Water Shortage SA and Outa call for an independent water regulator

15 January 2020 - 15:58 By Ernest Mabuza
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and Water Shortage SA will engage parliament on their aim to have an independent water regulator for SA.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and Water Shortage SA will engage parliament on their aim to have an independent water regulator for SA.
Image: 123RF/Weerapat Kiatdumrong

SA needs an independent water regulator to help fix the country's national water crisis, say the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and Water Shortage SA.

The organisations said the country's water crisis was characterised by failing municipal infrastructure, lack of long-term planning and implementation, the growing failure of sewage treatment plants across the country and a lack of accountability.

Last year, Outa and Water Shortage SA joined forces to create public awareness and to garner support for the establishment of an independent water regulator.

“Significant progress has been made towards this goal. Both Outa and Water Shortage SA are now moving to the next phase of the project: engaging with parliament to draft and process the necessary legislation,” operations executive at Outa Julius Kleynhans said.

Benoît le Roy, CEO of Water Shortage SA, said it was clear that the water and sanitation department could not be both player and referee - and had failed in its duty of care by ignoring the municipal infrastructure catastrophe by hiding behind the co-operative governance clause of the constitution.

“That specific clause says that one arm of government cannot interfere in the affairs of another tier or sphere of government. 

“In short, had there been an independent water regulator freed of this constraint, then intervention into municipal affairs would have occurred long before municipalities had begun to fail,” Le Roy said.

Kleynhans said the national and provincial governments confused taking action in terms of their oversight duty - such as issuing directives and initiating criminal proceedings against accountable people - with the principle of avoiding legal proceedings in terms of co-operative governance.

“It could never have been the intention of the legislator to prevent an oversight body from exercising its duty by way of excluding legal action but rather to avoid the abuse of litigation and waste of tax monies.

“A regulator should treat criminal actions without fear or favour, thus government officials who negligently pollute our resources should be locked up for criminal contraventions,” Kleynhans said.

The organisations said the National Planning Commission (NPC) had been an enthusiastic supporter of an independent regulator. They said the National Water Security Framework, driven by the NPC, now included the notion of an independent water regulator.

They said the NPC framework informed the national water and sanitation master plan, which was launched by human settlements, water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu in November last year.

This plan listed the establishment of a national water resources and services regulator (as part of the department) but also referred briefly to an independent regulator.

The plan said: “The possibility of an independent economic regulator to regulate tariffs, standards and performance in the water services sector has been proposed.”