Another day, another public notice by a City of Johannesburg (CoJ) municipal department about a service that is not quite being delivered.
This is the lament of Angela Rivers, general manager of the Johannesburg Property Owners and Managers Association (JPOMA), which represents most credible landlords in the inner city of Johannesburg.
The social media hashtag #JoburgUpdates paints a picture of a failing municipality that is as clear as any.
Here is what we found in the course of one day: City Power’s Randburg Service Delivery Centre opens the day with 569 calls – “we have 91 plants that are out of service”.
Joburg Water warns ratepayers in Lenasia that they won’t have water overnight, “due to vandalism”, and notes that 30 suburbs will have no water due to an “unplanned interruption” while they fix a pipe.
Elsewhere, a burst pipe floods a suburban street for 40 hours without being turned off.
Joburg Finance, which proudly calls itself “the custodian of CoJ finances” reports that its Roodepoort branch will be closed because of a power interruption, alongside a stern warning: “CoJ warns persistent high defaulters #PayYourDues PayYourCOJBill”.
But it is the latest Jozibill Newsletter, which you can download from the city’s website, that takes the delusion of competence to another level altogether, says Rivers.
Promoting its new “revenue collection drive” that deploys JMPD roadblocks to enforce the payment of municipal accounts, the newsletter describes it as “a rare opportunity that every account holder needs to cherish”, and a “value-added option that is part of the City’s customer-centric approach whose intention is to offer a convenient customer service that puts the customer first”.
Rivers points out, “We are those customers whom the newsletter explains ‘have often complained that due to their busy day to day pleasures of life, find themselves unable to visit the city-wide customer service centres’.”
Back in the real world, customers of CoJ are being abused from all sides:
• Property rates were increased by 5.3% -- higher than that of Ekurhuleni, Cape Town and Tshwane.
• Property valuations have been increased by an average of 44%, despite actual property values averaging an increase of only 9% over the past five years, according to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).
Customers have to pay these inflated rates even while they have lodged an objection and are awaiting the outcome. This when many customers only received their new valuation after the objection deadline of March 31.
• Previously the first R350 000 of a property’s value was exempt from tax; CoJ dropped this to R300 000.
• Sewer is being charged at a flat tariff that does not reflect water usage as it does in all other municipalities. Even unoccupied units in a block of flats are charged for sewer. Both water and sewer were increased by 9.3%.
• Refuse collection, which the city outsourced to Pikitup due to its own inability to provide this standard municipal service, is also charged per unit, whether occupied and producing actual refuse for collection, or not. Pikitup was further granted a 7% increase.
• Electricity, despite the unreliability of supply, has increased by 14.97%. Illegal connections abound in certain parts of the metropole, with no strategy in place to resolve the problem.
• Potholes riddle the streets of countless Johannesburg suburbs, and are mostly repaired by the public sector, despite COJ customers paying taxes for road maintenance.
“Johannesburg’s billing crisis has become a cliché, a feature of the city like mine dumps and thunderstorms,” says Rivers.
“It starts with incorrect billing that is virtually impossible to address and resolve due to dysfunctional officialdom, leads to the City feeling entitled to entirely fictional amounts owing, and in many cases to illegal disconnections.
“In the final equation there is often only one way left to settle disputes with the City, and that is the legal route. And then this self-described ‘consumer-centric’ City uses the justice system to fight, and invariably lose these cases, running up millions in legal fees, which we, the ratepayers, ultimately pay too. It’s enough to spoil one’s busy day to day pleasures of life.”