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Water ‘rations’ a reality

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There has already been a reduction of 20% at defaulting municipalities.

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THE DEPARTMENT of Water and Sanitation has already started rationing the water supply at five defaulting municipalities that owe millions for water usage in the Northern Cape.

Spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, Sputnik Ratau, said that the water had been reduced by 20 percent as from December 15.

He indicated that the National Water Act allowed for the reduction of bulk water supplies to municipalities owing “anything from R50 million or more”.

“These defaulting municipalities have, up to now, not engaged with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) or the water boards.

“The water cuts may be implemented at once or may be staggered. What is a fact is that the first cuts will be a 20 percent reduction i supply.”

Ratau stated that the Dikgatlong Local Municipality owed close to R54 million to the DWS, while the Nama-Khoi Local Municipality owied the Sedibeng Water Board close to R98 million.

“Payments owed to the Sedibeng Water Board include the Tsantsabane Local Municipality, who owes close to R25 million, and the Dikgatlong Local Municipality (more than R11 million). The Gamagara Local Municipality also owes Sedibeng Water Board just over R8 million.”

He added that the Dikgatlong Municipality had submitted a prerequisite payment plan that has been accepted.

Ratau indicated that National Treasury had advised against writing off any of the outstanding debts.

“Treasury, together with the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), as well as the South African Local Government Association have been roped in to find a means of addressing the debt matter.

“There is a requirement for a collective plan to be presented to the joint portfolio committees of water and sanitation and Cogta by January 24.”

The department is in the process of recovering a R10.7 billion in debt for bulk water services owed by municipalities to the department and water boards.

The Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane. stated that 25 of the 30 municipalities had entered into agreements to pay back their debts, after notices were issued that water cuts would be implemented as from December 8.

“Of those, 11 municipalities made payments towards their debts.”

She stated that since initial threats to cut off water two weeks ago, R213 million had been paid to the water boards and R55.5 million to the entity.

“Future commitments amount to a further R300 million. We must make it clear that the department will not cut the water supply, but may limit the pressure at which we supply water to ensure that citizens are provided with the minimal allocation of water as dictated by the Constitution.

“It would be grossly unfair to cut the water of those who have paid. However, these actions have been necessitated by rising debt.”

Mokonyane said various options to recover outstanding money had been presented to the portfolio committee.

However, the chairperson of the portfolio committee on water and sanitation, Mlungisi Johnson, yesterday stated that the water rationing was in contravention of an agreement reached in November with the DWS.

“This is a desperate measure placing undue pressure on municipalities where end users are now suffering.”

He stated that the department had failed to attend a meeting arranged last week in Johannesburg, in an attempt to find a solution.

“Unfortunately they could not find the time for us. We will have to wait until January to see how we can take the process forward.

“The department is reckless and is spending wildly. They will have to do more with less by utilising new technology and equipment that costs less. However, it is sticking to its old ways. Clearly this is an indication that the department is in the back pockets of service providers.”

Johnson pointed out that they had instructed the department to report back to parliament in the next two weeks to come up with an alternative plan.

“Now there is also talk of the department having to arrange an overdraft with the Reserve Bank to meet it financial commitments while the department has accruals to the tune of R4 billion. The department, as well as the minister and deputy minister, must account.

“Yes, municipalities must pay for the services, but the department must also take full responsibility for the management of its finances.”