The Committee prepared for the upcoming budget briefing session with the water boards. The Advisor to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs was in attendance. The Committee asked about the relationship between the water boards, municipalities and the national department and who was responsible for what. The Committee also discussed how the water boards were financed and how to ensure that their oversight recommendations were actually put into action. The Committee agreed that they needed to make field visits to water boards to understand how they work and what were their challenges.
Ms Shereen Dawood, Content Advisor, Parliament and Ms Cornelia September, Advisor to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, conducted the briefing session to prepare the Committee for their meetings with the Water Boards. Ms Dawood explained how the water boards functioned in line with Section 30 of the Water Services Act of 1997. Detail was provided about their role, legislative mandate, water pricing and tariffs and the proposed water tariff increases. The Water Boards, which provided water services to other water service institutions, were regulated by the Minister in terms of the Water Services Act and the Public Finance Management Act. She said that the country had made satisfactory progress in improving access to water especially in consideration of the fact that the government had inherited a huge service backlog from the apartheid government which left about 15 million people without safe water supply.
The Chair referred to the role of the water boards and asked who mandated whom because in her constituency when the water was shut off, the municipality referred them to the water board and the water board replied that it was a matter for the Department of Water Affairs.
Ms Dawood replied that the water boards were mandated by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. She added that the cutting of water was the domain of the municipalities. Municipalities reserved the right to cut off water if rates were not paid and that was the most likely reason why the water in that community was cut. Nevertheless, the municipality in this case misled them by referring them to the water board.
The Chair asked about the relationship between water boards, municipalities and the national department and if the water boards ever received money from the municipalities.
Ms Dawood replied that the relationship between water boards and the municipality was that water boards entered into service level agreements with the municipalities. In these service level agreements everything was negotiated including the water tariffs. She added that they have had incidents were some water boards have been unable to enter into service level agreements with the municipalities and it was essential to identify these boards and also the reasons why this has been problematic. As between the water board and the national department, she was not aware of the finer details of the contestation but in some cases the national department had supported the water boards, and in other cases it had not. Nevertheless, the municipalities and the national department did not finance the water boards. The water boards got their money from selling water.
The Chair wanted to confirm that there was no budget for water from the national department.
Ms Dawood replied that there was a time when they were supported by the national department but that was not the case anymore. However besides generating revenue from selling water and other activities they were involved in, they also borrowed money from banks and from the Development Bank of Southern Africa but there was no financial aid from the department.
Mr J Skosana (ANC) wanted to know where they got the water they later sold for revenue.
Ms Dawood replied that they bought water from the national department and this was because the water that fell from the sky was stored in dams and the national department of water was the custodian of these waters. They then sold this water to industries and mining compamies, to name a few, for revenue.
Ms Cornelia September added that one needed to understand the water cycle, in particular who was responsible when the supply of water failed and who had the ultimate responsibility for the water that was transferred to homes. Water boards were entities that performed a utilities function under the guidance of the water department to whom they paid levies and from whom they bought bulk water.
The Chair remarked that after the budget presentations the Committee needed to visit the water boards.
Ms C Zikalala (IFP) supported the idea of this oversight as the only way to actually know the department and how it functioned was to go and see it in action and discuss matters with the people involved.
Ms M Njobe (COPE) asked who had the responsibility of the water after it fell from the sky.
Ms September replied that the country was divided into a certain number of catchment areas normally these catchment areas were mountainous. The reason for this was that areas with mountains held rain more effectively and these areas belonged to the government since the government was the custodian of the land. The water would then go to the water providers, however this was still a bone of contention. From the water provider the water would then go to the water affairs department. The water affairs department then discussed the issue of water and water tariffs with the municipalities.
The Chair asked if they could explain the difference between water authorities and water providers.
Ms Dawood replied that municipalities were divided into water service providers or water service authorities. Water service providers were basically municipalities tasked with providing water to households and water service authorities were big municipalities who had capacity to be a water authority. She added that if the Committee wanted a proper breakdown of this distinction then she was more than willing to explain the difference in the next meeting they held.
The Chair asked what ‘potable water’ was.
Ms Dawood replied that ‘potable water’ was treated water that was supplied to households.
Ms Njobe asked if the government could intervene, in terms of Water Boards deciding tariffs, and suggest lower tariffs if there was a need.
Ms Dawood replied that Section 30 of the Water Services Act guided the water boards as to their role and function. In addition, the water boards were regulated by other legislation as well by Treasury. This resulted in there being no way that a water board could arbitrarily state a certain amount as the water tariff. Moreover the setting of tariffs was a consultative process. The water board consulted the department and the department would then sit and discuss the tariff suggestions.
The Chair remarked that the presentation had given them clarity about the water boards.
Mr Morgan said that oversight was all well and good but was there a role for the Committee and was there an obligation on the Parliament to perform oversight over them?
The Chair replied that this was the reason there was a Parliament and why they came to work every day. For anything to be effective, they had to apply the given process before them.
Mr Morgan remarked that it seemed to him that they were there merely to express opinions but not to do anything effective after giving their recommendations.
Ms September replied that this oversight was useful because the recommendations and suggestions the Committee gave would be brought before the House of Parliament and could then become an order with which a ministry or board had to comply.
Ms Dawood added that in the past the Committee had made recommendations and suggestions that the Department had then complied with. However, one of the problems had been that in some cases there had not been proper follow up to see if the department had complied with the recommendations and suggestions. The monitoring and evaluation side had been somewhat weak but if there were more effective monitoring and evaluation, the recommendations and suggestions could be more effective.
Mr P Mathela (ANC) asked about the overlapping of duties between water boards in the same province.
Ms Dawood replied that a community could have access to more than one water board and there could be overlaps. There were circumstances where water boards served other provinces because the smaller weak water boards did not have the capacity. One of the solutions would be to integrate the weaker water boards into the larger, functioning ones.
The meeting was adjourned.
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