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Water minister reads riot act to defaulting municipalities

Premier Nomvula Mokonyane . Picture: Veli Nhlapo
Premier Nomvula Mokonyane . Picture: Veli Nhlapo

Thirty of South Africa’s municipalities who have failed to honour outstanding water bills have until early next month to start paying their dues.

Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane announced at a press briefing in Johannesburg on Monday that the department had issued notices to 30 defaulting municipalities demanding that they make arrangements to pay their share of R10.7-billion owed to the various water authorities before 8 December.

If no action is taken‚ the various bulk water suppliers will throttle supply to the municipalities‚ who will have to “replenish” their own water reserves by paying up.

The 30 chosen are among 186 local government structures that owe money for water already supplied and used.

Close to R7-billion of this debt is older than 120 days.

Mokonyane read the municipalities the riot act‚ saying the department had been told by National Treasury that its revenue collection efforts were not serious enough‚ which led to the action being taken.

“In order for us to provide water‚ there must be revenue coming in‚” she said‚ explaining that the department and its subsidiaries had faced nearly R9-billion in budget cuts this financial year‚ and budgets for next year show there will be “no new money” coming in.

She said the attitude of the municipalities towards the debt was a large part of the problem.

“What we are calling for‚ [is] let’s go back basics. Take the end user as the most important person in this whole thing‚ be honest about how we are managing this precious resource from source to tap.”

According to Mokonyane the constitutional obligation for government to supply water to citizens was an ever-present consideration‚ but the responsibility lay with the various municipalities to account to the people what they were spending the money on‚ if debts were not being serviced.

“We are saying to local government‚ we put the 25 litres per day for each person through your system as local government. It gets trapped in the systems and inefficiencies. We [DWS] do not have control over [whether] the water reaches your tap.”

Mokonyane did add that there was no expectation of the municipalities settling the entire outstanding amounts‚ most at higher than R50-million‚ in a single payment.

“We are saying commit to paying the current bill‚ and come to us to renegotiate the outstanding amounts‚” she said.

Acting CFO for the Water Trading Entity of the department‚ Paul Nel‚ said talks were ongoing with Treasury to withhold conditional water grants to the 30 municipalities‚ until they had made payment arrangements.

“The mechanisms to prevent this have been very lenient‚ I think‚” Mokonyane said. “People agree to a solution and then never come back to us.”

The minister said the department’s budget‚ already under strain from cuts‚ had taken further hits with massive spending required to eliminate the effects of serious droughts in several parts of the country.

“But we have to show them we mean business‚ or else there will never be water.”

A list of the affected municipalities will be made available later today.


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