Mpumalanga municipalities can't pay water bills but their bosses get backdated increases

Water should be the priority in Govan Mbeki and Victor Khanye.

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23/01/2019 07:13:23

Mpumalanga municipalities can't pay water bills but their bosses get backdated increases

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) is aware that parts of Govan Mbeki Local Municipality have been struggling to get water since 13 December 2018, due to the municipality’s failure to make payments on its R87.731m debt to Rand Water.

As a result of the debt, Rand Water has reduced its supply of water to the municipality by 20-40%, which particularly affects the high-lying regions such as Bethal as reservoirs there do not fill up. Not only does this violate the basic human right of access to water, it also affects institutions like schools where principals are forced to send children home due to lack of water.

Rand Water has also reduced water pressure to Victor Khanye Local Municipality by 60 percent, due to its outstanding bill of R85 992m.

Both municipalities are in Mpumalanga. Both must pay these bills in full by 31 January, as they failed to honour payment agreements.

Municipalities fail to pay for essentials like water, but the national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) allows them to increase salaries for councillors and senior managers every year, without any reference to performance. On 21 December, CoGTA published the annual increase in the upper limits of salaries for councillors, with mayors paid up to R752 483 a year in the smallest municipalities and up to R1.350m in the largest. The range for part-time councillors is R237 846 to R505 677.

On 8 November, CoGTA published the updated upper limits for municipal managers and senior managers. Municipal managers may now be paid up to R1.163m in the smallest municipalities and up to R3.934m in the largest.

Both notices backdate the salary increases to 1 July 2018.

OUTA believes that CoGTA should be actively implementing austerity measures in struggling municipalities rather than encouraging them to increase expenses.

“Salary increases and bonuses should be for those who are performing well in their job function and should not be seen as an entitlement,” says Michael Holenstein, manager for OUTA Local Government.

“This is money that should be put towards essentials like paying the water bill.”

On 30 November 2018, OUTA wrote to senior officials at Govan Mbeki Local Municipality, the Premier of Mpumalanga as well as provincial and national CoGTA, calling for a halt in the increase and backdating of the officials’ salaries in Govan Mbeki. There is no indication that the increases were stopped.

CoGTA is the oversight department responsible for ensuring that all municipalities perform their basic responsibilities and functions without compromise. With 505 CoGTA employees on national level and 1467 employees based in Mpumalanga, how did these municipalities reach the stage where the Rand Water bills were allowed to escalate out of control?

“Where is the oversight?” asks Holenstein.

OUTA calls on Rand Water to ensure that all communities receive basic water deliveries and on CoGTA to work with the municipalities to get these bills paid.

Altitude matters: Reduced water flow in Govan Mbeki municipality hits Bethal hardest.

OUTA is a proudly South African civil action organisation, that is purely crowd funded. Our work is supported by ordinary citizens who are passionate about holding government accountable and ensuring our taxes are used to the benefit of all South Africans.