Yesterday was one of those days where I started off on a mission to change the world, or at very least, a local government’s slight billing oversight (saving myself some hard-earned Rands). Our August bill from Tshwane Municipality had failed to arrive on time and I naturally assumed that the postman was running late with our mail – on African time so to speak. This is very similar in nature to the ‘mañana mindset’ exhibited by the Spanish, however our delay was more than likely due to the postman fondling the bill letter in order to establish if there was anything inside worth stealing. The postal service here is much hit and miss.
The previous day my wife had received a text message from Tshwane helpfully informing her that our utility bill payment was overdue and R5000 should mosey on down into their bank account by the end of the month (or else!) I was surprised by the efficiency of the Municipality’s debt collection systems and firm embrace of modern-day technology. They obviously didn’t like to mess around when it came to money, especially considering the ongoing municipal workers’ strike and exorbitant union wage demands. Metaphorically, I suppose they had to get all their ducks in a row to magically pull the white rabbit out of the hat.
An electronic copy of our latest statement was emailed through to us so that we could see why our bill was 40% higher than our usual budgeted amount. A line item appearing as ‘Financial Charges adjustment’ was the dastardly culprit and clearly in addition to the normal property taxes/rates. I could not think that such a large amount was admin related? The adjustment item was comprised of two sequential adjustments of R30 and R2020, a day apart. Hmmmm….something fishy methinks.
I phoned the customer services line and after being on hold for 20 minutes due to (yes, you guessed it) the ongoing union strike, I finally spoke with a services consultant who advised me that the increase was an adjustment to our ‘refundable’ utilities deposit which is re-evaluated on a 3 to 6 monthly basis and related to our services usage. I nearly swallowed my tongue.
Our electricity usage had barely fluctuated and not nearly enough to warrant such a sizeable increase. In the back of my mind I also thought a negative adjustment would only ever happen when pigs could fly. The consultant could not explain how the powers-that-be had arrived at this figure and could only try to console me with the fact that when I had originally set up my utility account, a pink slip with was signed, thus clearing the Municipality to freely adjust their rates. Ethical and fairness, will you please stand up!
The bottom line – if I didn’t pay the ferryman, I would not pass go and collect R200. On the flip side, if they had cut off my services, they’d be powerless to prevent me from sending one last mega-turd down the poop chute to destroy their treatment works. Try and make me pay for that if you will.
I decided to deploy my secret weapon and ask for one of the Tshwane Big Chief’s phone numbers. After some heel-in-mud resistance, which would usually be enough to deter the casual caller, defences crumbled and I finally got what I was looking for. Mike (just Mike) was my man! When I called, he took a considered looked at our statement, decided there had been an obvious mistake and deleted the adjustment from our records. Mission accomplished! I rewarded myself with lunch.
There is always a follow-up however. Upon my return home, I noted that the Municipal workers had failed to collect the rubbish, however someone from the Municipality had been kind enough to issue us with a Final Demand:
“It has come to my attention that your municipal services account was not paid by the due date. This is a final demand for payment of the outstanding balance at the Finance Depart”
I just smiled and felt a sudden urge to use the toilet.