Water boards owed R1.1bn: Molewa

2012-05-16 14:33

Municipalities owe South Africa’s water boards R1.1 billion, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has said.

Briefing the media at Parliament today ahead of debate in the National Assembly on her department’s budget vote, she said while this did not look good, it was “just about” 10% of the boards’ annual revenue.

“Water board debt is about R1.1 billion. It’s a lot of money, but the water boards’ income per annum is over R8.8 billion. That’s the revenue collection,” Molewa said.

“So we’re really looking at income levels and money owed. I’m not trying to suggest that [the debt situation] is not bad, but given that we are able to collect ... over R8 billion ... this debt is just about 10% of that.”

It is understood the R1.1 billion figure the minister gave is the arrears debt, that is older than 60 days.

Molewa said her department was “engaging” with municipalities, and some were now paying their outstanding amounts.

She said a decision would be taken “in a few weeks” to re-align water boards and the areas they served, a plan which included the possibility of “cross-subsidisation” among these entities.

Meanwhile, Molewa said government is pushing ahead with plans to create “equity” in the distribution of water resources.

“We have now deemed it necessary that an equity enforcing mechanism be developed, which should focus particularly on access, or lack of it, to safe drinking water by poor historically-disadvantaged communities,” she said.

Molewa said this was an area that had “suffered neglect” over the past 18 years.

However, there was a problem because 98% of the country’s water was already allocated, which made finding water for new users difficult.

“If you need to allocate additional water ... for domestic use, then you have to ... find it from allocated users.”

But you could not simply take this already-allocated water.

In terms of the Water Act, allocated users had water-use entitlements, including the right to sell their entitlements.

“There are entitlements by holders and it therefore becomes difficult to re-allocate, given these entitlement holders’ ability and right to sell.

“So you need some mechanism that really somehow reverses this practice, especially with regard to the selling of the entitlements.”

Currently, entitlement holders were registered as water users. The department could also allocate water using the licence process.

“But we have been doing this for quite a while. It still doesn’t continuously give you additional water ... it doesn’t give you what you need to re-allocate.

“This is why, in some areas, developments are at a standstill waiting for allocation of water. Those entitlements are with [other users]. We can’t allocate what is already allocated.

“So clearly we need some mechanism. This we are thinking very hard about. What we know is that it’s going to end up with some amendment of the legislation that we have, to allow this process to happen.”

Last month, Molewa signalled there would be major changes to policies and laws regulating water use. She said it was necessary to carefully consider developing “a national redress and equity water strategy” to help the poor access quality water and sanitation.

Currently, the agriculture sector consumes most (62%) of the water allocated in the country, with a further 27% allocated for domestic use (23% for urban and 4% for rural areas) and 2.5% for mining.

The industrial sector is allocated 10%, including 3.5% for industries, two percent for power generation and three percent for afforestation. Each sector pays different rates for water.
Molewa said at the time that her department was reviewing the National Water Act, the Water Services Act and the Water Research Act.

Today, she said her department had made “serious inroads” into reducing the backlog of applications for water-use authorisations and licences.

“We have finalised 1 049 applications by means of our backlog application project,” she said. 

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