Private sector drops in to fix water crisis
Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse and Water Shortage SA announce plans for an independent regulator
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and Water Shortage SA announced plans last week to launch an independent water regulator, warning that water security could not be left in the hands of the government.
Lobbyists say the water and sanitation department has missed the boat on even the most basic levels, including a sluggish response to water shortage threats.
It has also failed to publish the blue and green drop reports on water quality since 2014.
Prof Gina Ziervogel of the department of environmental geographical science at the University of Cape Town (UCT) said it was unfortunate that the department had failed to adequately fulfill its mandate.
“It is clear from the Cape Town drought case that there are significant weaknesses in the system. There was no clarity on roles of each level of government (city/provincial/national) which was problematic,” she said. Ziervogel said the fact that even after the drought experienced in the Western Cape there was still no proper legislation or plans in place to avert the situation proved that an independent body was needed.
Prof Anthony Turton of the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of Free State, and also a strategist at the WSSA Water and Sanitation Services South Africa (WSSA), said the government could not be player and referee at the same time.
“It can’t be both,” he said, adding that the establishment of an independent regulator would also help consumers pay fair tariffs for water. “The price of water will be reasonable and not based on profit,” he said. Turton said the pricing of water in municipalities was not regulated, which meant municipalities charged different rates.
In November 2018, the department appeared before parliament’s portfolio committee on public accounts (Scopa) where it was grilled about its huge bill of unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
During the hearing it emerged the department had an initial list of 10 unbudgeted projects, but as the hearing continued the committee found that, in fact, 40 unbudgeted projects were done but the department had bundled several projects into one.
The total value of the unbudgeted projects was given as R1.3bn but there was some confusion around the amount unbudgeted for the War on Leaks project. It was initially funded from the Water Trading Entity account but issues were raised around the placement of the project and it was moved to the main account of the department.
WSSA’s Benoit Le Roy said the War on Leaks was one problematic project done by the department, as it failed to outline its progress.
“This is where an independent regulator is needed because the project was started with no budget and no adequate progress reports are given to see the success of the project,” Le Roy explained. During last week’s announcement Outa and WSSA said they would create a steering committee to engage all stakeholders over the next two years.
The two organisations plan to work together in establishing the regulator. Outa’s Yamkela Ntola said the regulator will be independent and will ensure there will be no political interference. “This will potentially unlock investment in the sector and increase investor confidence.”
Le Roy said municipalities were on average loosing 37% due to leaks, claiming the City of Joburg was losing about 41% of its water owing to leaks or theft.
Joburg Water’s Isaac Dhludhlu disputed the claim and said the city only lost 18.3% of its water through leaks in the 2017/18 financial year.
Dhludhlu said Johannesburg Water had an active leak detection programme that was approved as a part of a five-year water demand management strategy in August 2016.
“The aim of this strategy is to implement various programmes that will ensure our water demands are reduced to within the limits of our allocation from Rand Water in terms of their water use licence,” he explained.
They also had 15 teams conducting daily leak detection in an effort to reduce water demand within the city. Department of water affairs and sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the minister, Gugile Nkwinti, had already inferred the idea of an independent regulator in his last budget vote, and it was something he would like to see happen.
“What the two organisations are calling for is nothing new. The department has already identified some of the shortcomings of it regulating the sector,” Ratau said.