Below is van der Want attorneys’ correspondence to the Executive Mayor of Johannesburg regarding the City of Johannesburg’s and City Power’s conduct in recent High Court proceedings against them. Briefly, our client was overcharged by over R2 million for electricity over a period of about 18 months. Despite logging several queries regarding the (manifestly incorrect) charges, our client’s electricity was disconnected, forcing our client to launch an urgent application. Faced with the application, the City and City Power acknowledged the overcharging and reconnected our client’s electricity. They also agreed to pay our client’s legal costs. The correspondence below tells the rest of the story. We publish this correspondence with our client’s consent.
Email to Herman Mashaba, the Speaker and City of Johannesburg’s and City Power’s attorneys:
“Dear Honourable Executive Mayor, Honourable Speaker and Sir and Madam
I refer to the attached correspondence as well as the several previous letters, emails and telephone conversations which have preceded and followed it.
We have still not received payment of the taxed bill of costs in this matter on behalf of our client. The bill of costs was taxed and was due more than a month ago. We have written letters and telephoned the City’s and City Power’s attorneys to no avail. We have provided our trust account details, and then provided them again on our letterhead. But the taxed bill of costs remains unpaid.
In the circumstances, our client requires that the costs order amount of R[redacted] is paid into our trust account, the details of which appear on the attached letter, immediately, failing which a writ of execution will be issued. The property attached pursuant to such writ will include the costs of issuing of the writ, sheriff’s costs as well as the costs of a sale in execution, and I will not advise my client to abandon his rights under the writ until the full amount of the costs order, plus his additional expenses incurred since the court order in attempting to have the costs order paid, plus the cost of the writ, sale in execution and sheriff’s fees have been recovered in full.
The current situation requires me to record that the conduct of both City of Johannesburg (“the City”) and City Power from the outset of this matter has been unnecessarily and unreasonably oppositional, obstructive and wasteful, and has caused all parties (including the City and City Power) to incur expenses unnecessarily. It seems that the City and City Power are now continuing with the same approach which has characterised their approach to this matter to date, this time by not paying a costs order which they were ordered to pay by the High Court, and which has been duly taxed by the taxing master.
I set out below a brief history of the matter in support of what I have stated above.
1) My client was forced to institute urgent High Court proceedings against the City and City Power on 7 May 2018 because of the latter’s manifestly inaccurate billing for electricity (which resulted in our client being billed more than R2 million for electricity than it owed), and in order have its electricity reconnected, after City Power unlawfully disconnected it because our client refused to pay the incorrectly billed amounts. At all times, the disputed amounts were the subject of queries logged with City Power. The electricity was disconnected nevertheless.
2) Neither the City Manager nor City Power bothered to respond to correspondence which we sent to them on 3 May 2018 (before our client’s urgent application was launched). Had such correspondence been read and acted upon appropriately, our client’s urgent application (and the expense it caused to all parties) would have been unnecessary, because our letters clearly set out the manifestly incorrect billing and unlawful disconnection (both of which the City and City Power subsequently acknowledged).
3) The City and City Power opposed our client’s urgent application, but neither filed an answering affidavit. As is evident from the court order which was taken by agreement between the parties on 15 May 2018, the opposition to the application by the City and City Power was unwarranted and unnecessary, because the City and City Power acknowledged that our client had been incorrectly billed, and had already reconnected the electricity supply to our client prior to the date of hearing.
4) In terms of the Court Order, the City and City Power were ordered to undertake a comprehensive review and correction of our client’s account with City Power. The City and City Power were also ordered to pay the costs of our client’s application.
5) Only after the Court order of 15 May 2018, did the City and City Power finally pay proper (or any) attention to what our client had been saying all along in relation to the incorrect billing to which it had been subjected (the incorrect billing having been the subject of several queries logged by our client, to no avail). After the court order was obtained, City Power presented a revised invoice to my client, which accepted most of the revisions. Effectively, our client’s electricity bill was reduced by some R2 million, meaning that City Power acknowledged that it had overbilled our client by that amount.
6) Regarding the costs order (which the City and City Power were ordered to pay on 15 May 2018), the City’s and City Power’s attorneys did not respond to our request to suggest an amount upon which the costs order could be settled. This meant that our client was forced to have a bill of costs drawn and present it for taxation. The costs of preparing the bill of costs and of the taxation (which are for the City’s account) were some R5 700. Our client would have been very willing to settle the amount payable in respect of the costs order but could not do so because of the City’s and City Power’s silence and inaction regarding settlement.
7) Neither the City nor City Power opposed the taxation and our client’s bill of costs of our client was taxed in the amount of R[redacted] on 24 July 2018. This meant that that amount was immediately due to our client on that date.
8) After the taxation was complete, we repeatedly sent the bill of costs to the City’s and City Power’s attorneys, who initially ignored our requests, then began repeatedly promising payment. To date, however, no payment has been received. We have also made numerous telephone to them calls, to no avail. This means that the City and City Power are now effectively in contempt of Court, and my client would be entitled to apply to Court to have them declared as such.
9) The failure to pay the taxed bill of costs on demand has caused further prejudice to our client, who has had to pay our fees for having to follow up repeatedly and unnecessarily with the City’s and City Power’s attorneys.
10) We have advised our client that the next step to recover its costs to which it is entitled is to issue a writ of execution against the City and City Power and to have the sheriff attach their property, or to apply to declare the Respondents in our client’s application in contempt of Court.
11) Both we and our client are troubled by the manner in which this matter has been handled, and particularly by the high-handed, contemptuous and utterly wasteful approach adopted by the City and City Power.
In the circumstances, in addition to payment of its costs, my client is entitled to an explanation and some reassurance from the executive authorities of the City and City Power that the issues raised in this correspondence will be addressed and steps will be taken to avoid the unnecessary and wasteful expenditure which has been incurred by all of the parties in the matter, as a direct result of the approach adopted by the City and City Power as set out above.
I wait to hear from you as soon as possible.
Matthew van der Want
van der Want Attorneys”