Effective Cost Recovery in a Changing Institutional and Policy Environment: Municipal Demarcation, the "Free Basic Water" Policy, and Financially Sustainable Service Delivery

March 2004


1. Objectives

Following the work undertaken by Sigodi Marah Martin "Identifying Examples of Successful Cost Recovery Approaches in Low Income Urban and Peri-urban Areas"1 , which included a national survey to set the case studies against a statistically sound universe, it was decided to apply similar methodology to the newly formed local authorities, and establish an analytic framework appropriate to the situation.

The overall objective of the study has been to make an assessment of the level of cost recovery as far as local government is concerned, and identify which measures are the most effective in increasing the rate of collection. This report highlights the substantive implications of the findings for municipal officials and national policy makers seeking to overcome obstacles to successful cost recovery. An assessment is also made of the impact of the free basic water policy, and the issue of unaccounted-for water.

1WRC Project K5/1131 Identifying examples of successful cost recovery approaches in low income urban and peri-urban areas, Johannesburg, 2003.

2. Literature survey

The report extracts relevant findings from the literature on the subject of cost recovery - which is comparatively limited as far as South Africa is concerned. It reviews the question of the importance of social capital in cost recovery, and the effect of previous cost recovery regimes, levels of payment and service levels on the responses to new projects and proposals. An important factor in cost recovery is the appropriateness of the levels of service provision to the affordability, and the standard of maintenance provided.

The literature shows how management and customer care are also important influences in creating the environment within which cost recovery will be more likely to succeed. This includes good communications with the customers, the involvement of the consumers in project design, and providing good customer care facilities.

Tariffs and affordability are also important factors. Definition of affordability is clearly an important factor, and there is considerable elasticity of demand within certain parameters. Billing and metering systems are also considered.

The legal framework, and sanctions for non-payment are a major factor in cost recovery. The literature provides case studies of methods used.

3. Previous survey

Chapter three describes Sigodi Marah Martin's previous study, undertaken in 2000, which was, in many senses, the starting point for the current work. This included five aspects. First, consultations with the stakeholders, including the Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG), Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and secondly a literature review. Thirdly, a national survey was conducted to conduct quantitative data on the cost recovery situation nationwide. Fourthly, case studies were undertaken of four successful local municipalities, and finally the findings were synthesised and recommendations made.

4. Methodology

The data was collected by means of a detailed survey of fifty randomly selected municipalities, supplemented by a simpler postal survey of all municipalities. Based on multiple imputation techniques, key missing variables in the postal survey were inferred from in-depth interviews. The project also featured capacity building of the PDIs working on data collection and analysis.

Difficulties were experienced in obtaining responses to the questionnaire, and some responses contained gaps. Responses to the national survey were limited by two factors: some of the municipalities are not Water Services Providers, and therefore had no data; the second has been the difficulties presented by the re-demarcation process which has caused data collection and harmonisation difficulties for many municipalities. The demarcation process has also made presentation of historical data difficult. To address the issue of missing data and non-responses a method of multiple imputation was used to augment the survey.

The response rate was approximately the same as in the former study. The use of a stratified random sample for the detailed survey ensured that it was representative of national trends and the range of experiences endured by municipalities.

5. Findings

Chapter five presents the analysis and findings of the study. It starts by examining the concepts of debt ratios and repayment rates as indicators of cost recovery performance. Debt ratio is the ratio of current debt to total debt. If payments are made on time, then the ratio will be one. It was found that, even though the free basic water policy removes a substantial proportion of households from the debtors list, the average ratio from the municipalities studied was about 0.5 - not a good situation. One municipality received only 3 percent of the amount they billed in a quarter. The use of the repayment rate (proportion of households who pay on time) gave very similar results.

The work proceeds to examine the probable impact of adopting better practices. These may be summarised as follows:

In conclusion the study has shown that the reconfiguration of the municipalities, coupled with the implementation of the free basic water policy has had a marked influence on how recovery of costs can be enhanced. On the one hand initiatives geared towards the lower end of the market are increasingly overshadowed by the impact of the free basic water policy. On the other hand, the implementation of punitive sanctions against non-indigent consumers who fail to pay a progressive, volume-related tariff, takes on increasing importance. However, it must be noted that just as punitive sanctions become increasingly necessary, they also become more expensive to implement. Water services providers are no longer able to cut the flow of water to defaulters - the policy would suggest that they have to ensure that the free basic allowance remains available to all.