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‘City defending the indefensible’: says Cosatu as water tariff debate continues

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The City of Cape Town’s water tariffs has come under continued criticism from civic and political organisations who feel an increase is unjust and a financial burden. It comes as residents rebuke the lack of adjustment to tariffs since ‘Day Zero’ in 2018, with many still struggling to pay extravagant bills amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Their pleas with the City come on the heels of increased rainfall whereby the province’s dams have reached an average of 96%. Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Tuesday, The City’s Mayco member for water and waste Xanthea Limberg explained that the City, despite inflation and other increases, has managed to keep tariff hikes to a minimum. She added that the increases are the lowest “across the board” when compared to other municipalities.  At level 1 tariffs, residents pay 1.7 cents per litre of water “for the entire service”.

“The City has limited control to influence things such as inflation or electricity. Those costs are absorbed in our annual increases and operating cost,” she said.

“At level 6, which is the most expensive, residents were paying 2.7 cents. Our mere focus is ensuring we recovery the cost of providing the service. We are not in the business of making a profit.”
According to Limberg, a different tariff model, based on both consumption and fixed amounts, was adopted since the drought.

“The drought taught us that we cannot be solely reliant on residents consuming the same amount of water. The service requires a set amount of income to sustain it because it’s quite an expensive service that has a significant amount of infrastructure that needs to be maintained.

“This (model) is in place in almost every municipality in South Africa. But the fixed component of the tariff varies depending on meter size, so not everyone pays the R100,” said Limberg.

“About 56% of residents have a 15 millileter diameter connection (and) pay around R67, inclusive of VAT. If households have a larger meter connection that is when they will start paying R100 and more.”

Pensioners and the indigent are exempt from paying the above. Approximately 40% of people in Cape Town, according to Limberg, are provided with free water due to either being indigent or living in an informal settlement
She further explained that the running of the service is costly and requires the City to purchase bulk water from the National Department of Water and Sanitation; treat the water and maintain the infrastructure used to get the water into homes and businesses. The maintenance includes that of an 11 500 km water network, 9 500 km sewer network, 23 wastewater treatment plants, 490 waste water pump stations and hundreds of reservoirs.

Limberg said that the City is investing in additional water augmentation schemes. When questioned about public participation in the latest increase, she stated that the annual budget was put out for public comment before it was implemented and residents had the opportunity to comment.

But Cosatu in the Western Cape has accused the City of turning a blind eye on complaints. Provincial secretary Melvyn de Bruyn said that a meeting will be called by next week, to respond to the City’s stance.

“It’s sad to hear the City defending the indefensible. Their reason to introduce the tariffs is the drought… but its 2020 and there’s no drought.”

“It’s clear that the City wasn’t interested in those that complained. Cosatu will engage with all the rate payers’ associations and will call a meeting within the next seven days to formulate a response to the City’s attack on the poor.”

The union has demanded the move from level 1, the removal of fixed basic water charges and to reinstate the 60 litres free water.

“These are the core demands we want the City to listen to. They must reduce the tariffs. People can’t afford to buy water.”

Limberg stated that an annual meeting will be held toward the end of November which brings to a close the hydrological year.

“The City is currently on level one which is the second-lowest tariff. We are in the process of consultations with the National Department of Water and Sanitation and other users such as municipalities, agriculture and irrigation boards within the Western Cape water supply system because we all draw from the shared water source,” said Limberg.

“These consultations will determine the lowering of water restrictions, which will then impact the water tariffs. At the beginning of November, we will be able to have more information as we go into the summer period.”


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