Source: Zinwa refuses to write off 2013 water bills – NewsDay Zimbabwe April 8, 2017
THE Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) has set itself on a collision course with its principals after refusing to write-off water bills the Zanu PF government waived to “thank” the electorate after the 2013 general elections.
Zinwa, in a more than brave statement, also said the 2008/9 cholera outbreak, which killed close to 5 000 people, mostly in Beitbridge, cannot be used to arm-twist it to supply the border town.
Responding to written questions following acute water shortages creating both a health time bomb and social unrest at Beitbridge Zinwa spokesperson, Marjorie Munyonga said the government never communicated the directive to write off debts after elections.
“As Zinwa, there is nothing we can do under the circumstances because there was no government directive for utilities to cancel debts equivalent to what their clients were owed by their own clients or what the clients owed other players,” she said.
“After all, there was no way Zinwa could have known how much the council had cancelled for its own clients. Zinwa did not need to know such information for it to implement a government directive. Even up to this day, what residents owed Beitbridge Town Council is not Zinwa’s business.”
Government, through a widely publicised celebratory directive from then Local Government and Public Construction minister Ignatius Chombo asked local authorities to write off water debts and even gave “voters” a certain amount of electricity units free, which offset many debts people had.
Local authorities complain their compliance to the directive to wholly write off debts was not met with an equally corresponding response from Zinwa, which “chose” to just strike off 40%.
That left councils and municipalities with a 60% hanging deficit, which Zinwa has even been charging an interest on at rates far above the going rates, apart from not complying to the non-deplume rule not to surpass capital.
Munyonga did not explain how Zinwa wrote off 40% in the absence of any directive.
She denied Zinwa cut water supplies to Beitbridge and said they had just migrated from post-paid to prepaid supplying of water.
“Zinwa did not cut supplies to Beitbridge per se, but has installed prepaid water meters for the town, which means water can only be accessed when council makes a payment.”
Zinwa, she added, put in place the measure to try and curb the council’s ballooning debt, which has now risen to over $12 million, which the Beitbridge Town Council (BTC) argues is from written off debts.
Munyonga said as of December 31, 2016, Zinwa was owed more than $146 million with Gwanda and Beitbridge sharing $22 million between themselves.
The remainder is for government departments, irrigators, other local authorities, agricultural estates, mines and domestic consumers. Incidentally all other towns control their water supplies except these two.
Beitbridge, with a population of 60 000, is the busiest border settlement in Sub-Saharan Africa and handles more than 10 000 people a day with the figure shooting to 18 000 during peak periods.
It is vulnerable to disease outbreaks from transit populations and in 2008/9 a cholera outbreak, which started in Beitbridge and claimed 5 000 lives.
“Cholera was not peculiar to Beitbridge during the period mentioned, but was widespread across the country. It, therefore, becomes grossly irrational to try and use that unfortunate outbreak of cholera to justify a clear dereliction of duty and obligation on the part of Beitbridge Town council, Munyonga said.
“It is common cause that Beitbridge is Zimbabwe’s largest and busiest port. This, therefore, calls for all responsible authorities, including the local authority, to act diligently and responsibly in order to ensure the smooth flow of business and life in the town.
Surely, when the council is not honouring its bill, as has been the case in the past, there is no way service can be guaranteed.
“The strategic importance of Beitbridge to Zimbabwe should not be present only in the mind of Zinwa, but of the local authority as well.
It cannot be fair and neither is it reasonable to force people from other towns and growth points, who pay their bills, to subsidise a local authority of Beitbridge’s stature.
“Such a situation is as unacceptable, as it is unsustainable. The council should simply meet its obligations and there will not be any hiccups in water supply.” Munyonga dismissed pleas by the border town that apart from its residents, Beitbridge bears the burden of transit populations.
Munyonga, in response to whether her organisation knew water was a right, said: “Section 77 of the Constitution addresses the aspect of the right to food and states that everyone has a right to safe and clean water, further placing the responsibility on the State to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.”
She said the government has over the years done a lot in the furtherance of this right through the construction of water infrastructure such as dams, water treatment plants, pipelines, boreholes and reservoirs.
“This includes in Beitbridge, where a bigger and state of the art water treatment plant will soon be commissioned. The government has also established the necessary institutions such as Zinwa, DDF and local authorities to ensure that people have access to safe and clean water,” Munyonga said.
She, however, did not mention that part of the money used for the upgrade of Beitbridge water plant was a grant of about $3 million from the World Bank to the Beitbridge community.
On March 4, 2011 the World Bank supported the launch of Beitbridge Emergency Water Supply and Sanitation Project by injecting $2,65 million to avert further cholera outbreaks.
Environment, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said a different approach, which should see water constantly being supplied to Beitbridge residents and the border post, should be used.
“It is just a case of egos, it should never get to my office that Beitbridge has no water because we have big men sitting in offices to manage that. Everyone knows that Beitbridge is important to the country and let me get on them to work,” she said in a brief telephone interview.
When asked her organisation’s attitude towards her minister’s statement Munyonga said: “Zinwa associates with these statements by the minister that a situation, where a town as strategic as Beitbridge runs dry cannot be allowed. The minister is very correct in pointing out that each part has to discharge its duty if such a situation is to be averted. Zinwa has at all material times handled its business professionally and will continue to do so and once again calls upon council to also see the matter in the same way,” she said.
Munyonga said Zinwa has not handed over water plants to Matabeleland South towns of Gwanda and Beitbridge because “the desire for such was only registered in the media”. All other towns in Zimbabwe control their water.
“Zinwa is not holding on to these two towns. Zinwa has the mandate to supply water from its infrastructure regardless of the location urban or rural. The Gwanda and Beitbridge infrastructure belong to Zinwa. Their desire to take over is only registered in the media and other platforms as they are aware that the water supply infrastructure belongs to Zinwa and huge investments have been made over the years.”
Before Zinwa was created, government’s department of water built the entire infrastructure in Beitbridge and Gwanda.
Beitbridge town secretary, Loud Ramagkapola confirmed they were contesting a number of issues on how Zinwa was doing its business.
“We have approached the court, there are some areas that are not clear including of course the waiver issue,” he said.
It is understood the council is unhappy with the positioning of the prepaid meter at the dispatch and not receiving point making council responsible for all water lost to leakages.
Council also says Zinwa does not understand the labour involved in administering water and says the authority itself failed and wants to reap where it failed to sow. The town was also contemplating surrendering the water business in its entirety to Zinwa.
The council is also not happy with 45% of any amount they pay going towards the credit and value added tax.
But as the tug-of-war rages on between Zinwa and the council, people whose lives are at risk are fast losing patience.