uMgungundlovu District Municipality is threatening to restrict and disconnect water and sanitation services at government institutions — including schools and clinics — across the Midlands due to non-payment.Municipal manager Dr Ray Ngcobo said their teams were on the ground collecting the money owed by consumers. The disconnections and restrictions had already been conducted in parts of Hilton and on Wednesday they started at the Mooi-Mpofana Municipality. “Our debtors’ book is sitting at R500 million and that is not acceptable. We can’t buy water from Umgeni Water and then give it away for free to government departments, municipalities, business and residents who can afford to pay,” he said on Wednesday. The district provides water and sanitation services to six of its seven local municipalities. Msunduzi is a water service authority on its own and buys bulk water directly from Umgeni Water.uMgungundlovu spends R16 million on bulk water monthly then bills for R20 million, but Ngcobo said their collection was below R7 million a month at one stage. He said they only started collecting about R13 million a month recently but they could not relax yet as that included long-outstanding debt.“When I started in December the municipality had to scale down or cancel some of the service delivery projects because we were not collecting enough money to see them through,” said Ngcobo.He said contributing factors to the low collection rate were the culture of non-payment amongst customers, ageing infrastructure, inefficiencies with the municipal billing systems, illegal connections and the poor planning of some townships, such as Bruntville in Mooi River. “In June our cash coverage was below one month but since the implementation of the revenue enhancement strategy we are turning the corner.” Ngcobo said the municipality issued notices as a warning to those who have owed it money for months. These were also sent to government departments and municipalities whose total debt was sitting at R17 million.This week uMgungundlovu also engaged the office of Premier Willies Mchunu to assist with collecting the debt owed by provincial government departments.“You can’t have provincial government crippling local government. We want the R17 million owed before the 25th of this month or else we will be out in full force disconnecting every clinic and school where we are owed money. “We will not be disconnecting at the meters, we will be restricting right at the reservoir and stop sending vacuum tanks for the sewage because we have written to the heads of the affected departments but they didn’t respond,” said Ngcobo.He said Mooi-Mpofana Municipality owed the district about R3 million and it had defaulted on the payment arrangement it made with uMgungundlovu.“We disconnect regardless of your public status. So we are cutting off councillors, our own employees and even parliamentarians who live in the area we supply.”He said the code of conduct for councillors prohibits politicians from interfering with the work of the administration so they should not try and stop him from disconnecting those who have failed to pay because that would be criminal.“The law is very clear that they can never be a councillor or staff member that owes the municipality.” A panel of attorneys has been assembled to deal with those who illegally reconnected themselves without having made arrangements to settle their accounts. Ngcobo said the municipality did not have a credible indigent policy until recently so they were restarting the process of registering indigents and cleaning up their data so that they stopped billing those who should be getting free services.With regards to poorly planned townships such as Bruntville and Mpophomeni, he said the district had engaged the Department of Human Settlements to intervene because the entire network needed to be revamped. Currently there were numerous connections per meter, which made it difficult to bill people, but Ngcobo said they would be implementing a flat rate of R200 in the meantime.The money collected from the long- outstanding debt would be set aside to replace ageing infrastructure across the district.Mayor Thobekile Maphumulo would be engaging the business community to urge them to consistently pay for services and to stop dumping toxic waste as well as sewage in local streams.“The farmers are paying. We are having a problem with businesses in the CBDs because some of them are doing illegal connections instead of paying for the services they are getting from us,” said Ngcobo.