BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA /REX MPHISA
Lands and Agriculture minister Anxious Masuka has okayed the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) water cuts to government departments failing to pay for water timely to clear the $2,4 billion water debt, of which the Defence and War Veterans Affairs ministry is the biggest defaulter with a $363 million bill.
This followed Masuka’s revelations in Parliament on Wednesday that fellow Cabinet ministers had ignored his notice to clear the debts before disconnections, forcing Zinwa to take a painful decision to disconnect supplies.
“I personally, wrote letters to the ministers to inform them of these impending inconveniences should they not settle these debts. However, many did not respond to these notices and Zinwa had to take the painful decision to disconnect supplies,” Masuka told Parliament on Wednesday.
The situation resulted in Zinwa disconnecting water to many government departments and local authorities like Gwanda and Beitbridge. The disconnections triggered a public outcry as residents felt that the move was ill-timed when they were grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Masuka told MPs in the National Assembly that Zinwa will continue to disconnect water supplies to defaulting customers.
He said the debt had impacted negatively on the operational effectiveness and efficiency of Zinwa to provide water services.
He said the continued non-servicing of the $2,4 billion debt crippled Zinwa, resulting in its failure to fund critical inputs such as chemicals, fuel, electricity, repairs and maintenance costs, among others.
“As of July 30 2021, Zinwa was owed $2,4 billion by institutions that continue to receive potable water supply services from the parastatal, albeit with many continuing to default on their payments,” Masuka said.
“Zinwa was left with no option, but to issue notices of cessation of service to defaulting customers. I have an extensive list of the affected ministries, departments, agencies and institutions. The affected institutions are the Defence and War Veteran Affairs ministry after its offices in provinces were disconnected for a $363 million debt.”
He said the Justice ministry owed Zinwa $142 million, while the Home Affairs ministry owed $210 million, the Transport ministry $9,5 million and the Health ministry $192 million, resulting in supplies getting disconnected.
Masuka said non-payment of bills affected Zinwa’s capacity to deliver its mandate, including the drilling of 35 000 boreholes for marginalised rural communities to support the transformative Presidential Rural Horticultural Programme in order to improve access to clean, safe water by these communities.
“Water supply services are rendered on a self-financing basis and there is no direct funding from government for operation or maintenance; thus defaulting institutions are benefiting from the few consumers who honour their obligations,” he said, adding that Zimbabweans need to pay for utilities timely.
Masuka’s utterances followed a statement on Wednesday, where he advised ministries that Zinwa will, as a last resort, take drastic measures to induce payment and raise awareness among Zimbabweans of the need to pay their water bills timely.
He said water supplies had been restored at some institutions that submitted credible payment plans, while some government departments had particularly paid, with the Finance ministry immediately paying $350 million.
“Beitbridge Municipality has submitted a payment plan for $20 million per month and services were restored yesterday. Gwanda Municipality has submitted a payment plan for $5 million per month and services were restored yesterday (Monday),” he said.
Masuka continued: “Zinwa’s monthly obligations amount to $643 million against collections of $200 million (31%). The most cost drivers at Zinwa are chemicals $96 million, repairs and maintenance $200 million and
Energy $161 million, accounting for 71% of the monthly costs. Salaries and wages constitute 25% of the monthly costs. The major debtors are government institutions (42%) and local authorities (22%).