Maputsoe residents on Thursday expressed anger at the extremely high water bills they are receiving from the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO).
The residents said they started receiving the inflated bills in May this year despite not accessing water on a regular basis. Others claimed they do not even use WASCO water as they have since installed their own boreholes but still get billed by the company.
The residents, who were speaking during a public gathering addressed by the Minister of Water Ralechate ‘Mokose, and WASCO Chief Executive Officer Mathealira Lerotholi, said the bills had become cause for concern to many families. The residents also appealed for government intervention in ensuring the residents access clean water on a regular basis. Due to the prevailing drought, which government has said is the worst to hit Lesotho in four decades, most parts of the country are experiencing acute water shortages, and the industrial town of Maputsoe is one of the most affected.
According to one of the residents, ‘Masalemone Molalle, she has been receiving a M15 000 monthly bill since May despite not getting her water from WASCO. Molalle used to run an orphanage but the home was closed down by government in 2013 for not meeting the required standards. However, before its closure, the shelter had installed a borehole.
“I last used WASCO water in April this year, and my bill for that month was M43. Imagine my surprise when I received a M15 000 bill for May from WASCO, for water we never used.
“We used to run an orphanage but when it was closed in 2013, we had installed a borehole, so in April this year, we stopped using WASCO water. I took the bill to WASCO offices in Maseru three weeks ago and I was told the person in charge wasn’t available. I am still waiting for WASCO’s response as there is no way that we are going to pay for water we never used,” said Molalle, to much applause from her fellow residents, who started chanting, “We are thirty. All we need is water.”
In her address, Maputsoe Council deputy chairperson, ‘Matumo Kori, told the minister that the astronomical charges had angered villagers who now set their dogs on WASCO officials delivering water bills.
“I hope our plea will be heard and responded to. Today marks a milestone for Maputsoe residents even though some of the most affected people are not here,” Ms Kori said.
“Water is a big issue here in Maputsoe which I foresee tuning into serious conflict between WASCO and residents.
“As you have heard, the residents are complaining that even though they don’t have water for two to three days a week, they still receive very high water bills from WASCO.
“They say the bills are so high yet there is no water. Others say they don’t even use WASCO water yet they get bills from the company. We are now in a situation where WASCO employees can’t set foot in some villages in this town as residents attack them. They either set dogs on them or throw stones at them.”
Such villages include Nyenye and St Monica’s, she added.
“We have another resident who constructed a borehole in his yard but was billed M900 even though he no longer used WASCO water.
“This issue needs to be addressed urgently so that it does not turn into social conflict because already, people who come to this town looking for jobs are being denied access to public wells because they are being called ‘chekase’ or visitors. This is simply because the water is inadequate for the residents and they don’t want to share it.”
Ms Kori also spoke about water-tanks that government is using to deliver water to affected communities.
“The tanks are coming, it is true, but they are not covering the entire village because the water runs out before everyone gets supplies.”
In his address, Mr Lerotholi acknowledged his office receiving grievances from the residents outraged by high water bills.
“Some time ago, we held public gatherings where some residents voiced their concerns regarding the billing issue,” Mr Lerotholi said.
“We looked into the issue and identified the most affected villagers. We addressed the issue with the help of local councilors. Hopefully, we can do the same with in this particular case. I don’t deny that mistakes do happen but these mistakes can be corrected.”
In response, Minister ‘Mokose: “I would like to talk about the current state of emergency in relation to our water crisis.
“As per your request, we have opened Lesotho Highlands Water Project dam pipes from Tšehlanyane into Hlotse River and by doing so we have overcome the Hlotse water crisis.”
However, the minister warned that rivers pumping water into the dams are slowly drying up, adding this called for the nation to conserve water.
“Our wetlands are in trouble. Let’s all play our part in conserving our precious water. Stop using showers and water your plants with used water as part of conserving water.
“I cannot lie to you and say we have found a lasting solution to our water crisis but we are looking into ways that will address this problem.”
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