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Report shows Durban ratepayers high water bills could be linked to leaks, illegal connections



Published Sep 23, 2020


Durban - ETHEKWINI Municipality’s investigation into the source of excessively high water bills received by residents has identified numerous potential causes including water leaks and illegal connections.

A report into the matter came before the members of the city’s executive committee yesterday but was withdrawn to be tabled again at a later date.

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The report was withdrawn after councillors questioned whether supply chain management processes were followed in the appointment of the companies that did the investigative work.

The report was commissioned by the Municipal Public Accounts Committee following several complaints of high water bills received by ratepayers.

“Following migration to the Revenue Management System (RMS), there was a problem experienced whereby unreasonably high water bills were being generated.

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“It was not clear at the time what exactly was the cause of the problem, the possibilities being RMS programming inaccuracies or inaccurate meter readings being fed to RMS,” the report stated.

“Investigators have discovered very serious water leaks (both private and meter installation-related leaks) throughout the areas that they have sampled.

“Communities are complaining that the leaks are the cause of the high water bills they have been receiving from eThekwini Water and Sanitation.”

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It recommended that customer services should effect repairs on meter installation-related leaks to minimise water losses.

“An education and awareness programme is required to communicate the responsibilities of private leaks and the importance of timeous repair thereof,” said the report.

In other instances, the report said, water leaks were the result of illegal connections. The probe also identified other problems with the meters that could contribute to the billing crisis, including meters that were covered either by sand or rubble. Property owners, the report claimed, would indicate roughly that the meters in question were located in bushy terrain. Investigators had not been able to sample some of these meters. The report recommended that the meter maintenance branch uncover these meters and clear the bush to allow the meter reading process to be conducted smoothly.

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“In rural areas, the common trend found is where properties are impossible to locate, link or match to the meters they have found. There is no formal structural arrangement of these dwellings to methodologically set a process to follow for field staff,” said the report.

On various site visits, investigators found meter numbers which were not corresponding to the billing records, thus making it difficult for the assessment to determine whether the high bill or unread meter scenario was valid.

“Site visits have revealed a determined effort by property occupants to make water meters inaccessible to meter readers. These properties are locked or have vicious dogs roaming within the boundary, thus making it impossible to obtain a reading.”

Investigators could not visit some of the areas because of community unrest.

“Based on observations, community unrest, especially in uMlazi, has forced investigators to pull out their respective teams and deploy to other areas.”

IFP leader Mdu Nkosi said the idea for the investigation was good as there had been many complaints of people receiving very high bills.

“It was disgraceful from the start that meters were not being read; they could not account for how they arrived at a lump sum figure. You can’t just say someone owes R20000 without being able to detail how you arrived at that figure,” said Nkosi.

He said as far as he was aware, the council had already started implementing some of the recommendations, including the appointment of meter readers.

“You can see that there have been some changes; the number of complaints is not as high as it was before.”

DA leader Nicole Graham said she could not comment on the report as it had been withdrawn.

The city’s chief financial officer, Krish Kumar said a number of steps had been taken to mitigate the problem.

“What I can say categorically is that there is no billing issue, there was an issue with the meter reading that we are addressing.

“We are also encouraging people to send in their readings and we capture that, and we are also pushing for the introduction of prepaid meters,” he said.

Daily News

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