'Council is buying votes'
Thousands of Joburgers who together owe the city millions in unpaid electricity bills look likely to be let off the hook because the ANC is afraid of losing their votes in next year's municipal elections. The mayoral committee on the environment, infrastructure and services has been told in a document that The Times has seen that City Power has failed to collect R985-million in electricity payment arrears but "the City of Johannesburg is taking a cautionary approach to arrears recovery so as not to create a billing crisis before the elections".The metros owed most are Johannesburg (R20.2-billion), Ekurhuleni (R12.1-billion) and Tshwane (R6.8-billion).About 342804 Johannesburg accounts have not been processed for the recovery of arrears.The city's lack of action has drawn the ire of the the SA Local Government Association, which represents 278 municipalities.It says all debts must be paid, including those of numerous government departments.The association said: "Salga reiterates its call for municipalities to implement credit control measures to recover the debt from government departments."Defaulters must be given notice to effect payment, failing which their services must be terminated with immediate effect."Municipalities should also consider mechanisms to shield poor households that are eligible for free basic services, and to implement every possible measure to recover the debt from all other consumers, including businesses."City spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane denied that there was a plan to excuse defaulters."The City of Johannesburg has no policies that are in conflict with its existing credit control and debt collection policy."The DA spokesman on the environment, infrastructure and services, councillor Ralf Bittkau, said: "This makes a mockery of the Municipal Finance Management Act and goes directly to the pockets of the law-abiding residents who pay their bills [because the shortfall results in] higher costs of services and [the collapse of the electricity grid]." Recently it was revealed that 27000 stands throughout Johannesburg were not billed for electricity, but were billed for water and rates. City Power officials could not explain this.