Water Research Commission: briefing; Water Services Amendment Bill: hearings and voting

Water and Sanitation

05 October 2004
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Meeting report

041006pcwater

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
6 October 2004
WATER RESEARCH COMMISSION: BRIEFING; WATER SERVICES AMENDMENT BILL: HEARINGS AND VOTING

Chairperson:
Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Water Research Commission Annual Report
Water Research Commission document on water-related knowledge
South African Association of Water Utilities submission
Umgeni Water submission: Water Services Amendment Bill
Rand Water submission: Water Services Amendment Bill
South African Local Government Association submission: Water Services Amendment Bill
COSATU submission: Water Services Amendment Bill

SUMMARY

The Water Research Commission (WRC) presented a briefing on various aspects of the Commission's work including presentations on its general role and functions, the impact of research in water resource management, water-linked ecosystems, water use and waste management and agricultural water utilisation. They also presented on water-related knowledge systems, the integration of research and its effect on policy formulation. The Committee raised a number of concerns, including the mechanisms used in selecting research proposals, issues surrounding capacity building in the sector, and the problems relating to implementation at local government level.

The South African Association of Water Utilities (SAAWU), Umgeni Water, Rand Water, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), made submissions on the Water Services Amendment Bill. The Bill was accepted in principle, even though concerns were raised over certain issues. The financial implications of the proposed amendment bill on municipalities and the impact on the institutional reform process of water provision were a common concern. The Bill was nevertheless adopted by majority vote of the ANC. The NNP, DA and UDM abstained from voting.

MINUTES

Water Research Commission briefing
Dr R Kfir (CEO) outlined the role and functions of the WRC, after which Dr K Pietersen examined the impact of research in the Key Strategic Areas (KSA) of water research management. Emphasis was placed on the fact that Government was amongst the principal beneficiaries of research conducted by the Commission. Dr S Mitchell then briefed the Committee on the impact and influence of research in the KSA's of water-linked ecosystems. Dr I Msibi then gave a presentation relating to the dissemination of water-related knowledge. Reference was made to the various publications and journals that dealt specifically with the water sector. Mr J Bhagwan (President of the Water Institute of South Africa) then addressed the Committee on the effects of research in the KSA's of water use and waste management. Then Dr G Backeberg briefed Members on the impact of research in the KSA's of Agricultural Water Utilisation. Finally, Dr H Mackay examined the integration of research projects and its effect on policy formulation.

Discussion
Mr J Arendse (ANC) enquired about the method used by the WRC when determining which research proposals should be supported and asked whether the Commission had conducted studies aimed at assisting local government with the implementation of water schemes.

Dr Kfir replied that research proposals were assessed in accordance with the needs and requirements of the sector and added that the review process was carefully monitored and developed to suit the specifics of the proposal.

Ms M Ngwenya (ANC) asked which areas and organisations were involved with the WRC and what the response had been in terms of capacity-building and student involvement in the sector. She also raised a query concerning the side effects of consuming saline water and the approach adopted by the WRC for defining and demarcating wetlands and estuary systems.

Dr Pietersen answered that, due to the disparity in income levels between the public and private sectors, many students preferred to pursue employment with private enterprises and organisations.

Mr G Offringa (WRC) responded that consumption of saline water resulted in a number of negative consequences including skeletal damage and added that ingestion of water containing high quantities of fluoride and nitrates also produced injurious effects.

Dr Mitchell explained that wetlands as well as the various levels of environmental damage in such areas were determined through an analysis of the soil and vegetation types.

Ms M Manana (ANC) noted the significance of education programmes in the water sector and requested that the Commission provide the Committee with all the relevant publications and documentation.

Dr Kfir replied that the WRC was in contact with a wide variety of communities and organisations and indicated that the Commission would ensure that Members receive copies of all relevant documentation.
Ms D van der Walt (DA) raised a concern regarding alien vegetation and asked whether the WRC considered it a form of pollution.

Mr S Simmons (NNP) inquired as to what research had been carried out with regard to the effects of fluoride and whether programmes had been established which addressed the issue of drought and its impact on water management.

Dr Mitchell replied that the WRC had a number of projects that dealt specifically with the problem of alien vegetation including "Working for Water".

Dr Kfir indicted that there had been variety of studies done pertaining to the effects of fluoride although the findings remained uncertain. She also pointed out that the issue of fluoride insertion into drinking water involved both health and legal considerations.

Dr Green (WRC) explained that the question of drought and its effect on water management were dealt with through prediction and climate studies, water use and conservation and augmenting rainfall. He added that many strategies designed to alleviate water scarcity especially those involving the development and utilisation of advanced technologies were hampered by fiscal constraints.

Ms T Lishiwha (ANC) asked whether the Commission funded municipalities and what mechanisms were in place to assist local authorities in identifying the "poorest of the poor".

Dr Kfir responded that, though the WRC was only concerned with research, its findings were transferred to district municipalities. The WRC supported the development of a learning network through which municipalities could share information.

Mr Simmons queried the figures given for the amount of water used per capita in South Africa and requested that the Committee be supplied with detailed information regarding the user-charging mechanisms employed by the various municipalities and local government authorities.

Mr Bhagwan explained that factors such as environmental conditions had to be taken into account when comparing South Africa's water consumption with other countries.

Ms Ngwenya expressed satisfaction at the work done by the Commission and emphasised the significance of sanitation and hygiene projects in the sector. She also noted that the Members had not received a document dealing with the presentation on the integration of research and its effect on policy formulation.

Dr Kfir accentuated the link between lack of sanitation and health problems and agreed that the WRC had a role to play in promoting education programmes.

The Chairperson commented that the question of water security needed to be looked at in greater detail in addition to matters such as water conservation and restriction. She also emphasised that the provision of water assisted in alleviating poverty and raised a query concerning the notion of equity in relation to the fact that South Africa was a water-stressed country.

Mr Maluleke (DA) enquired how much water was wasted through domestic misuse and what projects had been established in order to address this issue.

After consideration, the Members agreed that, due to time constraints, the WRC would answer the outstanding questions by way of written submissions.

After the lunchbreak, the Department Deputy Director-General, Ms B Schreiner, noted that the issue over whether the Minister of Foreign Affairs should be consulted by water boards over their activities beyond the borders of South Africa did not per se require consultation with Foreign Affairs as these activities do not constitute international agreements. Questions had earlier also been raised over the retrospectivity of the Water Services Amendment Bill and what the role of local government would be. Ms Schreiner commented that the Department was not in favour of the Bill being applied retrospectively even though it was possible. She added that the activities of water boards beyond the borders of South Africa would in no way prejudice local governments.

SA Association of Water Utilities submission
Mr P Camay identified and elaborated on the main areas of water utilities that SAAWU regarded as important i.e. commercial /business activities; support activities and capacity building activities.

SAAWU noted certain practical concerns over the Bill. It was felt that timeframes needed to be set for the approval process of agreements that water boards engaged in extraterritorially. Concerns had also been raised over the provision of services beyond the borders of South Africa whilst service delivery problems and backlogs existed in South Africa. Municipalities also felt that that "their consumers" would be funding activities outside the borders of South Africa through higher water tariffs. SAAWU was generally in favour of the Bill but reiterated its concerns over the timeframes of the approval process.

Umgeni Water submission
Ms G Moloi noted that Umgeni Water supported the Bill but that it had concerns similar to those raised by SAAWU, in other words, approval timeframes. She noted that in as much as water boards had primary activities it also had ancillary activities. The ancillary activities allow water boards to generate revenue, reduce costs and to contain water tariff increases. Ms Moloi pointed out that the ancillary activities of water boards were however ringfenced and did not provide for activities beyond the borders of South Africa. Hence the introduction of the Bill. The amendment seeks to grant the Minister in consultation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs the powers to authorise water boards to perform activities beyond the borders of South Africa. Umgeni Water however proposed that the Bill be amended to authorise water boards directly to perform activities outside the borders of South Africa subject to guidelines set by the Minister

Discussion
Mr D Maluleke (DA) commented that past activities by water boards beyond the borders of South Africa should not have been tolerated.

Ms Moloi conceded that in the past Umgeni Water had been involved in activities beyond the borders of South Africa, for instance in Nigeria. This had been done even though the activities had not been sanctioned by legislation.

Mr S Simmons (NNP) felt that Umgeni Water had gone beyond the powers of the Water Services Act.

Ms Moloi reacted that at the time Umgeni Water had hoped that the Bill would be fast tracked.

The Chair asked the Department to provide clarity on the ancillary activities of water boards some time in the near future.

Mr Maluleke asked if Umgeni Water had any existing contracts that would be in conflict with the existing Act in the event that the Bill should not be passed. Ms Moloi denied the existence of such contracts.

Rand Water submission
Mr S Moshaba noted that Rand Water welcomed the proposed Bill. He said the Bill would facilitate service delivery in Africa. Mr Moshaba said that the opportunity existed for ongoing development in Africa and that the Bill would pave the way for training opportunities for young South Africans such as engineers. Rand Water had ongoing associations with counties in Africa for example Mozambique and therefore would encourage no further delay in passing the Bill. Mr Moshaba however also raised the previous concerns over the time frames for approval contracts.

Discussion
Mr M Masala (ANC) asked what relations Rand Water had with foreign countries.

Mr Moshaba said that Rand Water was a member of a number of associations such as the International Water Association. He said visits were often undertaken to exchange knowledge and practices.

Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked what legislation would be applicable where water boards were engaged in activities beyond South Africa's borders.

Mr Moshaba noted that activities beyond the borders of South Africa would fall in the context of an ancillary act. It was for this very reason that the proposed amendment was being effected to Section 30 of the Act.

The Chair asked if Rand Water was in favour of the "unamended" Bill. Mr Moshaba agreed.

SALGA submission
Mr L Joel noted that municipalities had raised a great deal of concern over the Bill. Municipalities felt that the proposed Bill may impede the possible outcome of the institutional reform process that was currently in place. It was feared that the protection of municipal and consumer interest was not addressed in the Bill. Concern was especially expressed over the possibility of municipalities having to absorb the financial burden of activities beyond the borders of South Africa. SALGA proposed that the Bill should provide for greater consultation and that it should be meaningful.

Discussion
Mr Simmons asked for details on those water boards that had raised the financial concerns.

Mr Joel apologised that he did not have the details on hand but agreed to forward it to the Committee at a later time.

Ms M Manana (ANC) asked how the amendment bill would affect municipalities.

A SALGA representative explained that many of the municipalities with more capacity felt that they would have to bear the financial burden of the activities envisaged by the proposed amendment bill. The cost would essentially be borne by the users in the area of the municipality.

The Chair said that she got the impression that SALGA felt that co-operative governance was not taking place as it should between national, provincial and local level. She also asked what amendments SALGA were proposing to the Bill.

Mr Joel said that there were in fact three spheres of government. SALGA as the voice of local government felt that there was a need for greater consultation as the Bill affected both municipalities and local government. SALGA had no problem with the intention of the Bill and the principle of engaging in business activities outside of South Africa. It was however felt that water boards should first address the problems in South Africa with regards to service delivery and backlogs. SALGA thus felt it premature for Cabinet to consider passing the Bill.

The Chair asked if SALGA would be satisfied if an addendum was added to the Bill on the concerns that had been raised. Mr Joel said that it could be considered.

COSATU submission
Mr S Kgara conducted the hearing. COSATU essentially had two concerns with the Bill. The first was the impact that the Bill would have on the institutional reform process. It was felt that the current institutional framework for water services provision was highly fragmented and the proposed amendment would compound the problem. The second concern related to the policy framework for the extraterritorial operation of the water boards. Mr Kgara said that certain water boards had in the past already engaged in activities beyond South Africa's borders without any legislative and policy mandate. COSATU therefore felt that the Committee should first obtain information about these activities before considering the Bill.

Discussion
The Chair asked if COSATU wanted the Bill to be delayed. Mr Kgara said that it was not COSATU's intention that the Bill should not be passed. He emphasised that a broader policy framework should be in place before legislative mandates were given.

The Chair asked if COSATU proposed that other processes should be dealt with first before considering the Bill. Mr Kgara agreed.

Ms Schreiner noted that the Bill did not exist in a vacuum. She noted that the Bill would not negatively impact on the issues that had been raised. The Department proposed that the Bill be passed as is.

The Chair proposed that the Committee moved towards the formal consideration of the Bill. Mr Arendse proposed that the Bill be adopted in its entirety.

The NNP, DA, and the UDM abstained from voting as they wished to discuss the Bill in their caucuses. The Bill was adopted by majority vote of the ANC.

The meeting was adjourned.

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