Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) face a mass water disconnection if Capital Hill does not settle a cumulative K18.8 billion in water bills arrears by November 20 2018.
The Water Employees Trade Union of Malawi (Wetum)–which comprises employees of all five water boards in the country, namely Blantyre Water Board (BWB), Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), Southern Region Water Board (SRWB), Central Region Water Board (CRWB) and Northern Region Water Board (NRWB)– has threatened to disconnect water to all MDAs, noting the employees are facing “enormous” challenges in their efforts to deliver and improve performance of the water boards.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) has since endorsed the decision, further calling on government to clearly outline how the bills will be settled.
Wetum secretary general Tony Chiphwanya said in an interview yesterday they wrote government on October 23, giving Capital Hill 21 days to settle the bill or face mass water disconnections without any further notice.
According to the letter, addressed the Comptroller of Statutory Corporations, which we have seen, as of September this year, government owed the water boards K20 519 358 237.90, but has only paid K1 692 211 476, remaining with a K18 827 146 761.90 debt.
“Wetum is mindful of the time factor and pressure faced by all employees who signed performance agreements with their respective water boards to deliver amidst financial challenges within this 2018/19 financial year in line with government expectations of the water boards.
“We would, therefore, like to make it clear that we expect at least 75% payment of the water bill arrears within 21 days from the date of this letter. Failure by government to settle these water bill arrears in the proposed manner, within the stipulated time-frame, will lead water board employees to nationwide disconnection of all government institutions without further notice,” it reads in part.
A breakdown of the bill, according to the letter, shows that the MDAs owe NRWB about K2.3 billion, CRWB about K2.6 billion, BWB K3 billion, and K5.2 billion and K5.4 billion to SRWB and LWB, respectively.
Chiphwanya stressed that settlement of the bills will complement efforts of all employees as they deliver the four key management indicators of non-revenue water reduction, improved cash collection, growth and profitability in line with government expectations.
In a separate letter addressed to the Secretary to Treasury Ben Botolo dated November 2 2018, MCTU secretary general Denis Kalekeni has given Capital Hill up to November 30 to provide a roadmap on how the MDAs will clear the bills.
In the letter, Kalekeni has reminded Capital Hill that it is not only moral but also a display of integrity and professionalism for MDAs to settle the bills.
Reads the letter in part: “MCTU calls upon your good office to intervene and put in place mechanisms of ensuring that all public institutions whose funding of ORT comes from your ministry, clear all their outstanding water bills arrears within the shortest possible time.”
The workers body has reminded government that water boards cannot decently offer good working conditions to their employees due to such malpractice.
“In the absence of an acknowledgement from you Sir, by 30th November 2018, MCTU shall conclude that this matter is not being treated with the deserved seriousness and we shall, therefore, draw to your attention the next steps MCTU and all its affiliates shall take jointly with Wetum to compel government institutions and departments to clear the outstanding water bills,” adds the letter.
When contacted yesterday, Botolo said he had not yet seen the letter. He could also neither confirm nor deny the K18.8 billion claim for unpaid water bills.
But speaking after a meeting with NRWB in Mzuzu on August 21 2018, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamveka, whose office was copied the Wetum letter, said government owes the country’s five water boards around K20 billion in unpaid water bills.
The minister admitted the challenges were a problem and that government needed to settle the bills.
But he argued the water boards owe government a similar amount in unpaid taxes, saying they too need to quickly honour their obligations.
As part of the solution, Mwanamvekha suggested that water boards with pre-paid metre facility should install such in all government institutions.
He also emphasised the need for government to properly fund its MDAs to enable them pay their bills in time without defaulting.
A performance progress report for NRWB for the 2017/18 fiscal year shows that government institutions owe the board K2.7 billion.
The report also states that the unpaid bills, coupled with intermittent power supply, lack of projects, profitability, losses to non-revenue water, water quality, inadequate water sources and aged infrastructure are stifling its operations.
“The board faces a very high default rate on payment of bills particularly from public customers such as Malawi Defence Force, the Police and Hospitals,” it states.
In an earlier interview, Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture chairperson Joseph Chidanti-Malunga described the situation as unfortunate.
“If you are being milked and nobody is feeding you, how will go out there and perform. I think this is very unfortunate. We are asking them to perform but there are no resources. How do they perform?” he asked.
Malunga also urged government to start repaying the water boards to do their work effectively.