The Zimbabwe National Water Authority is owed more than US$98 million by debtors amid reports that its operations could grind to a halt unless urgent measures are taken to enforce payment. The debtors include farmers, Government departments,
parastatals and rural district councils.
Zinwa chief executive officer Eng Albert Muyambo disclosed the dire situation that the water authority is facing in the face of the withdrawal by Unicef from providing water treatment chemicals. The withdrawal of the support spells danger to residents of growth points and rural service centres who rely on Zinwa water.
He said if the debtors pay up, Zinwa will be able to buy its own water treatment chemicals.
He said problems at Zinwa were compounded by demands by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority that it wants value-added tax to be paid against the billed amounts instead of on collected revenue.
On average, Zinwa bills up to US$4 million every month but collections average US$2,5 million.
Its salary bill is US$1,5 million implying that generally US$1 million is available to run daily operations. But Zinwa says that amount is wiped out by VAT. If, for instance, Zinwa bills US$4 million, VAT on the amount would be US$600 000, which Zinwa must pay, whether or not the billed amount has been paid in full.
“We are in a catch-22 situation where we are expected to pay VAT on amounts we have not received,” he said.
He said Zinwa was hamstrung by Government policy barring disconnecting water supplies on domestic consumers to enforce payment but wondered how the authority is expected to survive when its customers are aware of the loophole.
“Unicef pulled out in February and since then we have not had capacity to procure adequate water treatment chemicals,” he said.
Eng Muyambo said the water authority should be empowered to demand its dues from all its customers without fear or favour.
“At the moment we cannot guarantee water provision. We are also behind in terms of salary payments,” he said.
The water authority services over 52 000 customers, the majority who are the marginalised rural communities.
Eng Muyambo said Government was crafting a national water policy and expressed hope that some of the issues raised will be addressed in the policy.
He said the water authority was calling for State protection of water sources in the same manner game parks are protected by Government statutes.
He said the protection issue came about because of the heavy pollution of water bodies by sewer and farming activities. The water authority has discovered that there are 43 dysfunctional sewer plants in Zimbabwe whose raw sewer is deposited into rivers and lakes.
He said the water policy should ensure that all decisions to deal with water are communicated directly with Zinwa.
“At the moment we have key decisions that affect water quality being made outside Zinwa. This is unacceptable. We should be able to direct the course of action as guided at law,’ he said.