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Plug the leaks

MMEGI EDITOR
For many households, the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) is the very definition of ‘Evil Corp’, a predatory organisation that over bills consumers, strong-arms them into paying, while failing to supply the very product consumers require, on a sustainable basis.

WUC is quite unpopular particularly among urban consumers whose higher level of tariff subsidises rural consumers and who have no alternative supply other than the Corporation’s often shaky distribution.

A closer look at the WUC however reveals a formerly profitable and efficient parastatal, worn ragged by the addition of an almost unfair mandate and with insufficient support from its sole shareholder, government. The WUC troubles today hark back to the 2009 Water Sector Reform Programme under which the utility took over national water supply, with scant attention paid to complexities around the tariff differentials, costs of the expanded distribution, maintenance, staff complement and others.

Simply put, the WUC found itself expected to treat and supply water to a much higher number of consumers, spread across the country in various concentrations, with poor inherited distribution infrastructure and lower revenues due to the prevailing rock-bottom tariffs those consumers enjoyed.

From a period of surpluses, the WUC quickly fell into perennial losses, as operating expenses easily outstripped revenues, while government support was inadequate.

The WUC received its first subsidy from government in the 2015/16 financial, allowing it to post an ‘artificial’ profit of P119.4 million. The Annual Report made available this week shows that WUC went back to business as usual in the 2016/17 financial year, with a loss of P137.6 million. That year did not have the benefit of

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a government subsidy.

The WUC is battling to keep taps flowing, water quality high and even its own employees and suppliers paid regularly. It is therefore, not shocking to learn from its latest Annual Report, that the pitiable Corporation lost at least P530 million in potential revenues during the 2016/17 due to leakages in its system. At least 29 percent of the water treated by the WUC was lost in its crumbling distribution system countrywide via leaks, literally throwing hundreds of millions of pula in desperately needed revenues away. Authorities in the Annual Report are curiously upbeat however, as they quickly point out that the situation is an improvement from 33% in 2015/16. In fact, however, the situation is much worse at individual town and village level, where areas like Molepolole reportedly lose up to 50% of the water supplied due to leakages.

The WUC can plug these leaks through greater in-field efficiencies, redirection of capital towards overhaul of the distribution system and a stronger reporting mechanism akin to the one employed by its sister utility, the Botswana Power Corporation.

It is hoped such interventions, together with others around proper invoicing, debt control and enhanced operational efficiency, will not only increase the WUC revenue, but lessen the load on those carrying the heaviest tariffs, while increasing sustainable supply.

Today’s thought

“Every drops counts”

 

 - Water Utilities Corporation



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