The state

Despite central state enthusiasm for the concession, the local councillors have been less involved than initially anticipated. The ANC-dominated city council passed on the responsibility of water governance to a private sector entity. The politicians admit that they were not been able to increase the township service users' support of partnerships nor their willingness to pay if they can afford it. Councillors have been minimally involved in working with communities to better understand the complexity behind the non-payment problem. In fact, councillors have chosen to be selective in how they announced important policy changes in service delivery in order to suit their own campaigns for upcoming elections. Township residents were not adequately informed that only the first six kilolitres of water would be provided free; amounts in excess would be charged at a higher cost through a stepped tariff. The effect of poor communication, or service users' poor understanding, left communities thinking that water was free and that they did not have to pay for their service bills. Dispelling the myth of unlimited free water proved to be a formidable task for BiWater, which has conceded that its strengths are in operations and maintenance rather than in customer relations.

At the official level, the state had little capacity to provide regulatory oversight, a problem that can be attributed to a structural flaw in the design of the contract. As is the case in many water partnerships in cities across the Global South, the local authority only takes designing sound structures of accountability through a robust regulatory regime seriously once the contract has already been signed and problems begin to arise. The city council in this case failed to take their regulatory role seriously by delegating to the town engineer the mammoth task of oversight, over and above his existing functions to manage all other services to an area of half a million people. By virtue of the city council neglecting the detail of the problematic relationship between the service provider and low-income service users, it was no more capable than BiWater of addressing the nonpayment problem.

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