Councils drain water boards

THE DA has urged Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica to give urgent attention to making the water boards sustainable.

THE DA has urged Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica to give urgent attention to making the water boards sustainable.

South Africa's water infrastructure problems are second only to Eskom's infrastructure problems, DA spokesperson Gareth Morgan said yesterday.

The maintenance backlog of existing water infrastructure and building new infrastructure was partly a result of various problems facing the water boards, he said.

Most notably was that more than R1billion was owed to water boards by municipalities.

Water boards were responsible for pulling together all the water resources within a particular area and ensuring that water was purified and delivered to where it was needed.

Their income was almost exclusively from the sale of water to municipalities.

A recent reply to a DA parliamentary question showed the money owed by municipalities to water boards as at July 31 2009 was R1,1billion.

This comprised R630290676 of current debt and arrears of R525632866.

More than R1billion owed to water boards was extraordinarily high and should surely hamper the ability of many boards to operate effectively and to make the required infrastructure investments.

South Africa had 14 water boards, the majority of which were managed fairly well and had received clean audit reports from the Auditor-General in recent years.

But many faced financial strain. The Namakwa and Botshelo water boards, for example, both made significant losses in the 2007/08 financial year.

"While there may be an argument in one or two cases to close or merge a particular water board, the minister must address the lack of payment of funds to water boards by municipalities, as well as find means to tackle infrastructure problems and skills shortages," Morgan said.

Sonjica should ensure that the National Treasury, which had a mandate to mediate between water boards and municipalities in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act, pressurised municipalities to pay their outstanding debts.

"There should be punitive measures taken against municipalities that are tardy in paying."

Sonjica should make a point of listening to the concerns of water boardsthis year. - Sapa

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