Free Water: briefing by Department

Water and Sanitation

09 May 2001
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


9 May 2001

Chairperson: Ms B Sonjica

Documents Distributed

Department's Powerpoint presentation on Free Water

The Committee discussed the implementation of the free water project, how to make people aware of the project and cost factors to ensure that the service affected those in the most poorly developed areas.

Mr J Potloane, Deputy Director General: Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, re-iterated the constitutional guarantee of access to basic services, which formed the basis for the Free Basic Water Policy. Mr Potloane highlighted that local government was also responsible for the provision of basic services. Mr Potloane pointed to the National Water Act, National Water Services Act and the National Municipal Services Act, which provide guidelines for the provision of basic services, stipulate the responsibility of the various departments.

Mr Potloane's presentation focused on the following issues : the emergence of the free basic water policy, approaches to free basic water, the programme for implementation of the free basic water policy, the conditions for the successful implementation of the free basic water policy and the experiences that the Department has encountered in its effort to provide free basic water.

Mr Potloane highlighted the announcements that were made by President Mbeki and Ronnie Kasrils in respect of Free Water. The latter announcement stipulated the governments proposed policy to provide six thousand litres of free water per month per household. In May 2000 the Department was tasked by the Cabinet to look at means of ensuring the provision of affordable water to the indigent. Some consumers had reverted to unsafe sources of water, which gave rise to the Cholera pandemic in KwaZulu Natal between August 2000 and March 2001. It was also established by the Department that a number of local authorities had been providing free basic water on their own. These authorities included Humansdorp (Eastern Cape), De Wet'sdorp (Free State), Kokstad (KZN), Durban (KZN), Volksrust (Mpumalanga), Zeerust (North West), Prieska (Northern Cape) Claremont and Cape Town (Western Cape). Mr Potloane invited the committee to visit Durban since it appears to be the most progressive in providing its residents with free water. The Free Basic Water policy was approved in Cabinet in January 2001.

Approaches towards the implementation of the Free Basic Water Policy
Mr Potloane highlighted the following approaches for the implementation of free basic water :
• a consideration that there should be a block tariff with the lowest six kl free.
This would be helpful in respect of citizens that have metered water services. Municipalities would measure the outflow of water from the standpipes in communities that do not have water meters.
• Controlled volume to users in respect of yard tanks, flow control devices and ensuring that the distribution in densely populated formal or informal settlements is appropriate. It is in this kind of approach where Durban has taken the lead in the country.

Programme for the implementation of the Free Basic Water Policy
Mr Potloane described three phases for the implementation of the free basic water policy.

Phase 1 : Up to April 2001
• Brainstorming session with the Department, key stakeholders and participants in the water sector.
• Research was conducted on how this system has been successfully implemented in other parts of the world (10 case studies).
• National Stakeholder Workshop where a Draft on Implementation Strategy was tabled for comment.
• Finalisation of the Implementation Strategy inclusive of Financial Models and Programme Assistant Manuals/Guidelines.

Phase 2 : May - June 2001
• Provincial workshops for local governments during May and June.
• Pilot Implementation Strategy undertaken in four municipalities in conjunction with the National Treasury.
• Department currently making presentations to provincial cabinets.
• Implementation of the policy is a co-operative effort amongst the South African Association of Local Governments (SALGA) and the Departments of Provincial and Local Government.

Phase 3 Implementation: July 2001 - June 2003
Formal implementation of the free basic water policy commences on 1 July 2001. Each local government will have to indicate at what point they are ready to implement the project. Mr Potloane acknowledged that there would be challenges during Phase 3 since it was the initial stage of implementation but added that there would be a continuous monitoring of the implementation of the project.

Conditions for the successful implementation of the policy
Mr Potloane emphasised the following conditions:
• Each local government must have the capacity to implement the project. The Department in conjunction with SALGA and DPLG had instituted a programme to capacitate local governments for the implementation the project.
• Local governments must use equitable shares appropriately to ensure that money is used for the provision of basic services.
• Cost recovery.
• Metres must be installed in order to measure what consumers must pay in excess of the free first six thousand litres. The Development Bank has estimated that it would cost R800 million to ensure installation of appropriate infrastructure to local governments.
• Free basic water to the poor. It would be unusual that communities that use standpipes would use more than six thousand litres per month. Studies that have been conducted in Durban Metro have confirmed this. However the cost of anything in excess of six thousand would be borne by the user.

The Department anticipates instituting an intensive communication campaign that would be aimed at educating consumers about their rights and about how the system works. The campaign would outline responsibilities of respective municipalities and also outline financial models that would allow for the recovery of costs for excesses of six thousand litres per household.

Phased implementation of the policy would take approximately two years.
There is a National Strategy and Guidelines.
Support tools will be provided for the implementation of the project.

Tools for the Implementation of the Project
• The Department has prepared a questions and answers booklet setting out the implementation of the plan in detail.
• Implementation Strategy is a document that outlines the policy, its parameters and the issues that need to be addressed.
• A tollfree number has been established for consumers to clarify any issues regarding the implementation of the project.
Mr Potloane concluded that the Development Bank would provide "soft loans" to the local government for the installation of meters and relevant infrastructure.

Mr Rashid (Western Cape Regional Representative for the Department) informed the committee that the Western Cape Province launched the project on 1 May in regard to the metered users and these users were currently receiving six thousand litres per month free. Mr Rashid added that provision would be made for those users who do not have meters from 1st July 2001.

Mr Maimane (ANC) expressed his concern that the literature may not be in all languages. The Chairperson replied that Mr Potloane had alluded to the fact that there would be large scale awareness campaigns such as education projects aimed at making people aware of the manner in which the project would be implemented. Ms Sonjica suggested the use of regional radio to assist with the language issue.

Mr Gininda highlighted the problem of water wastage from the standpipes located outside the yards. Mr Gininda asked if the Department would take any steps to remedy this defect.

Mr Potloane replied that the department's communication strategy was aimed at being effective in the various constituencies. Mr Potloane embraced the Chairperson's suggestion of radio and the production of brochures and pamphlets as the medium through which communities may be educated about the machinations of the free water policy. Mr Potloane acknowledged water wastage from the standpipes but contended that it was local government's duty to educate communities on reporting leakages.

Mr Maimane (ANC) asked for clarity on the Development Bank's structure of its programme in providing soft loans for the implementation of the project.

Mr Potloane replied that the Development Bank of Southern Africa has a unit that is dedicated to the support of local government especially the provision of infrastructure. It is known as the Municipal Infrastructure Unit. It provides soft loans on which interest is payable.

Mr M Masala (ANC) asked if there was any provision by the Department to reach the communities living in rural constituencies with no infrastructure.

Mr Potloane replied that prior to 1994 there were more than 12 million people without water. In 2001 the Department has provided water to 7 million of these people through community water supply schemes. Mr Potloane stated that an amount of R821 million had been allocated to address the lack of water resources in rural areas.

Mr S Simmons (NNP) asked if the Department had made a survey to determine the number of settlements without infrastructure to supply pipe water to communities. He also wanted to know the number of local governments in South Africa.

Mr Potloane emphasized the responsibility of the local government to provide free basic services. Mr Potloane indicated that studies within South Africa have revealed the Northern Province, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape as areas where the provision of basic services was lagging behind. The EU has granted South Africa approximately R600 million over a three year period to assist in the provision of basic services to the communities living in these provinces. Mr Potloane added that there were approximately 281 local governments in the country in terms of the new demarcation.

The Chair asked whether the free water project would lead to a review of the present tariff policy and whether the present billing system was adequate or needed improvement.

Mr Potloane replied that the National Treasury provided funding to local government for the provision of basic services that should be used to pay for basic water services. Mr Potloane stated that the billing policy would need review since the more one used water the more one would pay. Water beyond the six thousand limit would have to be paid for by the user. Mr Potloane explained that the Department had pre paid meters for water in as much as there were prepaid meters for electricity. Mr Potloane said that the system was being used in the rural areas as well.

Mr Phala asked what procedure would be taken by the department to combat the illegal obtaining of water in excess of the prescribed quantity.

Mr Potloane replied that criminal prosecutions would be instituted if there were any illegal connections or illegal use. Monitoring would be the responsibility of the local municipalities.

The meeting was adjourned.


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