Dept welcomes court judgment on "Phiri Case

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pretoria - The Department of Water Affairs has welcomed the Constitutional Court ruling in the case of Mazibuko and others vs. the City of Johannesburg Metro Municipality and others (the Phiri case).

The court ruled that: "The City's Free Basic Water policy falls within the bounds of reasonableness and therefore is not in conflict with either section 27 of the Constitution or with the national legislation regulating water services. The installation of pre-paid meters in Phiri is found to be lawful".

The department fully supports the use of pre-paid water meters as a water conservation and demand management tool.

"We are also of the view that this technology, not only has the potential to improve municipal credit control, but also serves the purpose of empowering residents to take control of their water use patterns and practice personal water demand management," department spokesperson Mava Scott said.

He added that the department is however firmly opposed to the use of this technology as a means to deny people their right to access to water.

"As a caring department, we believe it is extremely important that water users be given the option to use prepaid meter, fully aware of its functioning and options available to them."

He also added that care must also be taken to ensure that water supply to residence is never completely shut off in the use of this technology.

The department, as custodian of the country's water resources is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring equitable access to basic water services, security of supply and to see to it that the quality of our water resource is acceptable.

"Once again the fact that South Africa is a water scarce country and one of the 30 driest in the world must motivate us all to seek to conserve water."

The Constitutional Court's ruling on the volume of Free Basic Water, thus re-affirmed government's position that the policy development including determining appropriate water volumes should be done by government and not dictated by a court

Implementing the Free Basic Water (FBW) programme is a highly complex process, as a wide range of national and local issues have to be addressed.

It is important to note that municipalities operate under varying circumstances, such as income and service level profiles which make a uniform approach to FBW's roll out almost impossible.

Scott added that they were pleased that the highest court in the land - the Constitutional Court acknowledged this fact.

In order to assist municipalities in the effective and sustainable implementation of FBW, the department is in the process of reviewing the FBW Implementation Strategy to guide municipalities to ensure the most appropriate and effective implementation.

The minimum level of free basic water has been determined by national standard but municipalities are able to look at local circumstances, budgets, available water sources etc to determine their own basic volume and in this process always ensuring that their allocation meets the Constitutional criteria of "progressive realization" of rights.

This specifically applies to communities who use water borne toilets.