Friday, 26 December 2014

Access to adequate clean water is a right

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 19 November 2014)

The past two weeks I have been facing a personal crisis at home. The water connection was cut off on 6 November and still has not been reconnected. At first, I felt like a politician slumming it out and showing I can manage for a day without clean, running water but was very soon brought back to reality. Without water you cannot flush your toilets, drink from a tap, shower or wash your hands. Everything is returned to a basic water access through a bucket or a drum. This made me think of the quote by Marcus Samuelsson, “Clean water and access to food are some of the simplest things that we can take for granted each and every day. In places like Africa, these can be some of the hardest resources to attain if you live in a rural area.”
I was upset with my water being off and contacted the City of Windhoek to give them a piece of my mind. They in turn pointed out that I have a rental contract with the price of water included, but that my landlady had not paid them for a few months. I contacted my landlady who stated that it was a billing problem as she paid via online banking and thus the error was the municipality. Well, back to the debtors department at City of Windhoek (CoW). After checking again, they insisted the error was with the landlady and not their billing system.
In the meantime, I was willing to pay the outstanding amount of around N$ 2,000 to get my water connected and would then just subtract it from the rent.
The landlady once again assured me that it was not necessary for me to pay as there was a billing error. However, I realised that this was not the truth as someone had been sent to deposit money on this account, but the CoW did not deem it sufficient to reconnect my water.
As a consumer, I was now being severely impacted by the landlady who as my service supplier was (and still is) not keeping her side of the agreement. Not only was I being deprived of an inherent right of the contract, I was also getting a lot of flak from my pregnant wife!
Looking at this as a consumer, what is my rights in a case like this where my water is caused to be cut-off by my landlord? The first thing to consider is that the issue is a civil case and is not governed by criminal law – which means I have no recourse to a police person to assist, but rather through the courts. Secondly, as the wronged party what cause of action can I take now to get my water reconnected, and thirdly how do I get compensated for the loss of water, time and the indignity of getting water from neighbours and friends?

As this is a civil case, neither party has recourse to the police – meaning that a difference on this or keeping back part of the rent is cause for getting the police involved. As the wronged party, I can decide to go to the CoW and pay the outstanding amount and then deduct this amount from the rental and submit the invoice for the water paid. The third part is the hardest, what should I be compensated for this wrong? I have looked into the matter and believe that any tenant has the right to deduct pro rata the amount of rent for each day the material aim of the contract is not kept by the landlord. In plain English, if I rent a property of N$ 6,000 a month, I may deduct an amount of 200 per day for the water being cut off due to negligence from the side of the landlord. In my case, the rent will be less by an amount of one-third (or more) as the water is still cut-off and the landlord insists that she has paid the water.
I would have just have preferred to have running water!

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