A Pretoria woman faces a hefty municipal bill of R130 000, allegedly caused by an underground water leak, despite having the public protector investigate the matter and recommend that her debt be written off.
The Tshwane metro still has not written off a Pretoria resident’s R130 000 water bill, after the public protector’s investigation recommended they do so.
In October 2020, public protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane directed the metro to write off Gerda van Schalkwyk’s bill. Her bill skyrocketed to over R250 000 due to an underground leak, while the metro sent inaccurate billing for over seven months in 2015, despite complaints from her.
Van Schalkwyk lodged a dispute with the metro in December 2015 and received 50% relief which left her with a bill of over R130 000.
During a visit by the public protector on Friday, acting municipal manager Mmaseabata Mutlaneng said the municipality had not written off the debt, due to an ongoing legal investigation into an issue affecting the municipality’s policies.
“We are not expecting her to pay that money until the legal dispute is finalised,” Mutlaneng said.
She said part of the reason behind why the matter had not been resolved after two years, was because it would have an impact on how the municipality responded to water bill issues in the future.
“How we deal with this case is a matter of principle. It will have an impact on how we deal with other similar cases in the long run. Whatever decision we take on this matter will have an impact on the municipality in the future,” she said.
“We know some customers may not have a water leak and may claim to have one. In these cases, there will have to be an investigation undertaken to confirm what would have caused their accounts to escalate.”
Mutluneng said that mistakes do happen in many instances in the billing processes and at times the metro was able to address these quickly.
“There are cases that we can respond to on a day-to-day basis. Recently, we were dealing with a matter of a wrong electricity bill where we identified the mistake and we reversed the bill issued to the resident.”
She said if the metro wrote off Van Schalwyk’s debt, then cases similar to hers would result in financial losses for the municipality.
Mutlaneng said the municipality was aware that it had an issue of old water infrastructure that at times resulted in water leaks.
“We have aged infrastructure across the entire region and we are always faced with water pipe issues. There is a project we have started, aimed at improving overall water infrastructure, which requires almost R3.4b.”
She hoped the metro would prioritise the project in the July budget.
On the estimations that also resulted in Van Schalkwyk sitting with a hefty bill, Mutlaneng said the municipality had improved. Currently, 85% of readings are now actual month-to-month readings.
“We did say to the public protector that we will apologise to the lady, however, we would like to be given the time to exercise our right to be able to deal with this matter.”
She said one of the projections that would assist the municipality with incorrect estimations, was the installation of prepaid metres throughout the metro.
“The auditor-general also raised the billing issue with us, highlighting that the issue is prompted by estimation reading.”
Mutlaneng said currently Van Schalkwyk was paying her average monthly fees while the bill was still with the legal team.
The public protector’s office continues to investigate billing issues. People with similar issues can send complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org
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