Water defaulters undertake to square up
The Department of Water and Sanitation had secured commitments of another R300m from indebted municipalities, minister Nomvula Mokonyane said on Wednesday.
The department issued notices in November to about 30 municipalities countrywide that their bulk water supply would be reduced unless they made arrangements to pay bills in arrears for 60 days or longer before December 8.
The total amount owed to the department and to water boards stood at R10.7bn in November. About R213m of that debt had been paid to the water boards and about R55.5m to the department’s Water Trading Entity.
"We anticipate that over the next few days this figure should increase as more municipalities have made commitments to pay the agreed amounts towards the old debt and to settle their current account debt (invoices not older than 30 days)."
The department planned to begin restricting bulk water supply "by a reasonable pressure margin" to the municipalities that had failed to respond to the notices and that had not successfully concluded a repayment plan, said Mokonyane.
She gave an undertaking, however, that "all due care will be maintained to ensure that we satisfy our constitutional water-supply minimum".
She said the department had identified a number of municipalities where the water supply would be choked and singled out Madibeng Local Municipality for a dressing down, saying it had no capacity for managing water services. Madibeng (including Brits in the North West) owes about R59.8m.
The biggest single debt — of R1.849bn — is owed by gold-mining town Mathjabeng, which includes Welkom.
Treasury figures showed that municipalities had collectively underspent their budgets by R53bn for the year.
This supported the department’s position on a lack of adequate systems and management, said Mokonyane. In some instances municipalities should be relieved of their water services function.
She said 26% of municipalities recorded "non-revenue" water supply of more than 50%, which meant it was lost via leaks from municipal systems or as an unbilled supply.
Trevor Balzer, the deputy director-general in the department, said it was technically possible to monitor and control individual household water use so that people who paid for the service would not be punished for nonpayment by others.
But when water restrictions were imposed they would apply universally, as they did in Johannesburg during the past drought.
Mokonyane said the municipalities’ failure to pay their debt threatened the future water supply of the country. "Our ability to build infrastructure [and] to maintain and extend services … depends on our ability to collect revenue."