The Assistant Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Mr Itumeleng Moipisi has admitted to Parliament that the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) is owed over P850 million. Mr Moipisi, who was responding to a question from the MP for Selebi Phikwe West, Mr Dithapelo Keorapetse, said defaulters include domestic customers, the government and the business community; with the domestic and the government being the biggest offenders.
The assistant minister, however, denied all knowledge of the closure of water campaign allegedly dubbed ‘Tswala Pompo’. What he did admit to is the intensified campaign to disconnect defaulters, explaining that the disconnections had started in earnest at the beginning of February 2018. He said this would continue until the end of May. He explained that the WUC would conduct monthly reviews of the number of disconnections at the end of each month and the impact made on the debt. Mr Moipisi highlighted that when carrying out the disconnections, the corporation aims to prioritise customers owing over P5 000 down to P2,000.
Customers are required to settle their monthly bill within 30 days of issuance. The WUC usually disconnects customers who default for 3 months on the trot or over.
Mr Moipisi stressed that hospitals and primary schools would not be disconnected and that they try to minimise the impact on public and strategic institutions. He said they usually disconnect at respective ministries’ headquarters, a strategy he says has proven very effective in putting pressure on ministries to cough up!
“It should be noted that disconnections are not new as it is something that we do every month. It is just that sometimes we do massive disconnections,” he said.
Mr Moipisi explained that the ministry only uses disconnections as the very last resort and is open to suggestions on how to recover funds owed to the corporation. Alternative measures used include repeated calls, letters of demand, text message reminders and sometimes the legal route. He said it must be noted that the disconnections are a means through which to encourage contracted customers to pay to enable the organisation to raise money to recover the cost of producing and treating water, especially since water tariffs are already subsidised.
Botswana has a long-standing tradition of being soft on debtors. The traditional practice of allowing consumers to default for months before putting pressure on them to pay needs to change and SOON. In my humble opinion, the softly softly approach of allowing customers to pay the very bare minimum or nothing at all is so deeply entrenched in us that I believe it will take very drastic measures to change consumer habits. It doesn’t help matters that providers such as WUC are state-owned and seemingly appear loathe the idea of upsetting the apple cart. They just don’t seem willing to tear up the “rule book” to overhaul the stale practices that add to the rot.
With climate change, Botswana is receiving less and less rain, consequently, our dams are drying up and with all these changes, the WUC needs to employ new and drastic measures of tackling debtors in order to keep its coffers healthy. As clichéd as it may be, the expression drastic times call for drastic measures has never been truer! The very people who refuse to pay up are the same ones who will waste water and protest the loudest at the slightest whiff of water rations. That the government is one of the biggest defaulters is a crying shame and beggars belief! The WUC needs to toughen up to claw back what it’s owed because only then can it focus on revolutionalising and overhauling its service delivery. Otherwise, the water situation will at best continue as is or at worst, get very ugly for Botswana.