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06 Aug 2004 09:24
While on the 2004 election campaign trail, President Thabo Mbeki was reportedly stunned to hear from Johannesburg residents about the chaotic practices of the Johannesburg council. He might have known about the problem beforehand had he simply consulted officials within his party.
Papers before the Johannesburg High Court reveal that the African National Congress has fallen victim to the council, which it controls.
Metro mayor Amos Masondo is understood to have come under intense party pressure to address the council’s billings shortcomings.
Last year the ANC had its water cut off for five days despite having paid its accounts regularly. This was after the party was summonsed for non- payment of a R890 000 water bill, which was later found to be based on a non-existent meter.
Also last year, the party was summonsed for non-payment of municipal taxes amounting to R340 000, although the bill was sent to the wrong address. The ANC also had a default judgement taken against it in 2001 even though its account had been paid up.
The billing crisis in Johannesburg has been the subject of much publicity in recent months. At the heart of the problem is the city council’s accounts department, which has promised to sort out the mess.
Common complaints include cut-offs despite fully paid accounts, accounts based on faulty meters and inflated accounts.
The ANC’s billing misadventures are detailed in papers filed in the Johannesburg High Court. They show that the city council and the ANC’s property-holding company, Dakawa Properties, have been locked in litigation since 2001 relating to municipal bills.
Dakawa, wholly owned by the ANC, holds both the ANC’s past and present headquarters, Shell House and Luthuli House. The party abandoned Shell House, in a run-down precinct of central Johannesburg, and moved to Luthuli House in 2001.
In January the same year, the ANC was summonsed for non-payment of a R533 000 water bill for Shell House. In April that same year the party was summonsed for non-payment of another water bill in respect of its former headquarters, for R640 000.
It is not clear why the city council issued two summonses, as the accounts seem to be related. Dakawa Property’s lawyer, Ismail Ayob, this week said he was not aware of the second summons for R640 000.
The Mail & Guardian has a copy of the summons. It shows that the council obtained a default judgement against Dakawa for R640 000 in December 2001. It appears the judgement was not enforced.
Ayob said: “We know nothing of the summons or the default judgement taken on December 5 2001. This summons seems to have been issued while we were in discussion with the [city council’s] attorneys on the summons [for R533 000]. We thank you for bringing it to our attention and application is being made for rescission of judgement.”
Ayob said the R533 000 and R640 000 summonses seemed to relate to the same account. He added that the summons for R533 000 had been opposed on the grounds that the bill had been fully paid.
“The [city council’s] attorneys were advised that normal and regular payments were being made and the account was up to date. Proof was furnished to them,” he said.
Ayob said the ANC had been charged for a second meter in Shell House that did not exist. In some months, the second meter reading was reflected on its bill; in others it was not.
In a statement to the M&G this week Ayob also said the ANC had had difficulty paying its rates and taxes bill since moving to Luthuli House because the city council had continued to send the bills to the previous owner of the court building, Munich Re. He said the ANC paid the full amount when the summons for rates and taxes was issued.
Regarding the water cut-off, Ayob said Dakawa had to apply to court for an urgent interdict to have the water reconnected. Dakawa initially attempted to sort out the matter with council officials, who were unhelpful.
“On further internal investigation, it was found that the water account was actually in credit. The matter was settled on that basis,” he said.
Masondo’s spokesperson, Zandi Nkutha, admitted that the ANC’s account had been bungled. “We have investigated the matter and have determined that there was a double billing and the amount was reversed.”
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