The money government owes five water boards has skyrocketed to K23.1 billion, a development that threatens to cripple operations of the water utilities in the country.
From owing K20.1 billion in November 2018, the bill reached K21 billion in March 2019, before hitting K23.1 billion as of May 30, according to a letter dated July 22 2019 Water Employees Trade Union (Wetum) has written Comptroller of Statutory Corporations.
The union has since given government 21 days to settle the arrears.
This, the group said, is despite numerous reminders and government promises to settle bills with the country’s five water boards, through its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
In an interview on Monday, Secretary to Treasury Cliff Chiunda confirmed that the bill has reached K23 billion and that Treasury has started looking at how best they can settle it in the 2019/20 fiscal year.
“But there is need that we should deal with this problem once and for all,” he said.
Major culprits are Malawi Defence Force (MDF), Malawi Police Service (MPS), State Residences, Malawi Prison Service and ministries of Health as well as Education, Science and Technology.
The five water utilities are Blantyre Water Board (BWB), Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), Northern Region Water Board (NRWB), Central Region Water Board (CRWB) and Southern Region Water Board (SRWB).
Based on the letter to Comptroller of Statutory Corporations, BWB is owed K3.99 billion, NRWB is owed K3.66 billion, CRWB is owed K3.10 billion, LWB is owed K6.70 billion while SRWB is owed K6.16 billion.
The union, through secretary general Tonney Chitimatima Chiphwanya, contends in the letter that despite government promising to settle arrears, Capital Hill has failed to honour the promise.
The result, he said has been government debt increasing to billions, raising questions over Capital Hill’s commitment to settling the bills and ensure that the water utilities are efficient.
Chiphwanya said: “Malawi Revenue Authority [MRA] is garnisheeing water board’s bank accounts because of the VAT which the revenue authority is expecting the water boards to collect from customers even on unpaid bills. This is paralysing the operations of the boards.”
He also queried government for claiming that it has paid K3 billion to water boards, yet it has only paid K1.5 billion.
Chiphwanya said the signed payment plan within 21 days from the date of their letter.union demands a detailed and
“We need remarkable progress on this. Failure by government to respond as per stipulated time frame, we will hold a nationwide disconnection of all government institutions without further notice,” he said.
Comptroller of Statutory Corporations Stuart Ligomeka said he is outside the country, therefore those who are better-placed to speak on the matter are Secretary for Agriculture Grey Nyandule-Phiri and Secretary to Treasury Cliff Chiunda.
Chiunda said government was committed to settling the bill.
“We know about that issue and indeed there are those arrears which some MDAs [ministries, agencies and departments] are owing the water boards. We have been discussing, working out and in the new budget of 2019/2020 of trying to assist the MDAs to pay out these arrears.” he said.