Water cuts loom for defaulting municipalities - minister

Johannesburg - No mercy will be shown to 30 municipalities owing the Department of Water and Sanitation R10.7bn, Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane has warned.

Mokonyane said at least 30 municipalities would experience water cuts if they failed to pay their debts before December 8.

These include Matjhabeng local municipality in the Free State, which owes the Sedibeng Water Board over R1.8bn, and the Vhembe district municipality in Limpopo with a debt of over R600m owed to the Water Trading Entity.

Mokonyane said the department had exhausted all avenues in trying to recoup money from these municipalities, including stakeholder consultation and embarking on legal processes.

To date, the department had issued 59 summonses for non-payment. Of those owing, she said, the OR Tambo district in the Eastern Cape was the only municipality complying with the agreed payment plan.

"The rest are still failing to settle the debt and, as such, the debt is rising unabated."

She said that R7bn of the total municipal debt - R3.5bn owed to the Water Trading Entity and R3.5bn to the Water Boards - had been outstanding for a period of more than 120 days.

In terms of the municipal financial management act, municipalities were obliged to pay for bulk services within 60 days of receipt of invoices, she said.

Mokonyane warned that the defaulting municipalities, which had an outstanding debt for more than six months, would find their equitable share from Treasury withheld until an agreed payment arrangement was made.

"We are also considering our options with regards to the review to the water services authority... the status that affords municipalities to have responsibilities as water service authorities, which means they have an obligation to provide service to the end user," she said.

This means municipalities which deliver water services to consumers would lose their status with the department handling municipal water services.

"What we are really at pains to do is to avoid hurting the end user, particularly the indigent that cannot afford to pay, but we will not be merciful against those who can't do their core business of billing in an appropriate way, of generating revenue and, most importantly, of maintaining the infrastructure so that we do not have huge water losses."

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