The Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation has urged movement on the amendment of two primary pieces of legislation that govern South Africa’s water services.
The committee said in a statement on Thursday that the amendments of the Water Services Act and the National Water Act are now pressing to ensure synergy and efficiency between the two legal frameworks.
“We are of the view that the current legal framework must be strengthened to make it more effective,” said committee chairperson Machwene Semenya, noting that it would assist in clearing infrastructure backlogs and aid in the clean-up of the Vaal river.
The committee said it was content that reasonable progress had been made by the Vaal river system intervention team in resolving the pollution of the river; however, improving the legislative framework governing water infrastructure and dealing with the operational and maintenance backlogs of the entire system were critical.
“This is the broader solution to the problem as the source of pollution are municipalities and, currently, directives by the department to these municipalities are not working, hence the need to reconsider the licensing of municipalities that are failing to run wastewater treatment plants."
The deterioration of infrastructure owing to a lack of maintenance, as well as a lack of adequate skills to operate wastewater treatment plants in municipalities, remains a concern.
The committee has instructed the Department of Water and Sanitation to move with speed to process the amendments.
“The justification of a lack of skills can no longer be accepted as rational in an environment where the health of our people is of great concern.
“There must be a concerted effort to increase the skills pool from where municipalities can draw to run these wastewater treatment plants effectively,” said Semenya.
The committee voiced its concern that, despite the progress in dealing with the pollution, there has been no skills transfer as the municipalities have not filled vacant critical positions.
“The committee notes the process by the municipalities to fill the vacant critical positions but urged for a swifter process to ensure that there will be skills transfer when the intervention ends.”
Further, the amendment of legislation will ensure that the Department of Water and Sanitation is equipped with a reinforced legislative mandate to enforce the polluter pays principle.
“Municipalities must also ensure accountability for any polluters of our river system that have been found wanting in the performance of their responsibilities,” she concluded.