Praise for Joburg billing progress

April 28, 2011 2:32 pm 0 comments

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Praise for Joburg billing progress.

Acting Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister, Nathi Mthethwa, has commended the City of Johannesburg (COJ) for resolving 35 535 out of the 60 000 complaints lodged against it since December 2010.

While slating media reports on the scope and scale of the billing crisis, Mthethwa noted there was a problem and that the COJ was working hard to resolve it.

“The current status shows that while the figures stated by the media at the beginning of the year may have been exaggerated, remarkable progress has nonetheless been made, even as we acknowledge a few remaining challenges in the resolution of queries.”

According to the department, a preliminary investigation revealed that issues with the city’s billing system could largely be attributed to municipal bills erroneously sent to residents during November and December 2010.

“The COJ is one of the largest cities in the world and the biggest metro in the African continent with 1.2 million account holders and that makes the task of managing such a number considerably challenging. The responsiveness of the city in resolving the residents’ queries to the extent that it has is highly commendable,” Mthethwa said.

The COJ has been hit by hundreds of complains of inaccurate, late and no billings for some time now despite previously announcing improved billing methods to help improve the system.

The city – despite using a reported R500 million IT system called Phakama – has over the years been unable to offer credible readings to its residents. The Phakama system was tipped as a solution to the city’s legacy system but has since not lived up to the expectations.

The system was meant to integrate all municipal services in to one service bill – but over the years the city’s readings have failed to improve, sending estimates reading causing confusing and unhappiness for many residents.

In March national government intervened and Gauteng MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Humphrey Mmemezi, was asked to investigate the causes of the problems of the system; what the city was doing to resolve them and to also report on the situation of the billing systems in other Gauteng municipalities in general.

Mthethwa noted that following the findings of the report and despite the scale of the problems - the progress made in resolving the billing crisis was “significant”.

“Considering that the city has over a million account holders and in three months has achieved about 60% resolution of the billing problems, this progress must be applauded as it is happening within a context of an administration that is also dealing with systemic legacy challenges within the IT systems as a result of the fragmented past our cities come from”, he added.

In resolving the problems, the COJ put a moratorium on cut-offs on all queries that were not resolved for over 90 days, in addition to an intensive training programme for staff and the suspension of the city’s credit control process to fast-track the resolution of all queries that were logged.

According to the city, a total of 55 out of an additional 263 queries the city received through the office of the Public Protector were resolved within 3 days.

“When problems were brought to the attention of the city, the administration developed a clear programme of addressing those and remarkable progress has been achieved in that regard’, Minister Mthethwa said.

In February, Mmemezi, embarked on an in-depth investigation in collaboration with the COJ. The report revealed 15 key challenges and within these challenges there were 43 elements the city needed to action urgently. Of the 43 elements identified, 24 have so far been resolved and this translates to a 56% resolution rate.

‘However, in this regard, a comprehensive training programme with competency testing is underway in the city to ensure that personnel is well equipped to manage the systems so that residents are never faced with the kind of challenges the city was faced with early in the year’,  Minister Mthethwa said.

The city also reconfirmed its commitment to improving and enhancing communication with residents of the city, engaging customers regularly and improving turnaround times for customer queries. It has also emerged that the COJ needs a minimum of six months to resolve all outstanding queries.

Mmemezi said his department, the national CoGTA department, the Public Protector and the COJ will continue to work together to ensure that the billing problems are resolved permanently.

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