By Anees Teladia
One water expert has weighed into Moody’s report on the Cape Town water crisis by criticising the City of Cape Town’s water strategy. In Moody’s most recent investors service report, the ratings agency has revised the outlook of the City of Cape Town’s rating to stable and affirms its ratings. But there has been discussion on the income and/or profits gained by the City from the water crisis following Moody’s finding that the high water tariffs implemented during the water crisis, “increased revenue from water sales by 7%, reaching R4.4 billion”.
Speaking to VOC Breakfast Beat on Monday, the visiting adjunct professor at the University of the Witwatersrand Graduate School of Governance, Professor Mike Muller said the way the City has handled the crisis is “socially divisive and unfortunate”.
“A long time back as a planner and government bureaucrat, I was involved in planning for the water supply of all the cities. We said to the City of Cape Town, ‘You just built the Berg Dam. You should now be thinking about how you’re going to supply more water for more people, because the population continues to grow’,” said Prof. Muller.
“They decided to try to get by just by reducing consumption…then there was a drought and all the problems that arose over ‘Day-Zero’ happened.”
Prof. Muller suggests that because the City neglected to adequately prepare for droughts, there were financial consequences which the people of Cape Town are still enduring.
“So, what Moody’s has been saying, is that after all the problems and the financial crisis as a result of the water crisis, they think Cape Town has gotten back on track.”
“But obviously someone has to pay the cost – and usually when government makes a mess, the citizens have to pay. That’s the position Capetonians find themselves in at the moment.”
The new plan the City has developed as a way forward since the water crisis struck does not differ much from what was recommended years prior to the crisis – which was ignored, according to Prof. Muller.
“The current plan for the city doesn’t look much different to what was recommended to them five or ten years ago, but now its their plan and I’m sure they’ll be trying to implement it.”
“It’s going to be an expensive plan – it would have been better to do small things at the right time,” said Prof. Muller.
“The City thought they could get away without investing in more infrastructure for water.”
Citizens have had to bear the social and financial brunt of the City’s failure to plan.
According to Prof. Muller, Cape Town has spent far more money than it needed to and incurred far more costs than necessary.
“When I was in government, we introduced a policy of free basic water. We believed that everyone should have access to that basic amount – free of charge – and that people who want to use more, pay more.”
“I think what’s happened with the crisis is they [the City] have decided that only people who are registered as poor get the free basic water and everyone else pays from the first drop…I think that’s unfortunate because it puts pressure on a lot of families who aren’t registered as poor but are just scraping by,” said Prof. Muller.
“It also sends the wrong social message, dividing the community into the poor who are registered and the rest of the community who must just pay and shut up. I think its quite socially divisive and unfortunate.”
Prof. Muller then offered a piece of advice for the City and suggested that an alternative perspective was needed.
“Government needs to do the right thing, at the right time, to avoid financial crises and to make government business as efficient as possible.”
“It’s always a good idea to look a long way forward… we shouldn’t gamble against nature.”