Home South African Tougher water laws on the cards

Tougher water laws on the cards

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Municipal managers and business directors could be held accountable and personally liable for failure to deliver quality water to residents.

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MUNICIPAL managers and business directors could be held accountable and personally liable for failure to deliver quality water to residents.

This provision could be the new reality that senior municipal officials will have to contend with if the envisioned changes to the National Water Act (NWA) and the Water Services Act (WSA) are passed into law.

The proposed legislation was discussed at a public consultation workshop in Ballito, KZN, on Monday.

Business and civil society groups attended the consultative workshop regarding amendments to the acts that would allow the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, to intervene in municipalities that are failing to address the decline of water services.

Several delegates raised the issue of accessibility at the workshop, especially for those who are bearing the brunt of water shortages or lack of access to water.

Department of Water and Sanitation director of legal services Mapula Khuduga said the problem with the current act was that it did not address the personal liability of directors and managers, but this would be addressed in amendments to the NWA.

“The gap that exists is that there is a lack of enforcement in relation to offences committed under this act by directors or managers while holding office.”

She said the department was now looking to amend section 156(A) of the NWA to resolve this.

“Any person who is or was a director of a business entity at the time of the commission by that business entity or firm, or a person who is or was a municipal manager of a municipality at the time of the commission by that municipality of an offence shall be guilty of such offence and liable on conviction to the penalty specified in the relevant law,” Khuduga said.

She said the recent Drop reports revealed that more than 64 municipalities in the country were in a critical state and that the quality of water coming from those taps may be questionable.

Water services in several municipalities are under pressure, leading to the national government raising concerns with the quality of drinking water that has come under scrutiny in recent months.

Mchunu revealed in December last year that the Blue and No Drop reports showed that there had been a decline in drinking water quality and an increase in non-revenue water since the last reports were issued in 2014. The Green Drop report revealed a deterioration in the performance of municipal wastewater treatment systems.

In September, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) released a report on access to water in KZN, with the commission finding that municipalities and water service authorities had violated the rights of residents to access clean drinking water as is provided for in international, constitutional and statutory provisions.

Complaints to the SAHRC included no access to water, no water supply for days, a lack of alternative measures and inconsistent supply.

The key amendments to the WSA are designed to ensure that local government remains the authority accountable for ensuring delivery and owning the assets. It will:

  • Require that water services authorities approve sustainable municipal service delivery mechanisms.
  • Require that water boards are properly governed.
  • Enable the minister to enforce compliance with obligations under the WSA by issuing directives and to take direct steps to rectify where there is persistent non-compliance.
  • Introduce new offences, including for not following directives issued.

Political analyst Professor Bheki Mngomezulu said amendments to the water acts were sound, but the country had been lacking in implementing legislation since 1994.

“South Africa has sterling legislation in the Constitution, in guidelines and policy documents, but the person in a leadership position has not been held to account when things go wrong. There must be incentives together with punitive measures for directors or municipal managers.”

Mngomezulu said municipal managers’ terms should be increased from five to 10 years to implement the projects they have been tasked to carry out.

Another analyst, Zakhele Ndlovu, said accountability at municipal level had collapsed over the past 20 years.

“People are getting away with not providing services, others are getting away with winning tenders and not being held accountable when the work is not done.”

Ndlovu said the deterioration of service delivery was a crisis.

“Elections are supposed to be a mechanism to hold leaders accountable, but it has become a popularity contest.”

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