/ 13 February 2008

Some Durban schools deep in debt to water dept

At least 284 schools in the greater Durban region owe the eThekwini Water Department over R5-million for unpaid water and electricity.

eThekwini water and sanitation head, Neil Macleod on Wednesday said none of the schools in question had their water or electricity supply disconnected because of the arrears.

He confirmed that 284 schools had been in arrears for their accounts but said the provincial education department was working with them to settle the outstanding amounts.

He acknowledged that this was not the first time schools in the eThekwini region had incurred high water bills.

In 2005, 262 schools faced having their water supply cut off as their water debt totalled more than R10-million.

More than 60 schools in the Msunduzi municipality, covering the Pietermaritzburg area, had a similar problem during the same year.

At the time, the provincial education department confirmed that it had paid R5,2-million to the Msunduzi municipality to cover its water debt.

”There was a problem in the past where money was paid to the school and it wasn’t used for the purposes intended for, such as paying the municipal account … but that seems to have changed now with the provincial department getting involved in attending to the debt.”

Firoz Patel, the Education department’s deputy director-general for system planning and monitoring, said: ”If a school is a no-fee school then the provincial education department is responsible for managing all the expenses of the school and should put in place mechanisms to ensure that they remain within budget.”

He said if the school was a Section 21 school — where the functions of paying for services is devolved to the school — the department needed to ensure that the conditions attached to the functions and the allocations made to the school clearly stipulate the areas of responsibility and management.

”If the school does not have the function allocated then it is entirely the responsibility of the provincial department to monitor and control expenditure as well as risks,” said Patel.

Provincial department spokesperson Christi Naude was not immediately available for comment. – Sapa