Water Services Act: Departmental review presentation and public comment

Water and Sanitation

12 August 2008
Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry gave a presentation on the Water Services Act. 18.7 million people were served with basic water, 10.98 million people were served with sanitation, and 16.53 million poor people had access to Free Basic Water. Cut-off and limitation of supply was being used in certain cases. The Department described achievements under the Act, including development of plans, testing of compliance, reporting by the Water Boards on sampling results, and compliance by the Boards with the Public Finance Management Act. Challenges were then described as the need to enforce drinking water regulations, lack of power of the Minister to make and enforce the regulations, and the fact that no Water Committee was in existence. Corrective steps included the development of a consolidated Strategic Framework for Water Services, which included a ten-year vision and setting up of a framework. World Health Organisation recommendations for plans would be implemented. A tougher stance would be adopted on municipalities. The Department was also in the process of reviewing the Water Services Act, and the new legislation would provide a governable structure to empower the Department, and from which Municipalities would also work. Consumer rights and obligations would be spelt out in the law, governance and oversight of the Water Boards would improve and performance would be measured. Members asked about the disparity in water provision between rural and urban areas, the quality and other challenges around rural water, the Constitutional contradictions caused by cutting off water supply, and the need to discuss the new legislation, with its economic implications.

Mr Peter Ramsden of Peter Ramsden Consultants gave a presentation on water services, saying that the poor performances of municipalities in water service delivery could be attributed to a lack of finances, especially in the case of rural municipalities. He suggested that any changes to legislation should be accompanied by a restructuring of financial arrangements and a revised allocation of the Equitable Share. Questions asked related to the urban/rural divide and whether or not the revised legislation would be able to address this anomaly.

The Rand Water Board gave a presentation in which it outlined five points of contention in the Water Services Act, giving an opinion as to how to go about solving the problems. Points brought up were: the alignment of PFMA and WSA, debt management, servitude issues, Chief Executive remuneration and water quality management. It indicated that it had itself drafted a new Bill to take care of several issues. Members asked questions around the roles the various Ministers would play in the new Bill and how the Rand Water Board would benefit if the pieces of legislation were to be merged..

Mrs Helga Dietrich of Penac Products brought to the attention of the Committee the need for and availability of alternative solutions to the problems South Africa was facing in regard to water delivery and quality, as well as other environmental issues. She noted that her company was able to offer organic and environmentally acceptable solutions to a range of problems, that it had been operating successfully in Europe for around fifteen years, and she wished to be given the opportunity to prove her products.  She was thanked for her contribution and no questions were asked of her.

Meeting report

Water Services Act No 108 of 1997 (the Act): Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) presentation on its implementation and review
Mr Helgaard Muller, Chief Director : Water Services, DWAF, presented a review of the Water Services Act. He discussed the situation when the Act was promulgated, spoke of its constitutional context and the rationale for the way it was set out. He then mapped out the progress and achievements of the Act thus far, saying that 18.7 million people were served with basic water, that 10.98 million people were served with sanitation, and that 16.53 million poor people had access to Free Basic Water (FBW).  He said that Section 4, which related to cut off and limitations of supply, applied in several cases. Progress had also been made in terms of regulations, model by-laws and model contracts being published.

He noted that 90% of Water Service Authorities (WSAs) hade drafted Water Services Development Plans and the first round of the WSA Check list was completed in March 2007, two years after the checks began.  A fourth area of achievement outlined was that a tool kit had been developed for Water Service Intermediaries to be able to ensure the provision of water services to privately owned-land. A further indication of progress and achievement was the fact that after a DWAF initiation of a Drinking Water Quality Regulation Programme, 95% of WSAs were now reporting sampling results to DWAF, an increase of 45%. Finally, the water boards were now complying with all aspects of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) by, for example, submitting annual reports, business plans, annual audited financial statements, performance reviews and quarterly reports.

Mr Muller then moved on to the areas of the Act that had not worked properly. He said that the process of implementation was too supportive and had led to a soft approach, and this had now reached a stage where, because of the state of drinking water, regulations would have to be enforced. He also said that the Minister of DWAF lacked the necessary power to regulate and enforce regulations. He then said that no water committee had been established as local government developments superceded this.

Mr Muller then outlined the need for corrective steps. He said that with the new local government dispensation it became necessary to consolidate water sector legislation and policy, which led to the development of the Strategic Framework for Water Services(SFWS). He said that the SFWS had been successful in giving a comprehensive approach to providing water services, putting forward a ten year vision for water services and setting up a framework to achieve these aims. He said Regulation 5, which was under review, would include Water Safety Plans as recommended by the World Health Organisation. He said that the challenges municipalities faced, especially with regards to drinking water quality, warranted an immediate and tougher stance.

Mr Muller explained that DWAF was in the process of reviewing the Water Services Act as a corrective step. He said that the new Act would provide a governable structure from which DWAF and municipalities would work, and that DWAF would be empowered by this. He continued to say that consumer rights and obligations, which thus far had been neglected, would be spelt out in the law. He said a framework would be set up for Water Services Intermediaries and that the governance and oversight of the water boards would be improved. Water Board tariffs would also be spelt out in the legislation. Mr Muller said that performances of the various role players would be measured and that income from water services should increase.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) asked whether the constitutional requirements regarding the provision of water were being met, in relation to the disparity found between rural and urban areas.

Mr Sizwe Mkhize, Deputy Director General: Policy and Regulation, DWAF, said that the Department was  working hard to comply but had not yet met the required standard.

Mr Moonsamy asked if the people in rural areas were getting water, and about the quality of water if they indeed were getting it.

Mr Mkhize said that not all people in rural areas were being serviced and that there were added challenges, like water sources drying up, but that the Department was thinking about ways in which to provide these services, which might include the drilling of boreholes, drilling existing boreholes deeper, or supplying water tanks to rural areas.

Mr J Combrinck (ANC) asked whether there were checks in place to make sure municipalities did indeed spend the allocations for water services on such water services, especially in the rural areas.

Mr Muller said that DWAF could not say or check up on how exactly the money was being spent, and that this was an issue for the National Treasury.

The Chairperson asked why there were contradictions in the law with regards to the provision of water to all South Africans, and the cutting off of their water supply.

Mr Muller said that the Department was aware of the contradictions and that this was an area being reviewed.

Mr J
Arendse (ANC) asked if all changes to the Acts needed to be done within the framework of the Constitution.

Mr Sizwe said that that was the case, because many problems would result if anything was done outside of the Constitutional requirements.

The Chairperson said that, since DWAF was preparing new legislation, that new legislation should really have been under discussion. She was concerned that in South Africa the realities were overtaking the existing legislation, and that there should be one new amended Bill from which to work.  She said another area of concern was the economic implications. She asked whether DWAF envisaged power being given to the Committee, as it was now only able to make suggestions to the Minister. She said that there should be a framework outlining procedures regarding water cuts.

Peter Ramsden submission on water services
Mr Peter Ramsden, Peter Ramsden Consultancy,  presented his submission to the Committee, using graphs prepared from statistics that he had sourced from Statistics SA. He said that the problems municipalities faced regarding the delivery of water services was linked to a lack of funding. He said that this was especially true in the rural areas, where problems were experienced in paying water bills. He said that the changing of legislation should be accompanied by a restructuring of the financial arrangements currently in use, and that the Equitable Share should receive priority. He said that larger municipalities earned more and spent less than the rural municipalities. He said that if there could be a re-allocation from the grants and subsidies budgeted for water-per-household in the urban areas, instead giving that to the rural municipalities, this would make a substantial difference.

Mr Arendse asked if the new review being proposed would be able to assist in closing the gap between the rural and urban areas.

Mr Ramsden said that if the financial problem was not solved, then no amount of intervention would work. He said municipal managers needed funds to address problems and provide adequate services.

The Chairperson asked whether or not the Constitution provided a way to deal with the urban / rural divide

Mr Ramsden said that presently the government painted all municipalities with the same brush, and that even though municipalities had moved on from when the legislation was first implemented, policies had as yet not evolved adequately.

Rand Water Submission to strengthen the current Water Services Act
Mr Tawanda Nyandoro, Financial and Economic Planner, Rand Water, presented Rand Waters' proposal to strengthen the current Water Services Act. This proposal covered five main areas of concern, namely alignment of the Public Service Management Act (PFMA) and Water Services Act (WSA) debt management, servitude issues, the Chief Executive's remuneration and water quality management.

Expanding on these areas, Mr Nyandoro said that the PFMA and WSA legislation should both be wording from the same set of rules, when compiling the business plan – a function under the WSA – or when compiling the corporate plan – a function under the PFMA. These rules should include a five-year projection plan and financial reports should be submitted within five months of the end of the financial year.

He said that DWAF should set up stricter policies and procedures to deal with perpetually non-performing and non-conforming municipalities.

Mr Nyandoro touched on two aspects relating to servitude issues. He said that expropriation of property or servitudes could be fast tracked by ceding authorising power to the Director General instead of to the Minister, and that a specific process with a cut off date, perhaps three months, should be instituted. He then continued to say that the Water Services Act should give the water boards more power to keep servitudes clear of encroachments.

He then pointed out that at present there were no time limits placed on the Minister to approve the salary of the Chief Executive of a water board, and suggested that a 30 day time limit be implemented.

Mr Nyandoro then touched on the management of water quality. He said that current legislation regarding water quality management was too fragmented and inadequate, and suggested that one piece of legislation should regulate water quality. He said that there should be a uniform standard of reporting and that it should be centralised, preferably at a catchment management level. Mr Nyandoro then suggested that water quality be standardised, preferably by South African National Standards.

Mr Nyandoro noted that his presentation was a brief overview of a more detailed comment that Rand Water had submitted, and that Rand Water had also prepared a Draft Water Services Revision Bill: Draft 1.4.

Mr Arendse asked if it would not take longer to expropriate servitudes if more Ministers needed to be addressed.

Mr Nyandoro responded that this was still an issue that Rand Water needed to work on.

Mr Arendse asked what role it was envisaged that the Minister would play once power was given to the Director General.

Mr Nyandoro said that if there was no water the municipality would suffer, and hence the Minister would have to be kept up to date with what was happening. He said if problems persisted then the Minister of Local Government would have to intervene.

A Member asked how the Water Boards would benefit if the WSA and PFMA were to be aligned.

Mr Nyandoro said that the benefit would come in where the WSA and PFMA would then be able to speak to each other on the same footing, and things would have to be done in a similar fashion, resulting in increased efficiency.

Mr Moonsamy said that he agreed with Rand Water's suggestions and suggested that the necessary changes be made.

Mr Combrinck asked whether Rand Water was suggesting that power be taken from the municipalities and be given to the water boards.

Mr Nyandoro said that where good relationships existed between municipalities and water boards, this did result in good service delivery.

The Chairperson said that there had been rumours that water was being privatised and that indeed municipalities gave the work to private enterprises in instances where these municipalities did not have the capacity to provide water services. She asked if this did not contradict the Water Services Act that said all South Africans had a right to free water.

Mr Nyandoro said that the ownership of the water infrastructure had been in debate for the last four or so years but that no finalisation had been reached. He stressed that it was the infrastructure that was being privatised and not the water itself.

Mrs Helga Dietrich, Penac Products, submission on water quality
Mrs Helga Dietrich, Penac Products, said that a food and water catastrophe would be faced if South Africa did not, immediately, react to the problems resulting from global warming and human activity in environmentally safe ways. Government should take cognisance of the fact that there were many alternative solutions to the problems with water and soil availability and quality, and that such solutions were far more beneficial to the environment and ultimately the consumer, than common methods now employed by larger companies. A lack of strong legislation governing the use of water and soil played a major role in the bad state of the South African environment.

Ms Dietrich pointed out that many dams, rivers and lakes were already polluted and contaminated. This could be treated naturally, and the causes could be avoided to avert the problem in future. She noted that human sludge must first be composted, that iron in ground water could be prevented and that lime in water could be limited. Penac Products were successfully being used in Europe, and had been in use for fifteen years. It could provide products to treat water, to rehabilitate soil, reduce the water needed for agricultural use, to care for animals without using growth hormone, to attend to composting requirements and to treat and re-use effluent water for farming. Penac complied with all rules and regulations for organic farming and environmental problem solving. She
asked for the chance to prove Penac’s ability to provide these solutions.

The Chairperson thanked Mrs Dietrich for her efforts.

The meeting was adjourned.

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