Water situation will not improve until water boards maintain infrastructure

Water situation will not improve until water boards maintain infrastructure

The AG’s report on water infrastructure again underlines water losses and lack of accountability for mismanagement

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The Auditor-General (AG) report to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation on the water board finances for 2020/21 once again highlights what we already know – our water and sanitation is in a dire state. Since the last report there has been minimal change and not enough culprits being held accountable. Many of the water boards are still plagued by bad financial planning, a lack of investment, underspending on maintenance and difficulties in collecting debt from municipalities.

“While government is battling to fix municipalities, perhaps they must rethink direct payments to municipalities to ensure that bulk services can be paid for directly. This could by-pass potential maladministration and secure future bulk supply,” says Dr Ferrial Adam, manager of WaterCAN.

The country’s largest water board, Rand Water, spent only 0.25% of the value of its assets on repairs and maintenance, the lowest in the country. “This raises more questions given the recent water shedding in Johannesburg, where we were told that the fault lies with municipalities,” says Adam.

In addition, the AG raised concern regarding the measurement of water losses as each water board determines its own target and thus makes it difficult to properly assess water loss. “We are paying for water that is being lost because they are not maintaining the infrastructure. If water boards don’t spend at least 6% to 8% to enable sufficient maintenance, people in senior positions must be penalised as this has a direct impact on future water security because of aging and deteriorating infrastructure,” says Adam. The AG indicated that the amount of water lost in 2020-21 was enough to supply 862 000 citizens for an entire year.

WaterCAN calls on the AG to exercise her powers and recoup unauthorised and fruitless spending from culprits. The AG reported that there was R1.9 billion irregular expenditure across nine water boards and fruitless and wasteful expenditure increased by 12% from R264 million (2019/20) to R296 million (2020/21). Sedibeng Water, Amatola Water, Umgeni Water and Lepelle Northern Water were responsible for 99.6% (R295 million) of this amount.

We cannot get to the 2022/23 report from the AG to find it saying similar thing. There has to be a solution to the water and sanitation disaster in the country and we need to see heads roll now.

A soundclip from Dr Ferrial Adam .

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