Buffalo City Metro ratepayers who had hoped their bungled municipal accounts would finally be corrected will have to wait a while longer as Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works of the city’s revenue rollout campaign.
The metro had announced that it would open its offices in King William’s Town, Mdantsane, East London and Zwelitsha every Saturday in March to address property owners’ and municipal account holders’ billing complaints.
However, that had to be halted when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the 21-day national lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which by Sunday had infected more than one million people claimed the lives of close to 65,000 globally.
For years, scores of residents have complained of their municipal accounts being incorrect, with ratepayers being slapped with unexplainable exorbitant bills, sometimes even running into tens of thousands of rand in one month.
In some cases, the municipality estimated water meter readings because water meter readers had been suspended, meaning for months there was no reading of meters.
With the campaign suspended, which the metro embarks on every year to not only address wrongfully billed accounts but to increase its revenue collection, homeowners have effectively been left in the lurch.
The billing conundrum has been a headache for residents who say they are sent from pillar to post when they try to sort out their bungled accounts.
However, city spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya says as soon as Ramaphosa lifts the curfew, the metro will announce new dates for the campaign. He said the coronavirus outbreak had also put brakes on their plans to visit communities and register indigent residents into their system so as to be eligible for free services from the city.
“These campaigns will be continued after the lockdown regulations are lifted as these are areas that are critical in the revenue management of the city,” Ngwenya said.
He would not say whether the city would stop disconnecting people’s electricity who had defaulted in their payments — or those who had been incorrectly captured as owing the metro for services.
But if human settlements, water & sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s calls are anything to go by, defaulters are likely to get a reprieve — at least until after the lockdown.
Sisulu called on municipalities last week to stop evicting people from illegally occupied buildings and RDP houses during the lockdown.
Ngwenya said they had kept ratepayers abreast with developments through their social media platforms and community radio stations.
“The city is also heightening communications by appealing to people to register with their banks online, pay their accounts and buy electricity. We are also sending out statements via e-mail and have also sent out SMSes for billing statements and indigent campaigns,” he said.
Meanwhile, the metro has embarked on a disinfection and cleaning drive of public areas. Mayor Xola Pakati started the campaign on Friday while the sometimes neglected cemeteries will receive a much-needed cleanup with the overgrown grass being cut.
On Friday, the city disinfected Ebuhlanti, the Gillwell mall, Border taxi rank and the East London CBD while workers also took the campaign to Mdantsane taxi rank, the Cambridge cemetery and parts of Bhisho.
In a statement, the city said: “The municipality is taking advantage of the lockdown by intensifying its efforts towards grass cutting, gutter clearing, weed picking, illegal dumping clearing and bush clearing.”
Mbhashe municipality has also promised to use the lockdown period to clean the dirty Dutywa town centre.