Half of the Western Cape’s schools have defaulted on their municipal bills.
Figures from the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) showed that 739 of the province’s 1 449 schools are in arrears with a whopping bill of R133 million for the 2021/2022 financial year.
The department’s spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond, said since the 2013/2014 financial year, the WCED received an earmarked allocation to service their municipal bills.
For the current financial year the department had earmarked R114.6m for this project.
“This allocation was introduced to alleviate the financial pressure at institutional level caused by the current socio economic and fiscal situation in our country. (It is) further aggravated by challenges such as old infrastructure, water leakages and damages.”
Hammond said the department’s head office and its district office monitored municipal debt on a monthly basis, while identified cases/schools are flagged for investigation.
“These schools will be required to provide reasons and corrective measures to substantiate high municipal accounts to their relevant district office.
“All identified schools for assistance will be expected to provide a detailed plan on how to avoid a recurrence of their municipal debt, including the implementation of possible cost saving measures (financial and non-financial).” she said.
Hammond explained that schools were guided and supported with various initiatives to decrease their municipal accounts.
One of these initiatives was introduced as a water metering pilot project in 2020.
This project saw 350 schools across the province installing smart water meters which resulted in water being saved and saw a reduction in municipal bills.
The monitoring devices detects high flow rates and pipe bursts and leaks.
Hammond said the WCED also offered a subsidy which covers the installation costs for the water monitoring devices and the monthly service fees for an agreed period.
“All public ordinary schools stand to gain from this water saving initiative.
“The WCED will assist schools by providing financial subsidies to cover the costs to install water metering devices and support online reporting services that will provide information on water consumption patterns at the school.
“Schools will be required to enter directly into a service contract with a water metering supplier.” explained Hammond.
Hector Peterson High School in Wallacedene, Kraaifontein, was one of the first to make use of the system.
This helped the school to cut water consumption from 47 000 litres a day to 9 000 litres – a saving of 38 000 litres.
The school’s principal, Mike Mavovana, said the school received daily reports, summarised weekly reports and calls to enquire about excessive water use.
“It keeps us on our toes in terms of our water usage and helps us to manage it within our financial resources,” he said.
Woodville Primary in Mitchells Plain also benefited from benefited from the smart water meter. Principal William Page said the daily reports were especially useful to detect wastages or possible leaks.
“It won’t necessarily immediately show you any savings, but in the long run, I believe it will do so.”
The City of Cape Town’s acting mayco member for water and sanitation, Siseko Mbandezi, said an agreement existed between the City and the WCED to deal with debt and account disputes on the behalf of schools in the city.
Mbandezi said the City also didn’t take any debt management or legal action against schools, nor did it restrict or disconnect water, or electricity supply to any school.
“The City also has monthly meetings with the WCED to deal with any debt or payment related matters. It is the responsibility of the WCED to liaise with schools on any debt matter or to make any payments on behalf of a school, if required.
“The City holds the WCED liable for debt of all schools under their control in the metro.”