Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development says Treasury will not settle about K23.1 billion water bill government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) owe the country’s five water boards.
The ministry’s Principal Secretary Gray Nyandule Phiri told a recent joint sector review meeting in Lilongwe that all the defaulting MDAs have been directed to be on pre-paid water billing and water boards will be deducting funds from water purchases until the outstanding bills are cleared.
He said: “Stakeholders must be aware that as government, we are also concerned with the outstanding arrears; hence, our intervention.
“I know there are other MDAs that are yet to adopt pre-paid water metering system, but we are following up to ensure that they are on pre-paid to sort out this longstanding problem.”
The five water utility institutions owed 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).
As of July this year, BWB was owed K3.99 billion, NRWB was owed K3.66 billion, CRWB K3.1 billion, LWB was owed K6.7 billion and SRWB was owed K6.16 billion.
LWB spokesperson Maurice Nkawihe confirmed on Saturday that the institution was already to reap fruits from the pre-paid water metering system.
He said that the board put pre-paid billing on defaulting institutions as a way of recovering water bill arrears.
“We understand that institutions do have different operational priorities; hence, they have been forgoing water bill payments.
“Hence, the pre-paid water metering system helps us to recover arrears and at the same time it helps customers to manage their water usage and expenditure,” he said.
Before the ministry’s intervention, Secretary to the Treasury Cliff Chiunda confirmed that the bill reached K23 billion and that Treasury was looking at how best to settle it in the 2019/20 fiscal year.
“We know about that issue and indeed there are those arrears which some MDAs are owing the water boards. “There is need to deal with this problem once and for all,” he said.
In a document to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, NRWB indicated it was transitioning from post-paid billing system to pre-paid to do away with defaulters and bring efficiency.
NRWB said the move aims to maximise revenue from water sales.
The committee’s chairperson Sameer Suleman said the arrears were worrisome, but expressed hope that the pre-paid meters will solve the challenges.
“The figures are scaring, but sadly its mostly public institutions that owe the water board much.
“However, there is hope because the government has directed that public institutions should also be using pre-paid meters,” he said.