Residents face huge, incorrect bills
IN A CIVILISED society, a government is expected to provide basic services to its citizens. The municipalities are entrusted with the task of ensuring that citizens have access to basic amenities, including clean water, proper sanitation facilities and electricity. However, in Durban, the situation has reached a stage where citizens are afraid to open their bills fearing the astronomical amounts charged by the municipality.
There are several cases of residents who have been billed incorrectly for water and electricity in Durban, and the situation borders on criminality on the part of the municipality.
The eThekwini Municipality has been incompetent and mismanaged the situation, leading to fake billing. The situation has become so untenable that residents are left bewildered with the unexplained water and electricity bills that they receive.
A classic case in point is that of a local family, who have installed a borehole and solar power but still continues to get accounts for water and electricity of up to R15 000 per month. This situation is far from unique, and there are countless others who face similar struggles.
The crisis in Durban is not a new phenomenon. In the run-up to the local government elections, I raised concerns over the fake billing of residents. The situation is so dire that residents are left pleading with the municipality to prove their bills’ validity, and, in return, are threatened with service disconnections.
The municipality’s insistence to “pay first, dispute later” is a direct reflection of a failed state.
There are several reasons why the city continues to issue fake bills. Firstly, the municipality's own billing system, the Revenue Management System (RMS), which cost more than R1 billion to install, has been controversial for years.
Secondly, the water and electricity meters in Durban are way past their sell-by date, and the manufacturer guarantees have expired. These meters have a lifespan of only about 15 to 20 years, but many are more than 30 years old.
The city has not refuted these allegations, and there has not been a random test conducted on all the meters to prove their readings are accurate. In the absence of such, it is safe to assume that the municipality’s meters are not providing accurate readings.
Moreover, meters are not being read. Instead, an employee in the office is guessing the residents’ consumption and charging accordingly. Thus, if someone is not using water or electricity supplied by the city, it is unknown to the officials who are thumb-sucking readings.
To make matters worse, the city does not hesitate to cut off services of those who do not pay, even if they have been wrongly billed. It is only those who have the money to go to court who can stop the abuse of power by the municipality.
Recently, a resident from Umlazi got a court order compelling the municipality to stop demanding money for water she never used. The city employs thousands of meter readers, but the contract expired in July 2023 and was not replaced.
The situation that residents of Durban find themselves in is unacceptable, and the city must be held accountable. As a society, we cannot allow this untenable situation to worsen. Moreover, the municipality must take the necessary steps to remedy the situation before it spirals out of control.
The onus should not be on the residents to prove that their bill was calculated incorrectly, but instead should be on the city to prove their readings’ accuracy. In times of crisis, real leaders must put aside their differences and work towards the betterment of our citizens. It is high time that the City of Durban does its job and provides basic services to the residents.
VISVIN REDDY ADeC president
African News Agency