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South Africa Looking for Ways to Deal with Municipalities in Default on Water Payments

December 2, 2017

South Africa's Portfolio Committee on Water is struggling with finding viable solutions for the growing problem of municipalities currently in default in payments to the Department of Water of Sanitation and water boards.

Threast by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to cut water supply to municipalities had been considered but has been ruled out at this time.

Considering the needs of citizens, the Portfolio Committee resolved that alternative solutions must be found and reassured the public that water cuts will not be implemented from 8 December.

To this end, Committee has instructed the executive authority of the DWS, the National Treasury and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to devise within 14 days a viable plan to solve the longstanding challenge.

Plans presented to the Committee indicated the continuing disjuncture between how various departments intend dealing with the challenge. “The Committee realised that the departments have not consulted on how to deal with the matter, hence the different ideas presented. We have, as a result, instructed the executive branch of these departments to meet and give political direction to this impasse. The Department of Cooperative Governance must drive the process towards achieving a cogent plan to resolve this matter. At the centre of the plan must be the good of our people,” said Mr Mlungisi Johnson, the Chairperson of the Committee.

The Committee considers it unacceptable that 30 municipalities owe the DWS and water boards about R10.7 billion. The fact that this debt has increased over time without interventions is also alarming.

The culture of non-payment by municipalities has a long-term impact on the DWS’s ability to effectively implement its mandate. This is concerning in the context of the increase of the equitable share to local government from 3% in 2000/01 financial year to the current 9%. Coupled with this, the ongoing underspending at municipal level raises questions about the validity of the position that local government is underfunded.

It is worrying that the DWS has had to approach a debt collector to recover monies owed to it while there is an Intergovernmental Relations Framework that can be used to deal with the matter effectively.

Despite this, the Committee has urged the DWS to work with municipalities to avert cutting water to citizens. “Ultimately, any decision made on this matter must have the best interests of our people at heart,” Mr Johnson emphasised.

For its part, the Committee is committed to scheduling this matter on its programme early next year again, to find urgent solutions to the problem. 

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