Water debt is part of a bigger issue
Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane's threat to restrict bulk water supply to defaulting municipalities, which collectively owe R10.7-billion, is a little too late.
The question she has to answer is how these municipalities were allowed to rack up such huge debts in the first place.
Also, the municipalities have to explain what they do with the money annually budgeted to pay for water.
Mokonyane has given the affected municipalities until next week Friday to enter into agreements to start servicing the debt.
It will be residents, who are paying for the services, who will suffer for the incompetence or corruption of their municipalities.
This state of affairs paints a picture of dysfunction and institutional paralysis in the Department of Water and Sanitation.
It also points to a deterioration in financial management, performance and revenue collection.
Eskom is facing a similar situation with defaulting municipalities which owe billions of rand to the power utility.
If state organs are in the habit of not paying each other, then how do they justify cutting off services for citizens who default on their payments?
Most municipalities are notorious for financial mismanagement related to irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
About R4-billion is owed to the department's Water Trading Entity (WTE) and the rest to water boards.
Only the OR Tambo municipality in Mthatha has honoured an agreement to service its debt, Mokonyane said.
She said she would ask the National Treasury to withhold the equitable share of national revenue belonging to 30 municipalities that owe over
R50-million each, and whose debt is older than six months.
Section 59 (3) (b) of the National Water Act allows the department to restrict or suspend the flow of water to defaulting municipalities.
SA's 257 municipalities are reportedly owed R130-billion for services, and it points to a revenue or debt collection problem.
A long-term solution is needed, and we can't afford to paper over the cracks.