Water cannon aimed at SA's households

21 July 2015 - 02:06 By Olebogeng Molatlhwa

The era of freeloading is coming to an end. The SA Local Government Association - representing 273 municipalities - is reviewing a policy that allows municipalities to provide 6000 litres of water to South Africans irrespective of their ability to pay.Salga is conducting a cost study on services provided by municipalities in general and the outcomes of that study will influence whether it continues to provide free basic water to all.It costs the five biggest municipalities R3.7-billion annually to provide free water, even to those who can pay.They are:City of Johannesburg, which pays R500-million;City of Cape Town, R592-million; City of Tshwane, R101-million;Ekurhuleni, R1.8-billion; andeThekwini, R705-million.Tshwane and eThekwini provide free basic water only to indigent households, while Ekurhuleni is awaiting final approval of its decision to change the policy on free basic water.Should approval be obtained for the policy change, Ekurhuleni could realise annual savings of R1.8-billion by providing free basic water only to the 37,000 residents registered as indigents.Cape Town might save more than R380-million.The acting spokesman for Salga, Sivuyile Mbambato, said there was interest among other municipalities across the country to follow those that had already reviewed their basic allocation policy."Salga, as a stakeholder representing municipalities, engages continually with the Department of Water and Sanitation, which is currently [involved in] the review of the policy."Mbambato said it was common cause that an entity that makes a saving in one area can invest savings in other areas that are of priority.The eThekwini municipality said the first 9kl of water is free to households with property values less than R250,000 and this forms part of the city's social package to assist the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens in the area.eThekwini City's head of communications, Tozi Mthethwa, said not all residential property owners in the city receive free basic water and the service is covered by the equitable share funding.Ekurhuleni said it had already revised its policy on free basic water and was awaiting approval from council committees.But withdrawing the 6000 litre free allocation to non-indigent households could lead to a noticeable increase in the municipal bills of many households.The Cape Town deputy mayor and member of the mayoral committee for finance, Ian Neilson, said: "Currently tariffs are structured so that high users end up effectively paying for their free water when their use reaches a higher level. Reviewing the free water policy will therefore go hand in hand with a review of the current stepped tariff structure."[The proposed policy change] has certain merits but also cost implications for particularly those households that fall just above the indigent threshold," said Neilson. Step tariffs apply in Johannesburg as well.The proposed changes come as municipalities battle financially, with unemployment and job losses contributing to a shrinking tax base and resulting in low payment levels for municipal services.The Treasury has allocated only 9% of national revenue to local government, which Salga argues is inadequate for municipalities to fulfil their mandates.Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Pravin Gordhan has asked the Municipal Demarcation Board to review the status of 73 financially unviable or dysfunctional municipalities. The board merged municipal boundaries, resulting in 11 fewer councils.

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