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Minister Senzo Mchunu calls on water sector to prioritise providing adequate water and sanitation services to public

Minister Mchunu calls on the water sector to set aside egos and prioritise providing adequate water and sanitation services to the public

In a bid to improve performance of the water sector and its services to the public, Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, has called for the sector to suspend its ego and prioritise professionalism.

The Minister made these remarks during the two-day Water Services Authorities Summit held on Thursday 18 and Friday 19, January 2024 at the Emperors Palace, Kempton Park, Gauteng.

The purpose of the summit was to review the progress assessment reports, find the underlying reasons for poor and good performance, and collectively develop a plan to reverse the decline in performance.

Attending the summit were Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Thembi Nkadimeng, Water and Sanitation Deputy Ministers, David Mahlobo and Judith Tshabalala, as well as provincial and local government representatives including Mayors, MMCs, Municipal Managers and technical officials of the 144 Water Services Authorities across the country. Also, in attendance and participation were representatives from various institutions including the water boards, the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA), National and Provincial Treasury, professional bodies, training organisations, whose wide range of support relate to funding, capacity building, professionalisation, engineering, financial management and governance. These institutions were critical elements in the process of developing and implementing improvement plans for the WSAs.

Setting the scene, Minister Mchunu gave an overview of the state of water in the country according to the previous Blue, Green, and No Drop reports released in December 2023.

He further highlighted that the Drop certifications were initially introduced 16 years ago in 2008, with annual reports being released from 2009 until 2014. These reports served as an effective regulatory mechanism, evaluating water and sanitation services, incentivising municipalities to improve their performance, and guiding areas for enhancement.

In recent years, the water sector in South Africa has faced numerous challenges, with reports showing a decline in the quality of drinking water and wastewater, as well as an increase in potable water losses. These issues have caused great concern among the public, particularly regarding the growing percentage of drinking water systems failing to meet both national and international compliance standards as revealed by these assessments.

"We have resuscitated the assessments and are committed to preventing similar mistakes in the future," Minister Mchunu said.

Minister Mchunu's call for the water sector to suspend its ego stems from the need to prioritise professionalism and service delivery to the public to address the decline in performance.

The Minister emphasised that the non-provision of clean drinking water and a clean environment goes against people's basic human rights, as outlined in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. It is therefore imperative that the water sector takes immediate action to address these challenges.

Following extensive discussions, several recommendations were put forward to improve the water sector and enhance water and sanitation services for the public. Notably, it was agreed that Water Service Authorities should make fundamental changes in the manner that they deliver water and sanitation services. This by either considering establishing their own entities or creating special-purpose vehicles as water service providers. This would allow for greater accountability and efficiency in the provision of water and sanitation services.

Municipalities have been categorised into four groups based on their Drop scores during discussions on how to improve.

The first group comprised 67 municipalities that have an average 'critical' score in their water supply and/or wastewater systems in the 2023 and 2022 full Green Drop. The second group consisted of 38 municipalities that had an average 'poor' score in their water supply and/or wastewater systems in the 2023 and 2022 full Green Drop. The third group includes 27 municipalities that have an average 'average' score in their water supply and/or wastewater systems in the 2023 full Blue Drop and 2022 full Green Drop. Lastly, the fourth group comprised 12 municipalities that have an average 'good' or 'excellent' score in their water supply and/or wastewater systems in the 2023 full Blue Drop and 2022 full Green Drop.

The 105 municipalities who are in the critical, poor and average categories were urged to utilise consider appointing reputable, credible, and competent water service providers for the next two to three years. This move would help address the current gaps in service delivery and ensure that communities have access to clean and reliable water sources. This could be in a form of another municipality that performed well in their assessments scores in all reports, a water board or a competent private water services provider.

Another important area of focus is the review of implementing agents, with an emphasis on capacity building. The Directors- General of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), COGTA, South African Local Government Association (SALGA), and the provincial and Local Government will collaborate to strengthen the capacity of implementing agents, the water sector will be better equipped to deliver on its mandate and meet the needs of the public.

Deputy Minister Mahlobo, who was also speaking at the summit, announced recommendations and a way forward on finance, security, and corruption.

One of the major recommendations made was the strengthening of the budget for water and sanitation services. This will include relooking at budget allocation to ensure that more funds are allocated towards provision of these services of the public.

Deputy Minister Mahlobo emphasised the importance of infrastructure security in ensuring uninterrupted water services. He urged all municipalities to develop and execute reliable infrastructure security plans, which should include the use of technology such as remote fencing and a rapid response system to combat theft and vandalism of infrastructure. These measures will not only protect the vital water infrastructure but also ensure a reliable supply of water to the public.

The Deputy Minister also announced the formation of a multi-disciplinary security cluster consisting of Ministers and Mayors. This cluster will be responsible for leading intelligence operations and prosecutions against elements that hinder service delivery such as vandals, mafia as well as saboteurs of water infrastructure. The team will also be tasked with screening technical division officials for lifestyle, integrity, morality, and community involvement, thereby ensuring that only the most qualified and dedicated individuals are entrusted with the responsibility of providing water services.

In his closing remarks, Minister Mchunu said the provision of reliable quality drinking water to citizens must be treated with priority and necessary urgency. The decline in water quality and increase in water losses were pressing issues that demanded immediate attention. By implementing the recommendations put forward, such as the establishment of dedicated entities or special purpose vehicles, and the appointment of reputable service providers, the water sector can make significant strides towards meeting the needs and rights of the public. Though the challenges are great, with a unified effort and a commitment to collaboration, a positive change is indeed possible.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Department of Water and Sanitation, Republic of South Africa.
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