CoJ promises to write off debt to fix billing system

The City of Joburg has effectively admitted its billing system is a mess and promised to fix it by writing off your debt – if you have a long-standing unresolved query. Finance MMC Jolidee Matongo said it would be "unreasonable" for the city to try to pursue a debt it has itself been unable to resolve. His comments came in the wake of an admission that Johannesburg has R30 billion in unpaid residential debt, which has worsened during the lockdown, as well as an ongoing crisis of incorrect accounts affecting hundreds of residents who were still liable despite their insistence...
The City of Joburg has effectively admitted its billing system is a mess and promised to fix it by writing off your debt – if you have a long-standing unresolved query. Finance MMC Jolidee Matongo said it would be "unreasonable" for the city to try to pursue a debt it has itself been unable to resolve.

His comments came in the wake of an admission that Johannesburg has R30 billion in unpaid residential debt, which has worsened during the lockdown, as well as an ongoing crisis of incorrect accounts affecting hundreds of residents who were still liable despite their insistence they were billed incorrectly.

"We have taken a view that if your query goes back five years, it can't be justified that the city must hold you against that bill when the city itself has not been able to put it right within a period of 30 days," said Matongo.

"For queries that are long standing which have not been resolved, for instance, over a period of 12 months, it will be unreasonable to continue to pursue the customer if the city has failed in its duty to resolve the query."

The city recently embarked on the decentralisation of the customer service system, meaning residents still stuck with debts they wanted to challenge could visit their region's local offices, rather than queuing at Thuso House in Braamfontein.

"When people challenge the accuracy of an account, they have to go to the regional offices to get this resolved. But we can't have a situation where we have queries that have been logged that have not been resolved for more than six months."

Also read: Lockdown causes excessive Johannesburg water billing and faulty traffic lights

The city was also in the process of entering phase two of its debt rehabilitation programme. In the first phase, residents could apply for debt relief only if the property's value did not exceed R600,000. Phase two could see the threshold raised into the millions, said Matongo.

"Writing off debt is part of what you must do to ease the burden on the customers, but there must be reasonable grounds to write it off. There could be councillors that owe the city and they are not affected by the lockdown; they are still getting a salary. There are employees of government who owe the city. They must pay."

Dating at least two administrations ago, incorrect billing has left many residents in distress. An example of top-tier incompetence was former mayor Amos Masondo's Project Phakama, which launched at R300 million over budget in 2011, a Johannesburg resident said.

"It never had a chance. Week after week more outrageous billing mistakes were made and it's never stopped," the resident said, requesting anonymity for fear of the city messing with her account again.

"Our account details were removed from the system and the previous owner was billed. We notified the city, but they said we should carry on paying on the new details, which we did. Occasionally a lawyer's letter would arrive, we would show them the mix-up and they would go away – until the next lawyers letter. This carried on for years," she said.

simnikiweh@cititzen.co.za

 

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