Free water taps to be turned off

25 June 2014 - 02:11 By Olebogeng Molatlhwa
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Cash-strapped ratepayers, already battling the high cost of living and enduring the effects of a faltering economy, will soon also be hit with increased water bills if the government has its way.

Talks are under way to stop providing 6000litres of water a month free to residents deemed able to pay for all the water they consume.

Since 2001 the government has been allocating free basic water to consumers indiscriminately. But this might come to an end if proposals on the table are made law.

For an average household with a monthly water bill of R919, factoring in the cost of the 6kl into the equation - at the lowest tariff category - will add about R150 to the bill.

William Moraka, director of water services at the SA Local Government Association, confirmed yesterday that talks on the issue had begun.

"Yes, there are discussions. Actually, the Minister of Water [and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane] has released 12 policy positions about changing the face of the water sector. One of the suggested policy positions is for municipalities not to provide 6kl of [free basic] water to citizens able to afford to pay for services. But that is still under discussion. Culminating from that process will be legislation that will clearly define how we will provide free basic water going forward," he said.

The move has incensed social activists. Lee Cahill, formerly of the now defunct Joburg Advocacy Group, rubbished the plan, saying it was "unconstitutional".

Cahill argued that ratepayers should continue to enjoy the free monthly allocations as their rates and taxes subsidised the scheme.

"My real concern about Salga's proposal is that the net increase per household would depend on how tariffs are to be structured. The elimination of the free 6kl per month for certain households would not only add to each household's monthly bill but may push the rest of that household's consumption into higher tariff brackets," said Cahill.

"As it is tariffs are difficult for residents to understand and I believe this creates room for abuse.

" If the additional 6kl were to push additional consumption into higher tariff brackets, the increase could be much more."

It also emerged yesterday that municipalities might be losing millions, even billions, of revenue through the way they charged for water.

Moraka said because of this, Salga would need to look at how its members priced water, signalling another possible tariff increase.

"We've done a comprehensive study to determine the cost of providing services and, in some respects, some of our members have not understood the cost of providing these services," he said.

"First, we need to relook at how we are pricing from a tariff point of view. Second, we need to have a deeper understanding of how the whole transfer system of local government needs to respond to the cost of providing water services in the country moving forward."

Moraka said the studies indicated that South Africa was currently "undercharging from a cost point of view".

"[Between] the cost we are incurring to provide the service and what we're charging, there is actually a deficit," he said.