While panellists at a Budget Analysis Breakfast in Lilongwe yesterday queried the 16.5 percent value-added tax on tap water, it has emerged that the country’s five water boards have proposed to government tariff hikes of at least 15 percent.
If approved, the development will further raise the cost of the precious commodity and deny the majority of urban dwellers access to potable water.
Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) and Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) yesterday confirmed making proposals for tariff hikes to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
However, Blantyre Water Board (BWB), Central Region Water Board (CRWB) and Southern Region Water Board (SRWB), which sources indicated have also pushed forward tariff review proposals, were non-committal when contacted.
For LWB, chief executive officer Alfonso Chikuni said discussions were underway with government for an upward adjustment of the tariffs.
While declining to disclose the actual percentage proposed for the increase, Chikuni said LWB has been compelled to effect the hike to cover some essential aspects.
He said: “Lilongwe has always had the lowest [water] tariffs. Our clients are our bosses. It is true, we have also asked for a tariff increase, but basically to cover very essential aspects.
“We would like to cover the resettlement action plan for Diamphwe internally because so far no donor has promised us funding. So, we have asked for the tariffs to cover that.”
Earlier this year, the World Bank pulled out its financial backing in the Diamphwe Multi-purpose Dam and Water Project that was supposed to bring a difference to availability of water to residents in the capital city.
Had everything gone as planned, construction of the dam could have started this year at a cost of $395 million.
The World Bank committed $71 million (around K50 billion) of the $395 million (roughly K277 billion) estimated cost of the project development. The bank’s International Development Association (IDA) also funded the project studies.
The plan was that by 2022, Lilongwe City and its surrounding areas would be assured of reliable water supply until 2045 to meet rising population demands and save the capital from running dry by 2020.
In a separate interview, NRWB public relations manager Edward Nyirenda said the board is asking for a 15 percent tariff hike which he said will be implemented by August this year once approved by government.
He said: “The justification mainly is that we are looking at the rising cost of production, how to maintain the reticulation system, prices of things like chemicals have gone up but also, generally, inflation is also high and affecting us.”
However, SRWB spokesperson Macdonald Phiri was non-committal on the actual figures the board is recommending to government, saying the picture will be clear by the end of June.
CRWB public relations officer Zephelino Mitumba indicated that they have also made some proposals to government to consider increasing tariffs, citing rising cost of operation, among others.
He emphasised that government has a final say on the matter and that their board will respect whatever decision the authorities would come up with.
BWB public affairs officer Priscilla Mateyu said the board has no comment at the moment on the tariff hike issue.
However, last year, BWB quietly raised water tariffs by 23 percent effective July 1 after government approved its request for the increase.
BWB had earlier effected a 10 percent hike for domestic consumers and 15 percent for commercial customers whereas LWB increased by 45 percent and NRWB adjusted by 35 percent.
Reacting to the proposed tariff hike, some residents of Ndirande Township (Chakana area) in Blantyre, who are currently grappling with water shortages, said there was no justification as they stay weeks without water.
“Since three months ago when the construction works commenced on the road from Ndirande Market, we have experienced dry taps, and sometimes we stay for more than three weeks without water and if the water bills will go up then that’s a harsh a decision because not long ago we were paying K30 for a bucket at a water kiosk and now it is K35,” said 32-year-old Catherine Banda.
Another resident, Maness Kanyaza, observed that the cost of living is already high and nothing much is being done by government to bridge the gap.
She asked authorities to consider making right decisions that benefit the majority poor.
Social commentator Rafik Hajat has since described the development as “totally unjustified”, saying some of the boards, notably BWB, were struggling to provide potable water around the clock to consumers. n