The Anti-Pollution Task Team must have real sting to deal with pollution
Holding individual officials and directors to account is better than issuing fines to entities
The Minister of Water and Sanitation in his speech on World Water Day (22 March 2022) acknowledged the high levels of pollution of water resources and that the primary cause is poor municipal services and failing wastewater treatment plants. The Minister has established an Anti-Pollution Task Team to deal with the issues.
The Water Community Action Network, WaterCAN, (an initiative of OUTA) welcomes the establishment of the Anti-Pollution Task Team to deal with deteriorating water in South Africa, but emphasises the need for similar powers to the Environmental Management Inspectorate in order for it to work independently without fear or favour.
“Though the Minister mentions that a lack of compliance is the reason for pollution of our water resources, we believe it’s the lack of consequence management and holding individuals to account. To fine a municipality for sewage pollution is not fair to the residents who are already paying the municipality to clean up. In essence, you are fining the residents as it’s their rates and taxes which are used to pay the fines,” said Dr Ferrial Adam, Manager for WaterCAN. “If a private firm pollutes, its directors face the consequences and can even go to jail as it’s a criminal offence, so the same consequences should apply to municipalities as pollution remains a criminal offence.”
In addition, harsher fines will not be a deterrent for private sector polluters, as they will just pollute and pay and work this into their risk management and budgets. The best method is to hold the directors to account if they neglect their compliance duties.
Government has admitted that there is a lack of monitoring and reporting on water pollution. Public sentiment also questions the integrity of water quality data supplied by government as this data often gets manipulated to show a more positive performance outcome.
“We are calling on citizens to become water guardians, test water and share the data with WaterCAN. This will give the government a picture of the real state of our water resources. Then it is up to them to arrest and fire those responsible for pollution.”
We also urge the task team to listen to the people and work with civil society ito expose polluters and hold them to account.
Since 2014, the department has investigated a total of 598 cases related to wastewater treatment works which were mainly as a result of complaints received from the public. Not one municipal manager has faced the brunt of the law. If one municipal manager is prosecuted for pollution, we believe the rest will start cleaning up this mess
The Anti-Pollution Task Team should in effect report to the still-to-be-established Independent Water Regulator to avoid any future political interference.