Namibia: City Water Tariff Increase Draws Critism

Hiking water tariffs and passing the burden onto Windhoek consumers at a time when the country has declared a state of emergency because of the drought was being inconsiderate, a unionist says.

The secretary general of the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna), Mahongora Kavihuha, made these remarks when he addressed the media at the union's offices in Windhoek last week.

"We are all surprised at its timing, especially taking into account the prevailing drought situation in the country, and the hardships citizens are faced with," he said.

The Windhoek City Council recently increased its water tariffs by 5%, a similar margin to the NamWater bulk water increase which came into effect on 1 July 2019.

Kavihuha said the city council and NamWater had failed to justify the raise in water tariffs.

"Is NamWater going to fabricate new water with the money they raise through these increments, or are they building new dams?" Kavihuha asked.

He said struggling workers have been subjected to yearly water tariff increases while service provision is deteriorating.

Two months ago, the government begged public servants and the rest of the workforce to make a voluntary once-off 2% contribution from their salaries for drought mitigation.

Kavihuha said the reason for recovering direct and indirect costs associated with water provision does not hold water as most of the infrastructure was put up by the colonial regime.

"Even if that argument was genuine, why during this difficult time? Why not wait until after the drought eases?" he asked.

Kavihuhua said the tariff increase is a contradiction and disregard of the declaration of the state of emergency concerning the drought.

"We have repeated the call for the government to work on long-term contingency plans and maintain such, instead of the knee-jerk reaction to the twists and turns of the economy, or social upheavals," he stressed.

Windhoek chief executive officer, Robert Kahimise said in response to the union's views that the city is not responsible for the current 5% increase in water tariffs, but it is instead NamWater.

"The 5% is just a pass-over from NamWater to the consumers. We are a distributor, we are just passing over the increases", he stated.

Kahimise added that consumers should also be grateful that council is not sourcing all its water needs from NamWater, otherwise the increase could be higher.

This is because the city has reverted to drawing water from aquifers for the time being since NamWater has reduced their allocation to the city.

Kahimise explained that the situation will only change if the city finds different sources of water, apart from NamWater.

"It will only cost less if we can in the long term sustainably diversify our reliance on NamWater, which won't happen soon," he added.

He said the only viable plan, going forward, is to expand the Gammams reclamation plant, and to convert the wastewater to a potable standard.

However, it will take another five years to materialise, even though the funding has been secured by borrowing through the Development Bank of Namibia from KFW Bank in Germany.

NamWater, however, hit back at the city council, saying they do not dictate how distributors decide on their tariffs for their end-users.

The water utility's spokesperson, Johannes Shigwedha said: "NamWater does not have any jurisdiction nor power over how its clients determine their tariff increments to their customers, the end-users. There have been a number of years where NamWater was not granted tariff increments by Cabinet, but that did not mean the water utility's customers had not always increased their tariffs to customers".

He said their 5% increase per cubic metre was approved by Cabinet, and is even less than what they had asked for to recover operational costs.

Shigwedha said they initially wanted an increase of 9,8%, which would have been ideal for their operations, but the government had only approved a 5% increase.

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