Water tariff explanations will not impress ratepayers

The 800 000 Cape Town ratepayers, who pay for 27 000 municipal servants’ wages, salaries, and perks, are not likely to be convinced by the official reasons for water tariffs remaining so high when the dams are so full.

Some think maintaining high water tariffs imposed during the drought are an affront to common sense. It certainly seemed like it during an interview on the subject with a senior City official on Cape Talk radio.

The main reason, said the official, was “to ensure a fixed and stable income from service” (sic).

So, the price demanded for water was determined entirely by the City’s need for more money. It was why the water tariffs went up during the drought. It had nothing to do with empty dams, despite what we were told at the time. The drought was merely a useful excuse to wrench more regular cash out of the hands of the ratepayers and into the municipal coffers.

The next excuse for keeping water tariffs at drought levels was based on the same premise.

The City lost revenue because Capetonians, in response to frequent appeals, saved so much water during the drought. To thank them for their sacrifices, a water levy was imposed and water charges were increased.

Since Capetonians continue to save water, even though the drought has ended, the City simply has to keep the water charges high to continue to make up for the loss of income.

In other words, unelected City officials figure out how much money they want and then adjust the various rates and tariffs on water (and electricity) to produce it. Budgeting made easy, one might say.

The idea of cost cutting when compiling a budget never seems to occur to the municipality. Unlike budgeting in the private sector, it seems to take scant account of its customers’ financial circumstances. Instead, the overriding concern appears to be to carry on as usual regardless of economic realities facing the ratepayers who employ them.

One can be forgiven for thinking the City officials have lost touch with reality and have turned from being the servants of ratepayers into being their masters.