Sunday, January 31, 2010

Unaccountable Accounts

- Linda Jaquet -

If any issue has served to unite the residents of Prince Albert at the moment, it is their irritation over the accounts that they have received in the last few months for the services provided by the Municipality. Statements posted at the end of December – some in duplicate – which indicated accounts months in arrears or that were unrealistically high, as well as incorrect meter readings really raised residents’ ire. For instance, one perplexed retired person received an account for R 2 000 000.00!

The Municipal Manager, Juanita Fortuin, told the Friend that she had become increasingly impatient over the fact that problems with the Municipal accounts continued in spite of her undertaking to the community that they would be ironed out by the end of last year. She described the finance department as the “heart of the Municipality” and while she was fairly satisfied with the community services and development department, she intended focusing solely for the next three months on the finance department.

Fortuin will move her office into the finance section and together with the CFO, Jakobus van der Westhuizen, will take charge of the section to sort out the problem. She is bringing in a financial expert from the DBSA to determine whether the systems in place are the right ones and if so, whether they are working properly. She has also sought the advice of the CFO of another Municipality and hopes to improve internal controls and risk management with the appointment of qualified interns for a period of two years.

The computerised accounts system, which went into operation in October last year, was installed in terms of the Municipality’s shared services agreement with the Central Karoo District Municipality (CKDM). The CKDM trained several officials in the financial section and once a month a consultant, funded by the CKDM, assists the finance section in loading the accounts.

The resignation of Martin Crous from the finance section at the end of January means the loss of expertise and the need for more officials to be trained. Fortuin also informed the Friend that finance department officials did not inform the CKDM of problems with the accounts system until the beginning of December.

The Municipality will hold information sessions in the near future with the community in small blocs to explain the accounts and to answer questions.

Municipal Manager: “Please Complain”

It’s rare that people in public office do the right thing by inviting complaints. Prince Albert’s Municipal Manager, Juanita Fortuin, has appealed to residents with genuine complaints to address them to the Municipality, even to her personally.

“I want people to tell us when they have a problem or a concern, rather than keeping it to themselves. In that we way we can fix things and won’t assume that everything is alright”

Contact Details:
Municipal Offices, Church Street, Prince Albert
Tel: (023) 5411 320

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