Business

Stop giving villagers free water-WASCO told

Bereng Mpaki

CONSUMERS say the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) is burdening them by giving some villagers access to free water from the Metelong project conveyance system.

The customers argue that if WASCO were to start charging for all its water, it would not need to adjust its tariffs as the costs incurred by the utility company will be offset by those who are getting free water.

These views were raised during a recent public hearing session that was organised by the Lesotho Water and Electricity Authority (LEWA) to get inputs on the proposed 8, 5 percent water tariffs by WASCO for the 2019/20 financial year. Attendants included WASCO clients from Maseru and Berea districts.

The customers said WASCO should start charging the communities which pipelines carrying water from Metolong Dam to Maseru and Mazenod, Morija, Teyateyaneng, Roma to lighten the tariff burden being imposed on paying customers.

These areas include Thaba Bosiu, Ha-Motloheloa, Ha-Makhalanyane, Ha-‘Masana and Ha-Pita among others. The villages were initially connected to the Metolong line following a drought in 2015/16 when there were water shortages in the areas.

The villagers started vandalising the water lines passing through their areas in an attempt to access water illegally and the government responded by connecting these areas to the water free of charge.

The Metolong dam, built in Thaba-Bosiu on the South Phuthiatsana River about 35 kilometres from Maseru, was completed in 2015 to augment water supplies to Mazenod, Morija, Teyateyaneng, Roma and Maseru.

Construction of the giant project commenced in 2008 through funding from the governments of Lesotho and South Africa, European Investment Bank, Saudi Fund for Development, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, OPEC Fund for International Development, Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, the US Millennium Challenge Corporation and the World Bank.

Although the water shortage caused by drought has since abated, these communities continue to enjoy free access to the Metolong water.

In his presentation at the hearing, Nkareng Letsie, from the Consumers Protection Association (CPA) said incorporating these villages into WASCO’s billing system would not only ensure that the company generates revenue out of the water that it currently produces at significant costs but will also negate the need to increase water tariffs.

He therefore, recommended that water tariffs for the 2019/20 financial year should not be increased.

“WASCO should incorporate the villages currently benefiting from the Metolong water into its billing system to purchase the service through their community councils,” Mr Letsie said.

“This way, the revenue it requires for this financial year can be met without the need to increase water tariffs. The 8, 5 percent cannot be stomached.

“On the basis of this information, we would recommend that WASCO be given a zero increase in tariffs for the 2019/20 financial year.”

Another client, Thabang Tsehlo, said if WASCO claims back the costs of serving water to these villages from the Rural Water Supply (RWS) as the responsible authority that is supposed to serve these areas, there would be no need for an upward tariff review.

“These communities should not be included into the jurisdiction of WASCO.

“Rather, WASCO should go and claim its costs from RWS for serving those villages. This way, WASCO will not need to increase the water tariffs,” Mr Tsehlo said.

For his part, acting WASCO Chief Executive Officer Moeti Makoa, talks with the government regarding the villages that are getting free access to water from Metolong are on-going.

He explained that while the ownership of Metolong project is retained by the government, WASCO has been tasked to operate the Metolong infrastructure and also bears the operating costs.

He said taking over the Metolong project has brought its fair share of challenges as it has significantly increased WASCO’s operating costs.

“It was decided that these villages be assisted due to a drought crisis.

“But we have been facing the challenge of being unable to generate any revenue out of this decision. What I can say is that we are in talks with the government to see how to address this issue going forward.

“We are aware that some of this villages fall under the RWS jurisdiction and talks will also look into how to resolve the issue of billing them. So far, we have already installed billing metres for the Ha-Makhalanyane village, while there other villages, who still get water access for free,” Mr Makoa explained.

He also indicated that the advent of the Lowlands Water Development Project, of which Metolong project is a part, has brought challenges on the roles that are supposed to be played by WASCO and RWS as the project covers both urban and rural parts of the country’s lowland areas.

“All these issues are currently on the table for discussion with the government,” Mr Makoa said.

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