‘Wa­ter tar­iffs in­crease a ne­ces­sity’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE Wa­ter and Sewage Com­pany (WASCO) has pro­posed to in­crease ur­ban wa­ter and sew­er­age ser­vice tar­iffs by 13 per­cent to its reg­u­la­tor, the Le­sotho Elec­tric­ity and Wa­ter Au­thor­ity (LEWA).

The pro­posed hike comes amid a se­vere drought in the coun­try which has re­sulted in some Ba­sotho be­ing un­able to ac­cess potable wa­ter due to the dry con­di­tions.

In this wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, the out­go­ing WASCO Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, Mathealira Lerotholi ( pic­tured), whose three-year term ends this month, speaks with Le­sotho Times ( LT) reporter Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane about the rea­sons for the pro­posed hike and other re­lated is­sues. Below are ex­cerpts of the in­ter­view.

LT: What is the man­date and func­tions of WASCO?

Lerotholi: Our man­date is sim­ply to pro­vide potable wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices to our cus­tomers who are in the ur­ban cen­tres and other des­ig­nated ar­eas. The ur­ban cen­tres I am re­fer­ring to are the district town cen­tres, but there are also other ur­ban cen­tres like Ma­put­soe, Peka, Mapoteng, Morija, Roma and Se­monkong that are ad­di­tional to the district ad­min­is­tra­tion cen­tres. We do all th­ese things bear­ing in mind en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sid­er­a­tions and the health of Ba­sotho.

LT: Are you able to cater for all th­ese district cen­tres in terms of pro­vi­sion of clean wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices?

Lerotholi: Op­er­a­tionally, we have achieved that in all the ur­ban cen­tres. How­ever, on the is­sue of the cov­er­age, we still have a long way to go. For ex­am­ple, in terms of deal­ing with waste wa­ter, na­tion­ally we are still in the range of 10 per­cent, which means 90 per­cent still doesn’t have sewage sys­tems. Even on the wa­ter side, it’s still not 100 per­cent, but it’s very close; we are talk­ing of ranges of over 80 per­cent. LT: What are the chal­lenges? Why are you not able to cover er ev­ery area?

Lerotholi: We are un­able to cover ev­ery area mainly be­cause of pop­u­la­tion growth. Our ur­ban cen­tres arere grow­ing faster than the rate of in­fra­struc­ture cture de­vel­op­ment. We have also en­croached onto ru­ral set­tle­ments which were in the pe­riph­eryiphery of ur­ban cen­tres and whose in­fra­struc­ture cture is not de­vel­oped. We are now obliged too pro­vide ser­vices there.

LT: WASCO re­cently tly pro­posed an in­crease to the wa­ter er tar­iffs. What is the rea­son be­hind this?

Lerotholi: The in­crease ease we have pro­posed to the reg­u­la­tor ator (LEWA) is ba­si­cally meant to en­sure the con­ti­nu­ity of ser­vices that we are man­dated to pro­vide. ovide. The 13 per­cent in­cr­ere­ment will en­able us to do what we are sup­posed to do in a more re­fined man­ner. The in­crease will also en­able us to curb the ef­fects of in­fla­tion. We need to upgrade our op­er­a­tional pro­cesses and, more im­por­tantly, the reg­u­la­tor has raised some is­sues on which we need to im­prove our stan­dards. And to do that, we need fi­nances.

LT: We un­der­stand that stake­hold­ers will be able to air their views on the pro­posal dur­ing pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions. What would hap­pen if the pub­lic dis­ap­proves of this pro­posed in­crease?

Lerotholi: Over the years, we have been con­sult­ing the com­mu­ni­ties we are serv­ing in all the ur­ban cen­tres. We even es­tab­lished wa­ter com­mit­tees in which we dis­cuss what we can do within a spe­cific year and also get to hear the peo­ple’s re­quire­ments. We hope our cus­tomers will ap­pre­ci­ate why we have made the pro­posal be­cause it is meant to im­prove the ser­vices we pro­vide. So, I am hop­ing that they will ap­prove the pro­posal. How­ever, in the event that pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions don’t go our way, we will still op­er­ate like be­fore, and do the best we can with the few re­sources at our dis­posal.

Whichever way it goes, we will go back to the com­mu­ni­ties and dis­cuss with them our suc­cesses and chal­lenges in the pre­vi­ous year as well as our plans go­ing for­ward. Hope­fully, as we con­tinue to do that, the com­mu­ni­ties will ap­pre­ci­ate that they are our part­ners in ser­vice pro­vi­sion. What­ever in­creases may be ef­fected in the fol­low­ing years will be based on our mu­tual agree­ment. Like I said, we have been hold­ing such meet­ings in all the ur­ban cen­tres cul­mi­nat­ing with the stake­hold­ers’ con­fer­ence that is com­ing up in March this year.

LT: When will the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions be com­pleted for the de­ci­sion to be made?

Lerotholi: Let me sep­a­rate the two things. The process that I have just talked about is WASCO in­ter­act­ing with its cus­tomers and all sorts of stake­hold­ers. How­ever, par­al­lel to that is the reg­u­la­tor (LEWA) which in­de­pen­dently runs its own process, which is pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions. That has to be done within three months from the date of our sub­mis­sion. So ex­pect­edly by the end of March we should be in po­si­tion to im­ple­ment the in­crease if it is ap­proved.

LT: What is the stan­dard wa­ter tar­iff at present?

Lerotholi: To make it eas­ier, I will try to put it per litre. But I will also try to ex­plain how the cus­tomers will nor­mally re­ceive their bills. Our bill is nor­mally pegged in units. One unit is equal to 1 000 litres. The cur­rent tar­iff per litre for house­holds is 0.6 of one cent. It means that if you give me one cent for a litre I would have to give you change. The eas­i­est way I can in­ter­pret it is to say for ev­ery 20 litre con­tainer of wa­ter, you pay 12 cents.

But for those who have run­ning wa­ter, we have banded the tar­iff. For band A, which is 0 to five units and equalling 5 000 litres, the tar­iff for 20 litres is nine cents. But for cus­tomers with a tap in their yard, even though the unit cost is less than that of the pub­lic stand pipe which is 12 cents per 20 litres, they have to pay stand­ing charge, which is ba­si­cally for the in­fra­struc­ture that has been sup­plied.

The stand­ing charge for band A is M21.93 ev­ery month. For band B, which is 5 to 10 units, 20 litres is bought for 15 cents. For band C, which is 10 to 15 units, it is 27 cents per 20 litres. Band D, which is any­thing above 15 units, 20 litres of wa­ter costs 37 cents. We have now re­quested 42 cents for band D, 30 cents for band C, 17 cents for band B and band A is 10 cents, and we are still talk­ing per 20 litres of wa­ter. The pub­lic should not be con­fused by this to mean that the tar­iffs are pegged in units. The stand­ing price for band B to D is M38.50, and we have not re­quested any ad­just­ment.

LT: How ex­actly do you clas­sify your cus­tomers into th­ese bands? Lerotholi: This is based on their con­sump­tion per month. We as­sume that if a cus­tomer con­sumes less than 5 000 litres of wa­ter in a month they don’t re­ally use a lot. This would im­ply that the con­sumer is an or­di­nary ci­ti­zen who doesn’t earn a lot. So our tar­iff is very much pro poor. It is ac­tu­ally sub­sidised. Even for band B, it is still sub­sidised though less so.

But for band C and D it is full cost re­cov­ery. This is for peo­ple who are us­ing wa­ter ex­trav­a­gantly with swim­ming pools and wa­ter­ing their gar­den lawns which is a lot of wa­ter. The band changes au­to­mat­i­cally de­pend­ing on how much the cus­tomer has used the

wa­ter.

LT: Who sub­sidises your clients in bands A and B?

Lerotholi: It is cross sub­sidi­s­a­tion from one cus­tomer to the other. We don’t get any sub­sidy from the govern­ment. We are self-sus­tained.

LT: How is the cur­rent drought af­fect­ing your com­pany’s op­er­a­tions?

Lerotholi: The drought has re­ally af­fected WASCO and the com­mu­ni­ties we serve. Our op­er­a­tional costs have in­creased be­cause of the drought. For ex­am­ple, when there is a lot of wa­ter, we spent less in ex­tract­ing it, but now it is cost­ing us more be­cause it takes longer. We have also lost rev­enue as a re­sult.

LT: What have been your ac­com­plish­ments?

Lerotholi: We have a pro­gramme in one of the lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions where we dis­cuss the chal­lenges we face and map out so­lu­tions with the pub­lic. When­ever a chal­lenge arises, we no­tify al­most all the ra­dio sta­tions so that they alert the com­mu­ni­ties af­fected. For ex­am­ple, there was no wa­ter sup­ply last week­end in the north east of Maseru be­cause two ma­jor pipes were bro­ken. So we had to con­tin­u­ously up­date res­i­dents in the af­fected ar­eas.

Like I said, we have wa­ter com­mit­tees in the ur­ban cen­tres through which we are able to dis­cuss is­sues af­fect­ing the com­mu­ni­ties. The com­mit­tees are made up of chiefs and coun­sel­lors un­der the aus­pices of district ad­min­is­tra­tors.

I also need to men­tion that the crises we face are not dealt with by WASCO on its own. Wa­ter affairs de­part­ments, ru­ral wa­ter sup­ply, low­lands wa­ter sup­ply scheme and the Me­to­long Au­thor­ity are all in­volved. We op­er­ate jointly un­der the aus­pices of the Disas­ter Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity.

In­ter­nally, we have also im­proved our wa­ter man­age­ment strate­gies. We re­cently ac­quired the lat­est tech­nolo­gies, such as us­ing what we call smart me­ters. All our tankers were also on board.

We even hired some of the pri­vate tankers in or­der to al­le­vi­ate the im­pact of drought in some towns where there was com­pletely no wa­ter.

LT: What other chal­lenges are you fac­ing?

Lerotholi: The most se­ri­ous one for me is poor or lack of town plan­ning and lay­out in the ur­ban cen­tres. When we need to de­velop an area, it is cost­ing us more if it is al­ready set­tled be­cause we have to re­im­burse the af­fected res­i­dents. The hap­haz­ard set­tle­ments have cost the com­pany a lot of money in terms of in­stalling and main­tain­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

I don’t know how we can deal with it as a na­tion. No set­tle­ments should be al­lowed in an area where a proper ur­ban lay­out has not been made. The fail­ure by some of our cus­tomers to pay their wa­ter bills has also im­pacted neg­a­tively on the com­pany. My plea to our cus­tomers is for them to pay their bills on time.

LT: What’s your last word?

Lerotholi: My ten­ure at the helm of WASCO will come to an end at the end of this month. I am very thank­ful for the op­por­tu­nity granted to me to work at this or­gan­i­sa­tion and lead the WASCO team. Ul­ti­mately, it is a race, and you take a ba­ton and run to pass it over to some­one else.

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