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Wanted: A Nersa for water

‘Certainty will unlock much-needed investment’.
South Africa is a water-scarce country, yet municipalities lose about 37% of their water due to leakages. Picture: Shutterstock

In the face of the department of water and sanitation’s failure to properly manage the country’s water resources, two civil society organisations have teamed up to have an independent regulator for water established.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and Water Shortage South Africa (WSSA) on Thursday announced that they have established a steering committee to engage stakeholders including government over the next two years in an effort to, among other things, depoliticise water.

Read: The Guptas, Steinhoff and the Cape Town water crisis

After that they envisage a legislative process to establish the independent water regulator, akin to the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) Act for regulating electricity.

According to Yamkela Ntola, portfolio manager for water and sanitation at Outa, the department of water and sanitation is currently battling to fulfil its mandate.

This is evidenced by the fact that the Blue Drop and Green Drop reports about water quality have not been published since 2014. The pollution of the Vaal River by untreated sewage discharge is well documented and is currently being investigated by the Human Rights Commission.

Water pricing is unregulated and often fails to bear any relation to the cost structures. Agriculture battles to access enough water of the required quality for irrigation, which can compromise food production, while municipalities lose about 37% of their water due to leakages.

Read: After Cape Town, more African cities face water crisis

Notla says an independent regulator would be in a position to remove politics from water management and address these gaps.

Investment needed

According to WSSA CEO Benoit Le Roy, South Africa needs R1 trillion of investment in water infrastructure.

Private sector investors are however unwilling to put their money in an industry where regulatory and policy uncertainty is rampant and pricing unpredictable.

He says an independent regulator could unlock such investments by bringing certainty. This could result in public private partnerships (PPPs) where companies invest in infrastructure on the basis of a contract with, for example, municipalities to supply clean water for the next 20 years, much like the independent power producer contracts negotiated by the department of energy and approved by Nersa.

Le Roy says it is relatively easy to protect drinking water in South Africa in terms of the Constitution and legislation that has nationalised water since 1998. The bigger challenge is the water that supports jobs and food production, he says. In fact, 63% of the country’s water is used for food production.

Outa and WSSA say the funding of the regulator will be determined at a later stage, but it could be through a small levy and topped up by the fiscus.

The steering committee is led by Ntola and Le Roy, with the additional members being Professor Anthony Turton from the University of the Free State Centre for Environmental Management, specialist water consultant and engineer Helgard Muller and mine water specialist William Pulles.

Read:

Toxic rivers are poisoning the fruits of democracy

Water: Cyril needs to lead battle for survival

Some of Africa’s most expensive real estate has a water problem

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South Africa most definitely does not want a Nersa for water. In fact, we don’t want a Nersa for energy (electricity) either. Why – you may ask?
Simple really, Nersa is dysfunctional to the point where we would be much, much better off without it. Like every other government commission, authority, regulator, tribunal, department – you name it. Stacked to the gunnels with deployed cadres who are there to draw salary, definitely not perform any useful function or apply what passes for judgement.

If the Department of Water and Sanitation simply did its job, there would be no need for any steering committee or NGO or whatever to exist. Again, much like with every other government department. Fix the DWS. Fire everybody, from the Minister down to the cleaners. Appoint only qualified and experienced people and hold everybody accountable at every level of the organisation.

Oh wait, silly me. I forgot … the brutal socialist kleptocracy is still in charge.

“NERSA for roads = E tolls”….so yes a totally dysfunctional concept in a totally dysfunctional country.

Well put – we need another regulator with a multi million Rand budget and jobs for the cadres, like a hole in the head (as the saying goes)!!!

All forms of government, and everything owned and managed by government is an enormous tax on efficiency. The incompetence, stupidity, immaturity, greed and negligence of each and every ANC deployee is a tax on the efficiency of service delivery. If you raise the level of oversight or regulation, if you add another level of incompetence, the tax on efficiency will rise. It is clear that we need less of government, not more. The only solution to the problem of decaying and destroyed infrastructure is the free market. The free market is efficient and works in its own interest to satisfy the needs consumer at the lowest possible cost. It is not as if we have any alternatives really. The status quo is imploding like the Twin Towers.

Most farms in South Africa do not have access to municipal water, sanitation and refuse removal, yet these services are in much better shape on the farms than in most towns, because entrepreneurs take responsibility for their own position. Things work wherever government is not involved, and fall apart where it is involved. The cold truth is that we provide all services to ourselves anyway. At the moment we use government entities as intermediaries to act on our behalf. We fund them and we are supposed to elect the officials. Well it is time to cut them off like a drug-addicted child. We cannot afford to enable the criminality and the incompetence any longer.

That is what we do when we pay our taxes and “invest” in government bonds. We enable incompetence and looting.

100% The DA is as guilty of increasing the regulatory burden on business as the ANC.

For example, instead of reducing red tape the Western Cape provincial government has whole department called the Red Tale Reduction Unit.

Another example: To rezone a property for business use in Cape Town takes at least six months apart from a possible appeal, which is another six months. And if successful the owner is granted a “temporary departure”, meaning the whole process must be repeated. Madness

DA performance in Johannesburg is abysmal, some rate-paying suburbs wait more than a week to have refuse removed. Unplanned power/water failures and sewerage spillovers are common.

They spend their life bragging about CBD renewal and ignore paying customers.

Let’s give the DA their own Day 0 at the polls.

Another useless “Nersa” which obviously will be ‘funded’ by the taxpayer. This so-called “Nersa” will just be another puppeteer for the corrupt Government. Outa and WSSA the taxpayers have had it with being taken to the cleaners!!!!!!!!

to be honest, I don’t think there is any more money left to be stolen.

The problem is much deeper rooted. Creating another ‘Nersa’ is nothing short of being bandaid on a brain tumour. The problem in the SA government is a total absence of leadership. The ANC is and always will be, a revolutionary movement completely and utterly inept at governance. The revolutionary mindset is structured around destabilisation and destruction in order to bring about a change which the movement believes in. Once change takes place, it takes a completely different mindset to build prosperity and a functional cohesive society. This requires skill, understanding, knowledge, entrepreneurship, tenacity, fortitide, compassion and a host of other attributes, none of which the ANC possesses. Collectively, this amounts to leadership.

As somebody with 34 years experience in the water sector, I support this idea. Regulation is supposed to be one of DWS’ core functions, but it is not good at it, at all. A Chapter 9 type organisation is needed which has an arm’s length relationship with DWS. It works like this in many other countries, and works well. I wouldn’t dismiss Nersa’s contribution out of hand either (as per some of the other comments). Having worked on a proposed hydroelectric project I have read some of Nersa’s assessments of Eskom’s increases for price increases and it seems to me like they really know what they are doing. Two of the names on the proposed steering committee for this water regulator (which btw I very much doubt the current government would agree to establish) are quite well known in the water sector. Helgard Muller, an ex Chief Director at DWS, is very well respected, knows a lot about regulation both in SA and outside. Anthony Turton is outspoken and controversial, but he has a tendency to shoot from the hip.

Let Muller and Turton run DWS and put the cadres in Nersa out of harms way.

How about better governance and less regulation instead?

While in principal it is a good idea, using Nersa as a model is not the way to go. In an industry that has only one supplier, having a regulator is a farce. If there were competing suppliers, like they have in other countries, then it would make sense, but in the case of the Eskom monopoly, all that Nersa is is a big rubber stamp.
Hopefully we will get to the stage where Eskom gets split up, and there are a number of competitive suppliers, who know that if they load shed you, they will lose all their customers.
I wonder if anyone can do a study on how much GDP growth, and resulting jobs would be created if only the water and electricity infrastructure ran efficiently. My guess is it would be huge.

“I think we should the salmon darling” said Mrs Astor on board the Titanic on the evening of 14 April 1912

End of comments.

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