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Randburg mall’s fong kong power

| Crime and security

A big northern suburbs shopping centre has illegally reconnected its electricity and water, and it’s business as usual.

In a sting operation about two weeks ago, Joburg revenue department officials, with the help of the police, swooped on the new China Discount Shopping Centre in Randburg and disconnected its water and electricity.

But on Tuesday, when The Star team arrived at the centre - which owes the council about R2.6 million for electricity and R558 000 for rates, sewerage and refuse charges - there was running water and electricity.

However, some of the centre’s power appeared to be provided by a generator, while there were also illegal connections to be seen, with cable connected with tape.

The sting operation uncovered that the centre didn’t have an electricity meter, but the power had been illegally connected to a transformer. The allegation was that the landlord had removed the meter.

Revenue department spokesman Kgamanyane Maphologela said the centre’s bill had been allowed to run so high because the city had disconnected them previously and this was reflected on the computer system.

 “We then noticed there was consumption and realised they had illegally reconnected themselves. On the day we conducted the sting operation, there were contractors at the centre claiming they were from City Power to reconnect electricity, which we established was false.

“We are busy investigating them too,” Maphologela said.

He explained that the entire centre would have a level 3 disconnection. It means they would be taken off the grid and would have to reapply for electricity, which would be granted only under certain conditions. The cost for restoration is more than R20 000.

The sting operation forms part of a huge, citywide campaign to crack down on customers who make use of services illegally.

“A joint operation task team comprising the city’s credit control officials, Joburg metro police and inspectors has already undertaken a number of cases, where millions of rand have been lost through the illegal connections,” Maphologela pointed out.

By conducting door-to-door credit control and tip-offs from the public, the city uncovered a number of customers who were illegally connected to the grid.

Maphologela said the sting operation was prompted by customers who ignore pre-termination notices sent to them as a result of overdue accounts.

The city issues an estimated 25 000 pre-termination notices a month, of which less than half are honoured.

“We’re thankful for those who have joined the programme, and appreciate their bravery and sense of civic duty.

“We hope that the public will continue to work with us in our efforts to improve our services,” Maphologela said.

Already, the crackdown on illegal connection was bearing fruit, with disconnections being enforced on businesses and customers.

“Debt collection and service delivery were the two biggest challenges facing local government in South Africa.” Customers owe the City of Joburg billions of rand, and the figure keeps growing at an alarming rate, he said.

“The fact that not only household consumers, but also businesses and the government itself are in arrears demonstrates that debt-collection practices are inadequate and that the factors that underpin the reasons for and the consequences of non-payment are not fully understood, and have not been sufficiently addressed in a disciplined manner,” Maphologela added.

Credit control involves a number of actions such as the normal debt management intended to encourage the customers to pay. But if the customers refuse to pay, more drastic actions were taken.

“Should payment still not be received, chances are that the services have been illegally reconnected, and therefore an on-site inspection is conducted to determine whether the services have been illegally reconnected.

“If illegal reconnections or tampering are detected, the customer is subject to a much stricter disconnection/restriction process, which may involve by-law or specialised debt collection processes,” he said. 

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