Water Affairs to review laws to boost services to poor

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cape Town - The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, with assistance from the Department of Human Settlements, plans to review water and sanitation laws to ensure that more of these services reach the poor, says the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.

Briefing the media in Cape Town on Monday on her department's turnaround strategy, Molewa said the allocation of water services to disadvantaged communities needed to be relooked at and needed to be backed by a clearer implementation strategy.

She said though the current legislation did emphasise equitable distribution of water and sanitation services to all South Africans, in reality this often did not happen.

Molewa pointed out that agriculture had been allocated 62% of the country's water supply, while only two to three percent had been set aside for households.

She said there was definitely a mismatch as households and factories, allocated 10% of water supplies, also needed more water to grow the country and make it more equitable.

Allocations needed to be freed up so that these sectors could get a more fair allocation, she suggested.

The National Water Act, Water Services Act and Water Research Act were also being reviewed and would be put through Parliament next year.

The department is also considering allowing its Water Tribunal to impose civil penalties for non-compliance.

While the existing 19 catchment management agencies would be consolidated into nine agencies and stakeholder relations strengthened, the number of water boards would also be reduced so as to promote those that were financially viable.

Many of the water boards facing high levels of debt were in areas with a high number of poor citizens and Molewa said the department had been helping some of the water boards to identify ways in which they could collect debt.

She said stronger water boards could help struggling municipalities to improve the delivery of water, which would lead to higher collections for water accounts.

The department's turnaround strategy was developed by a 13-member team appointed in July last year, following the Auditor General identifying challenges in his qualified opinion of the department. The team was involved in re-engineering many of the department's business processes.

Among the problem areas identified by the team, was the management of infrastructure, as some water treatment works are dysfunctional, while the maintenance backlog, including dams and reservoirs that needed repairs, currently stood at R15 billion.

To assist with funding new water infrastructure projects, Molewa said a ring-fenced agency would be created to finance water infrastructure.

A method for continued asset management had also been developed and 90% of assets had been captured by the department's accounting system, while all current leases were also being reviewed, she said.

To improve the management of leases, a quick-access application was being developed so that departmental officials could at a glance see details such as what stage leases were at and when it needed to be renewed.

The department's recruitment process was being overhauled to improve the time it takes to recruit candidates and the quality of those hired.

A number of senior management positions had been filled, including among others that of the Director General, an acting financial officer for the Water Trading Entity and a chief financial officer for the main account.

Only one senior management position still remained vacant.

To improve the IT system, a tender had been advertised on 8 April for the outsourcing of such an IT system, while an ongoing training programme for IT had also been developed.