Amos Masondo

JOHANNESBURG mayor Amos Masondo yesterday said he "regretted the difficulties and frustrations that ratepayers had experienced" when trying to sort out erroneous utility bills and to obtain clearance certificates so the sale of their properties could be registered.

He also said "heads could roll or be reassigned" as it was crucial that the council had the right people in the right jobs.

This came less than a week after he told an incredulous media that there was no crisis with the City of Johannesburg's billing system , despite a number of challenges that had to be overcome.

Since Johannesburg's new billing system was implemented in August, more than 41000 ratepayers have received disconnection notices, with more than 8000 being disconnected in December alone.

Democratic Alliance councillor Patrick Atkinson says the council failed to collect up to R300m in revenue in the past financial year.

Yesterday, it was announced that the African National Congress in Gauteng would meet the province's seven mayors today to discuss the widely publicised billing problems and service delivery complaints.

Mr Masondo's interaction with the public came during a surprise fact-finding visit to the rates hall in Thuso House, Braamfontein, yesterday, where he asked residents waiting to be served about the nature and seriousness of their problems .

"We do not mind criticism, it only makes us stronger," he said .

He listened to the complaints of a number of residents, including that of Andre Reits, who had been waiting seven months to finalise a number of clearance certificates. "The main problem in this rates hall is the queuing system. Once you get to the top of the queue, you get seen to and are told to queue all over again."

Mr Masondo arranged for him to be helped immediately and an hour later, Mr Reits's problems had been resolved.

But actor David Butler refused to be fast-tracked, saying he would rather wait his turn to be served. "I have a good book to read and I am prepared to wait my turn."

After Thuso House, Mr Masondo visited the call centre in Roodepoort and spoke to workers . The main issues for them were understaffing during peak hours , usually right after bills had been received, and problems with the credit control department, which compiled the bills and dictated which customers should have their services cut off.

Call centre manager Fiona Reed said the centre operated 24 hours a day, and mostly operated well, but there was always room for improvement.

Mr Masondo said he would not rest until he got to the bottom of the problems. "I will continue to see how service can be improved," he said.

hudlestons@bdfm.co.za