New task team to review municipal water, sanitation service delivery mechanisms

16th February 2024 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

A new nationally coordinated task team is being established to review service delivery mechanisms for water and sanitation services in South Africa.

The establishment of the task team, comprising the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), the Department Corporative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) and the South African Local Government Association (Salga), is one of the resolutions adopted during a DWS-hosted two-day water summit last month, where the 144 municipalities that are water services authorities (WSAs) convened.

The task team, set up to initiate and coordinate Municipal Systems Act Section 78 processes in certain municipalities, aims to address the declining water and sanitation services as outlined in the Blue, Green and No Drop reports, with the focus on the 105 municipalities that are in the critical and poor performing categories in terms of the Blue and Green Drop reports.

The DWS undertakes the Drop assessments in its role as regulator of the water services sector in terms of the Water Services Act.

The regulator has a legal obligation to monitor the adherence of WSAs to national norms and standards, to inform the public of the results of this monitoring and to take action where norms and standards are not being met.

Despite extensive support provided by the DWS, Cogta, the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency, the Department of Human Settlements and the National Treasury to assist WSAs with the provision of water and sanitation services, the drop reports indicate that municipal water services have declined sharply, the DWS says.

This indicates that there are limitations to what support from national government – which includes R20-billion a year in water and sanitation infrastructure grants, technical and engineering support and assistance, capacity building and training and financial management advice and support – can solve the problems, and that more fundamental reforms are required.

For example, routine maintenance and operations must be funded by revenue from the sale of water by municipalities to customers, and municipal councils must take the required decisions to prioritise budgets for this.

While the primary role of municipalities as WSAs is to ensure the delivery of water services, they do not have to deliver the services themselves, with the Water Services Act stating that the WSA can approve any legal entity to function as a water service provider (WSP) in the municipality.

However, the WSA and WSP functions are required to be managed and accounted for separately by municipalities, but this is generally not occurring, the DWS says.

The Act also states that the key role of the WSA is to ensure that the WSP provides services which meet minimum norms and standards, and this is also generally not happening, as seen in the deteriorating Drop assessment outcomes.

Following extensive discussions, several recommendations were put forward to improve the water sector and enhance water and sanitation services for the public and it was agreed that WSAs should make fundamental changes in the manner in which they deliver water and sanitation services to allow for greater accountability and efficiency.