File picture: Soraya Crowie/ANA
Johannesburg - Pending water cuts to 30 defaulting municipalities across the country’s nine provinces have been slammed as unconstitutional and unfair punishment to ordinary residents.

The South African Local Government Association’s executive director of municipal infrastructure services, Jean de la Harpe, said the issue of the rising R10.7billion water debt owed by 186 municipalities was far deeper and that the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) needed to find other alternatives to deal with the defaulters.

At least 30 municipalities stand to have their water cut by December 8.

“The constitution says DWS has an obligation to supply citizens with water, and the cutting of water would be against the constitution.

Read: Municipalities facing water cuts over R10bn debt

“Some of the end-users have been paying for water but it is the municipalities that aren’t paying this to the DWS. Also there are indigent families that cannot afford to pay for water and they will be hugely disadvantaged should the DWS proceed with the cut-offs,” said De la Harpe.

“This move will affect public health services and punish the end-user, and it does not guarantee that the debt will be settled.

“The problem is that poverty has increased, the number of indigent households has gone up, and the department needs to find other models of raising revenue.”

On Monday, DWS Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said water suspensions were not meant to hurt consumers.

She said it had taken her department some time to finally decide to take the drastic step of terminating water supply. She hoped this action would force the municipalities to get their houses in order.

Poor billing systems, financial mismanagement by councils and inferior water infrastructure had contributed to the rocketing water bills, the department said.

“Some municipalities affected are the same municipalities affected in the debt owed to Eskom. It can’t be business as usual and we have to deal with such issues,” said Mokonyane.

“These interventions are against our clients who are the 30 municipalities. We will reduce the (water) pressure or cut the distribution to them and they will have to replenish to serve the end-users.

“We are not punishing the end-user; we are pleading with those who provide to the end-users to take some responsibility and pay for the services we are providing to them.”

The minister blamed the municipalities for not informing communities that they were not paying for bulk water.

Mokonyane said that in terms of the municipal budgeting system, councils should have been open about their financial affairs to the communities they serve.

“That consultation is very important but what is of importance is for all of us is not to pass the buck and abdicate our responsibilities.”

The DA said Mokonyane had failed by not ensuring water access to communities.

“Water is a basic human right and innocent South Africans and businesses in these municipalities should not have to bear the brunt of the ANC’s mismanagement and inefficiencies.

“The DWS must be held accountable for their lack of accountability and political will to arrest the situation to get to this point,” said the DA’s spokesperson on co-operative governance and traditional Affairs, Kevin Mileham.

“Minister Mokonyane has failed in her obligation to ensure that water supply to residents is not affected, and (Co-operative Governance) Minister (Des) Van Rooyen has failed in his responsibility to ensure the financial viability and competence of municipalities,” said Mileham.

The Star