Joburg Advocacy Group (JAG): 2012

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.

TIPS ON HOW TO HANDLE AN NCC CONCILIATION HEARING



A number of residents who've logged complaints about billing with the National Consumer Commission (NCC) are being asked to attend conciliation hearings. A few have asked us for advice on how to handle these hearings, as the city has legal representation at these, but residents aren't given this option. You may find the following response to one of these queries helpful:

1. Call the NCC in advance and ask what your options for legal representation are. It seems a rather unfair situation if the city has legal representation but you don't. On the other hand, the NCC will probably be acting as your de facto legal representative, but we're not sure about that, so we'd suggest that you check.

2. Write up a summary of your dispute and take a few copies along to the hearing, together with any supporting documentation (e.g. previous municipal bills and Joburg Connect reference numbers) that may be required to prove or illustrate your dispute.

3. Work out as best you can what the current state of your account should be - have as accurate a figure as possible available.

4. If you're in arrears, acknowledge that you're willing to make arrangements to settle any outstanding amount that may be owed IF your bill is accurate and, importantly, VERIFIABLE!

5. Don't be intimidated and don't be forced into making a settlement you're not happy with. Remember, this is a conciliation hearing and you're not obliged to accept the outcome. However, if your bill is rectified and you're able to make arrangements to repay any amount/s that may be outstanding, we'd suggest that you accept this outcome. To take the matter further would require costly civil litigation.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

NEWS FLASH: STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS



Mayor Parks Tau will be delivering his first State of the City Address today at 11:00. If you're on Twitter, follow the hashtag #JSOCA for live updates - or follow our Twitter feed in the sidebar.

The address will also be broadcast live at the viewing facilities in the following venues:
  • Diepsloot Park
  • Orange Farm Park
  • Jabulani Civic Centre
  • Westbury Community Hall
  • Ivory Park 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NEWS UPDATES: MARCH

19 March 2012:

More promises (aka smoke and mirrors) about the Joburg billing crisis (note our comments online):

Joburg billing backlog to be cleared by June (ITWeb)
Jo'burg scrambles to clear billing crisis backlog (Mail and Guardian)
JHB billing crises to be resolved - Minister (Eyewitness News)
Joburg can’t get act together to fix billing mess (The Star)

Read it and weep ...

20 March 2012:

JAG commentary on the billing crisis featured on SABC 3 TV News at 20:00 on 19 March, and a representative was interviewd on the SAfm breakfast show at 07:10 today.

NOTE: If you've been unable to get a billing query or dispute resolved by any means, please report it to the Presidential Hotline on 17737. Maybe if all affected residents do this, the Presidency will eventually 'get' the nature and extent of the problem.

20 March 2012:

Just a reminder that Mayor Parks Tau will be delivering his first State-of-the-City Address on 22 March at 11:00. It can be viewed live at the following viewing facilities and parks:
  • Diepsloot Park
  • Orange Farm Park
  • Jabulani Civic Centre
  • Westbury Community Hall
  • Ivory Park
Should be interesting ...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

NEWS UPDATES: JANUARY AND FEBRUARY

28 January 2012:

The City of Joburg has received a qualified audit from the Auditor General for the second year in a row:

The AG's report for Y2011 suggests that the city's perennial billing crisis is largely to blame for the qualified audit opinion:
  • The report notes that city's losses have 'skyrocketed' to R3bn from R1.4bn in Y2010.
  • R3bn is the cost of approx. 200,000 RDP houses at R15,000 each - or the annual salaries of around 100,000 municipal workers.
  • The city also incurred R48.5m in unauthorised expenditure and R397.6m in irregular expenditure in Y2011.
  • It further incurred a R2bn loss in water and electricity distribution, probably due to such issues as failing infrastructure and illegal electricity usage.
  • The AG was unable to verify "the accuracy, completeness and occurrence of R4.9 bn revenue collected through property rates".
A copy of the full audit report is available on the City of Joburg web site.

30 January 2012:

If you would like to comment on the city's draft rates policy, which is currently up for review, you can do so until 25 February. Click through here to view a copy of the draft.

Comments and objections should be sent to RatesComments@joburg.org.za, faxed to 011 727 0189, or dropped off at the Rates and Taxes Department, Jorissen Place, 66 Jorissen Street, Braamfontein.

9 February 2012:

Podcasts of an interview done with JAG by Radio France Internationale (RFI) in the run-up to the State of the Nation address can be accessed here (note that there are two parts to the interview). RFI broadcasts throughout Europe and into Africa in both French and English.

15 February 2012:

JAG has made a submission to Gauteng Premier, Nomvula Mokonyane, as part of the consultation process in the run-up to the State of the Province address. You can read the full submission in our document archives.

15 February 2012:

The National Consumer Tribunal has announced that hearings in the case between the National Consumer Commission (NCC) and the City of Joburg (CoJ) will take place at the Braamfontein Recreation Centre from 22 to 24 February. This is the first time that any attempt has been made to hold the city to account for the billing crisis in terms of the law. We therefore support the process and look forward to a meaningful outcome.

The hearings are open to the public, and more information is available here.

16 February 2012:

Nominations for Ward Committee candidates are still open. If you would like to stand for election or would like to nominate someone in your area, further information is available here.

17 February 2012:

Moneyweb on the Joburg billing crisis:

Cape Town vs Joburg SAP billing system: Cape Town implemented it in one year; Joburg has spent two years and there is no result.
Joburg facing "progressive system collapse": Civil society blasts city on billing crisis.