Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to waste time

At some point in the first half of last year, some self-important civil servant decided that our water and electricity bills should be separated. And that, since they were going separated, they should be handled by different entities. So, our electricity bill comes from our local municipality as it always has and the water bill now comes from the district municipality. All fine and dandy, we’re paying two bills now instead of one but the tariffs are the same so it’s not actually costing any extra money. In fact, it’s costing us a bit less, since the district municipality have never actually billed us.

I don’t have a problem with paying for services (barely) rendered, but I’m not going to fight them to bill me. So every month I just stash away a hundred bucks in anticipation of the day they catch on and send me an account. Responsible aren’t I? Anyhoo, it’s now May, and I haven’t paid for water since last June. And I reckon things would have gone on this way indefinitely if it hadn’t been for one detail.

The house we rent has been sold. The new owners are quite happy for us to stay on as tenants until we move up to the farm in July/August this year. All fine and well. But the previous owners won’t release our rental deposit until we can prove we have paid the utility bills up to the date when the transfer of the property happened. I can see their point, they don’t want to be landed with a water bill in three years time when the municipalities finally figure it out and need to recoup their losses. But the accounts are in my name, not the landlord’s. And I wouldn’t sleep at night if I ducked without paying. And anyway, the transfer of property wouldn’t have happened without a rates clearance certificate which they would not have been able to get had our accounts been in arrears. So although I understand why they’re being sticky about giving back our money, I’m also a little peeved.

So, I take my frustration, my old water accounts and my son, and we toddle off to the local office of uMgungundlovu District Municipality to sort this out. Behind one of the two desks in the office sits a woman who looks up as I enter. She motions for me to sit down and greets me cheerfully enough. Glad to find the place empty and the reception pleasant, I launch into my story, giving all the relevant details, whipping out all the supporting documentation and try my best not to imply that the complete incompetence of her department is the reason for the mess that this whole shebang has become. I watch her watching my son whilst I talk and wonder whether she’s actually listening to me.

“How old is he? Turn him around” she says, nodding at Ezra who is fast asleep with his face buried in my chest, “I want to look at him”. I oblige, answering her question as she grins and comes galloping out from behind her desk to squeeze his chubby little legs while squawking at full volume about what a ‘nice fat boy’ he is and succeeding in waking him up. I barely have time to register amazement at her news-reader-styled attire (smart top and suit jacket over tracksuit pants and slippers - I couldn’t make this shit up) before Ezra starts howling at full volume. I try to shut him up soothe him with his dummy, but he is quite capable of yelling around it and does so, whilst I shoot daggers across the desk at the sadist bitch who, all business again, calmly asks me to tell her what I’m here for. It takes every ounce of self-control I own not to clobber her around the ear with my sheaf of papers.

I have followed up my nightmare visit with a couple of hundred phone calls and each time have been asked to leave my details and they “will phone you back” once they’ve “speaked (sic) to the head office”. So today I took the liberty of phoning the head office myself and blasting the customer service manager and am still no closer to solving my problem. What the hell? It's not like I'm trying to get money from them, quite the opposite, in fact. Who knew it could be this hard to spend money?

The kicker is the reason the water accounts were taken away from our local municipality in the first place – apparently they were deemed incompetent. Talk about the pot and the bureaucratic kettle.

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