Thirty of South Africa’s municipalities that have failed to honour outstanding water bills have until early next month to start paying up.
Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane announced in Johannesburg on Monday that her department had issued notices to 30 defaulting municipalities, demanding they make arrangements to pay their share of R10.7-billion owed to several water authorities before December 8.
If no action is taken bulk water suppliers will throttle supply to the municipalities, which will have to “replenish” their water reserves by paying up.
The 30 chosen are among 186 local government structures that owe money for water.
The 30 municipalities identified all owe over R50-million combined and close to R7-billion of this debt is 120 days and older.
Matjhabeng local municipality in the Free State owes the most – R1.8-billion – followed by the Vhembe district municipality in Limpopo, which owes over R642-million.
The Mangaung metro municipality is also on the list of defaulters, owing R349-million in unpaid water fees.
Most of the defaulting municipalities are in the Free State and North West.
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 faced nearly R9-billion in budget cuts this financial year, and that the budgets for next year showed there would be “no new money” coming in. She said the municipalities’ attitude towards the debt was a large part of the problem.
“What we are calling for, [is] let’s go back to 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 the government to supply water to citizens was an ever-present consideration, but the responsibility lay with 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 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 in a single payment.
“We are saying commit to paying the current bill, and come to us to renegotiate the outstanding amounts,” she said.