPDATE



Folks, we continue to receive a lot of complaints from residents with long-standing and unresolved billing disputes. Over the past few days, some have even been in tears because the city is demanding that they make arrangements to pay disputed amounts of as much as R80,000 or face cut-offs.

So just a reminder about two things:

1. To demand payment of an incorrect or disputed amount under threat of any kind is CRIMINAL EXTORTION. If an official demands payment under these circumstances, you have the option of laying a criminal charge against the city at any SAPS station. You'll need to name the Mayor, Parks Tau, and the City Manager, Trevor Fowler, as respondents.

2. If the city cuts your services despite the fact that your account is in dispute and you have a legitimate reference number, IT IS IN VIOLATION OF A HIGH COURT ORDER handed down on 15 December last year (2011). The order was obtained by Schindlers Attorneys (www.schindlers.co.za). Please notify Schindlers in the event of your services being cut even if your account is in dispute.

Also, if you have an unresolved billing dispute, please log a complaint with the PRESIDENTIAL HOTLINE on 17737 - we need the Presidency to get a real idea of the nature and extent of the problem, as well as of the fact that it's not going away. There is also the option of logging your complaint on the independent service delivery web site, Mobilitate.


Finally, for your information, the following is a copy of a letter recently sent to a resident still battling with the same billing issue after two years:

We're so sorry to hear you’re still struggling with your municipal account, but rest assured you’re not alone.  

From our side, we’ve done everything we possibly could to find resolutions to the billing crisis - for both individual residents and residents as a whole. We’ve lobbied every level of government and all of the oversight agencies, including the Human Rights Commission, which didn’t even respond to our many attempts to have this addressed as a rights issue. And, as you know, we’ve been running a very aggressive media and social media campaign for quite some time now, obtaining extensive coverage both at home and abroad.

In fact, we’ve logged well over 1,000 voluntary hours working on this and other issues in a little over 12 months. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that advocacy only works within a system that’s at least notionally functional, which ours clearly isn’t. 

We’re of the opinion that the failure of local government – and the parallel failure of provincial and national government to deal with this failure effectively – now has a momentum of its own, and that very little other than meaningful system change will halt or reverse the process. Without that, we feel our only expectation can be chronic and progressive system failure.

Please let us know if you manage to get your problem sorted out. We agree with you – it’s as much a matter of principle as anything else. There are about 1.3 million account holders in the City of Joburg. If only 8% of those have an average dispute of R5,000, that amounts to R52 million. And, as many individual disputes are much higher, we estimate the amount under dispute to be considerably more than that.