The City of Cape Town’s ombudsman’s office logged more than 500 cases in the past six months, including “numerous” complaints about “arrogant” staff attitudes to poorer ratepayers.
Established in 2002, the office deals with service complaints against city departments.
Residents are encouraged to first take up grievances with the relevant department or the city’s call centre before taking their issue to the ombudsman.
Once a complaint is received, the office, set up by the city, investigates the matter. Where necessary, it recommends action to city departments.
Between October and December last year, 299 complaints were logged. During the three months before that, 286 complaints were recorded.
A report from the ombudsman’s office gives examples of some of the cases.
In the finance section, there were “numerous complaints” about staff attitudes at the city’s payment office. “The complaints were about the lack of professionalism displayed by staff at the counters who dealt with them in a dismissive manner. The staff allegedly displayed various degrees of arrogance and power towards people who struggled financially but were willing to pay,” the report said.
In the same section, residents had concerns about payment arrangements.
After looking at, for example, a ratepayer’s financial situation, the city can enter into an agreement about payment for municipal services.
Ian Neilson, the mayoral committee member for finance, said one of the major problems for residents was finding payment options they could meet.
“For instance if you are required to pay 10 percent or 50 percent up front of your arrears amount before your arrangement is accepted, then the ratepayer may not be able to afford this initial payment.
“Normally, the practice is that you will be informed at the front desk cash office that there can only be an acceptable arrangement if you pay that up-front payment.”
Ratepayers also made arrangements, believing they were indefinite. But Neilson said the situation was reviewed and did not last longer than 18 months.
“Therefore, there is a need to renew the arrangement by the ratepayer, otherwise the arrears amount gets loaded on to the current account as if no arrangement plan has been entered into.”
In cases like this the city has devised a more “sustainable” option. “This is an affordable arrangement where a ratepayer will not be forced by his or her financial situation to default upon at a later stage.
Neilson said while the ombudsman received complaints about staff attitudes, the office referred those to the departments the staffer worked in. The ombudsman only investigated complaints about service delivery.