Durban’s water meter supply runs dry

eThekwini Municipality has not one water meter available to install.

This startling revelation emerged after DA whip and ward 97 councillor, Andre Beetge questioned the availability of water meters during a sitting of the council’s municipal public account committee (MPAC), where the department’s mid-term key performance indicators (KPI) were scrutinised.

“That was the question I hoped would not be asked, councillor,” was eThekwini head of water and sanitation, Ednick Msweli’s reponse. Under pressure to reveal the number of meters in stock, measured against the increasing installation backlog, Msweli reluctantly revealed this fact.

Cllr Beetge said Msweli cited various reasons for the problem which included supply chain management (SCM) issues, an ongoing legal appeal with the previous supplier whose bid was unsuccessful in the 2017/18 financial year, and changed legislation which prescribes a certain percentage of local content, which left suppliers unable to deliver a single meter after an initial order of 15,000 units.

READ ALSO: Winklespruit pensioner irked by city water bill error

In noting that the department only appeared to tender excuses as opposed to possible solutions, Cllr Beetge enquired about the actual and true water loss percentages, given the municipality’s inability to effectively meter usage and subsequent losses.

“This defied their own responses to the Attorney General’s (AG) findings in the 2016/17 annual report, where meter installation to informal settlements, community projects and housing projects was said to be prioritised, thus eliminating opportunity for illegal connections and water theft,” said Cllr Beetge.

In response, officials said the department was investigating the possibility of residents procuring their own meters for calibration verification and installation by the municipality. However they could not provide an answer to Cllr Beetge as to why this was only been considered as a possible solution now, when all indications are that the problem has been ongoing for a considerable time.

“It, however soon became clear that the water department’s problems did not end with its inability to supply the demand for meters. Asked about the increasing number of water pipe bursts across the city and the necessity to install and maintain pressure relief valves (PRV), which is another response to the 2016/17 annual report currently open to public debate, the department once again confessed that no new valves were in stock, for much the same reason as meters.

READ ALSO: Durban gets pro-active about water scarcity

They also conceded that servicing of existing PRVs was becoming increasingly difficult due to import part content, the equivalent of which was not available locally,” said Cllr Beetge.

Acting head of electricity, Maxwell Mthembu confirmed his department had been pro-active in securing 5,000 pre-paid meters, which they plan to install by the end of the financial year. “While electricity is and remains an important part of our lives, it is unlike water, not a necessity to survive.

As much as some people might believe water is only a scarce commodity in certain parts of the country, it may have just manifested in some areas earlier than others. Some areas within eThekwini are already on water rations and with old and fast-failing infrastructure, measures such as pressure relief and metering are absolutely essential.

The lack in resources to manage the situation brings into question the accuracy of reported losses, which already total R645.90-m in monetary value and 108.83-million kilo-litres of water.

While legislation seems set to enforce local procurement and manufacturing to create and secure jobs, it was done both prematurely and unphased, effectively rendering entities unable to supply service delivery demands. Sometimes government becomes its own worst enemy,” said Cllr Beetge.

The 2016/17 annual report is available online or at municipal libraries, with public engagement platforms scheduled on Friday, 16 February with traditional leaders at 10.30am in Pinetown Civic Centre; Tuesday, 20 February with civil society at 9am in the Durban City Hall; and Wednesday, 21 February with formal business at 8am in the ICC. Regional engagements with the public are on hold subject to the availability of Durban mayor, Cllr Zandile Gumede.


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Earl Baillache

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