South Africa’s richest city is struggling to deliver basic services as its chaotic billing system makes it impossible for it to collect millions in arrears payments.
Johannesburg’s much-vaunted year-old computerised billing system, Project Phakama (Upliftment), has turned out to be a nightmare for both the municipality and residents.
Its failure has rendered the city’s refuse, water and electricity utilities powerless to clean streets, and to repair street lights and water pipes.
The cash-strapped council has not been able to implement water and sanitation projects for informal settlements since June.
A quarterly infrastructure and services report has blamed the utilities’ poor financial performance, and the council’s inability to collect outstanding rates and services bills, on Project Phakama.
The system cost R580m and was intended to help the city to recoup some of the R8.4bn it is owed by residents and businesses.
City officials admit that they have failed to resolve the billing crisis since the system was implemented in November last year.
The report – an assessment of the performances of City Power, Joburg Water and Pikitup, between June and October – has also revealed that a sub-committee headed by mayor Amos Masondo has ordered municipal officials to resolve “performance issues” by Christmas.
Masondo’s office has also ordered that backlogs in the provision of services be cleared before next year’s local-government elections.
The City of Johannesburg has a budget of R28.3b – R5.3b more than Cape Town, the country’s next-wealthiest city.
The infrastructure and services report, which was presented to the mayoral committee last month, also revealed that:
• Joburg Water failed to complete water and sanitation projects in unnamed informal settlements because it failed to appoint a contractor on time. The report also revealed that Joburg Water’s liquidity ratio – value of assets divided by liabilities – has weakened to 1.1:1 – well below the 1.5:1 normal for municipalities;
• City Power had 25 serious power outages this year against a target of 24. It erected 1322 street lights to 12 areas in the quarter but poor maintenance of street lighting “nullified good work being done in this area”; and
• Cash-strapped Pikitup has reduced its cleaning work in 119 informal settlements, including those in Diepsloot, Alexandra, and at hostels in Soweto, from a daily service to three times a week.
Despite these and other backlogs, senior municipal executives have been getting huge salaries and extremely generous “performance bonuses”.
According to information supplied by the DA, former City Power head Silus Zimu, who earned R2.7m a year, was given a R335000 performance bonus at the end of the 2009-2010 financial year.
Pikitup boss Zami Nkosi received a R200000 bonus on top of his R1.7m salary.
Joburg Water confirmed that its managing director, Gerald Dumas, got a R139000 bonus in addition to his R1.9m annual salary.
Masondo is expected to announce performance bonuses for senior managers at next month’s council meeting.
City of Joburg spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane confirmed that the three utilities had been under strain during the past three years.
“During this period, municipal-owned entities had to adjust their budgets accordingly,” he said.
“As is the case with most public and private sector entities, the budgets allocated do not necessarily correspond with the budgets requested.”
The infrastructure and services report is expected to be tabled at a council meeting at the end of next month.
“It is increasingly critical for the sector to accelerate delivery considering the potential pressures presented by the nearing festive season and the upcoming local government elections,” the report states.
Johannesburg’s DA caucus leader, Vasco da Gama, said the city’s billing system was a mess and that the city had not sent bills to Soweto residents because not all of them had been recorded on the new system.
“The [council's] directors cannot justify receiving a bonus when they fail to compel the billing department, which is part of Project Phakama … to effectively and regularly collect service-delivery fees,” he said.
“Residents call us regularly to complain that they don’t receive bills or receive interim bills for grossly exaggerated amounts.
People query these bills and the process is extended unnecessarily. If Phakama were working properly, then residents would be contributing their fair share.”
It was revealed last week that the city plans to install pre-paid water and electricity meters in every home.
Credit to: Times Live
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