Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka is to hold crisis talks this week about the billing chaos besetting the country’s richest metro. Shiceka has called Gauteng co-operative governance MEC Humphrey Memezi to a meeting to discuss the City of Johannesburg’s revenue shambles and its inability to send accurate accounts to tens of thousands of residents.

“Yes, the minister wants a provincial picture, but he is also aware that its not just a Johannesburg problem. This is the first step toward the resolution of this issue countrywide,” his spokeswoman Vuyelwa Qinga Vika said.

The meeting with Gauteng MEC Humphrey Memezi would be a “listening” one, she said.
“This is a listening meeting. There is a program highlighted by the City of Johannesburg to address the problem.”

Shiceka also revealed  that he was considering introducing legislation that would give the SA Revenue Service (SARS) control of billing, and collection of rates and services levies, for all municipalities.

“I’m looking at making a law that billing and revenue collection become a national matter to be taken care of by agencies like SARS,” he said.

SARS spokesman Adrian Lackay said it “was possible” for SARS to do the job but “we will need the relevant legislation to be in place first”.  Shiceka said he too had been a victim of Johannesburg’s billing chaos. “The billing system in Johannesburg has been a serious problem. The situation there is not getting better … That situation can’t be left unattended.”

The City of Johannesburg runs on a budget of R28-billion.

Shiceka said he had asked for a meeting with Memezi. “I will talk to him and I will take issues from there and then I will engage with the city. They will probably have to submit a report on what’s going on down there,” he said.

The high-level meeting follows the city’s disconnection of the services of more than 41000 households – many of them reported to have received inaccurate and vastly inflated bills, often for tens of thousands of rands. For the past year, the city has been unable to bill residents correctly because, it says, of the failure of its R580-million Project Phakama – an IT system which was intended to integrate all municipal services accounts into one billing database.

Instead, the system has been unable to process meter readings, resulting in residents being billed with estimates.

The billing chaos has also led to pre-paid water and electricity users receiving bills.

On 20 January 2011, irate ratepayers staged a sit-in at the city’s revenue offices in Thuso House, Braamfontein. Project Phakama was bound to have glitches.

City revenue spokesman Stan Maphologela said it would take between six and 12 months to fix project Phakama. “They are very complex systems and people have not been properly trained for the system. They are ill-prepared and we will have a revolt from taxpayers,” he said.

Last year, mayoral committee member for finance Parks Tau promised that all billing problems would be resolved by November.