Thursday, February 25, 2021

Covid-19 water disconnection moratorium sinking WUC

In a highly unusual development, the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) has asked its own employees to pay their water bills as well as encourage their “relatives, neighbours and close associates” to do the same in order to keep the Corporation afloat.

“This is our organisation and it is in our interest to see it thrive and be ‘a leading water service provider by 2022’ as captured in our strategy,” says WUC’s Chief Executive Officer, Gaselemogwe Senai, in an internal memorandum to all staff members.

Ordinarily, there would be no need for the Corporation to stay afloat by appealing to staff members as well to as to ask them to encourage their relatives, neighbours and close associates to pay their water bills but these are extraordinary times. As part of national effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is important that customers have adequate water supply to carry out effective hygiene practices. It was on the basis of the latter that President Mokgweetsi Masisi – like most leaders around the world – imposed a water disconnection moratorium.

However, while keeping water flowing may be helping limit the spread of the virus, that is literally coming at great cost to corporations that supply the water. In his memo, Senai says that his Corporation is experiencing “serious cash flow problems” which have in part “been aggravated by measures introduced to combat the COVID-19 pandemic which prohibit the Corporation from conducting physical disconnections.” He adds that “the very revenue we are unable to collect is needed to keep the operations of the organisation running.”

Currently, WUC’s domestic debt stands at P673 million – for what it is worth, this figure is P147 million less than the June 2020 debt level that Senai revealed during a COVID-19 briefing on Btv.

For now and for as long as the moratorium remains in effect, WUC is helpless – which explains why it now has to turn staff members and those they know. However, once the moratorium is lifted, the WUC will resume disconnections as a way of forcing defaulters to pay up. Given how essential water is to daily life, the disconnection strategy was working quite well and in his Btv address, Senai said that the Corporation had managed to bring arrears down to P820 million from P1 billion. He lamented that the moratorium had reversed gains the Corporation had made in terms of debt collection.

Ironically, WUC finds itself in dire straits in the midst of a major construction project to bring even more water to the Greater Gaborone area from Masama. Tragically, the government ministries and departments are among the major defaulters.

However, the Corporation has itself compounded the problem by computing a litany of suspect bills which customers contest. Where the focus should be on clearing the bill, precious time is lost arguing over how extremely high bills were arrived at. For now, customer complaints about egregiously high bills have died down only because of the disconnection moratorium and would likely resume when it is lifted.

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