12 October 2005

1.National Problem

The first question that needs to be asked is what the problem/situation is nationally. This question is important as any local position should be viewed against the national position as background. South Africa as a nation cannot prosper if we have different pockets of well being and destitution. The national problem is well documented and debated. We know that there are vast areas in dire straits and other areas which are relative well off. Also always keep in mind two main issues: The provision of services and the quality of product. The Delmas events clearly underlined that to provide a service is important but it is equally important to ensure the quality of the product.

2. Position in Western Cape

In the Western Cape it is generally known that the scale of the problems is not of the same magnitude as the scale of the problem in other parts of the country. Unfortunately this gives rise to an ignorant attitude amongst many of the more privileged people in tine region. Ignorance towards the problems in the rest of the country as well as ignorance towards the many pockets of great need that stills exists in the Western Cape. We still have places with bucket sanitation systems and many without proper provision of potable drinking water. One very wide problem is the provision of 6m free basic water especially to farm workers. It is something that many people have completely forgotten about and in many instances not even given a second thought.

3. Position of Municipalities

The financial position of Municipalities, as the responsible authorities for the provision of services, and their capacity/ability and or lack thereof provide these services, are increasingly being questioned. In the Western Cape, unfortunately many local authorities are rapidly declining in their abilities to provide a proper service. In addition, their infrastructure is deteriorating fast. The result is that risks are increasing at an alarming rate. Something drastic should be done, and should be done very soon and fast to turn around the trend if major mishaps must be prevented.

4. Where does Overberg Water fit into the picture

Overberg Water compared to other organisations such as Rand Water, is a small organisation and financially not in the same position as these bigger organisations to bring about change. However, Overberg Water is nevertheless in a good position to play a significant role in its region to ensure quality services. Overberg Water has the basic structural and systems infrastructure to provide quality services and to play a supportive role. It operates high quality purification plants, does quality control, distribution, maintenance, water conservation and demand management and other direct services. It can provide training services, occupational health and safety services, water source management and monitoring services and other indirect services. As a matter of fact, Overberg Water is proud of what it does and what it can do.

5. How to address the problem

The inevitable question now that need to be answered, is how the problem can be addressed and what role Overberg Water can play in this process.

In the first instance, Overberg Water should continue to develop itself and to further increase its capacity to provide the required services. The Board of Overberg Water (a new Board has just been appointed by the Minister on 1 October 2005.) should be liberal in this regard.

Unfortunately the above will have financial implications and that will directly affect the tariff for services. Clients and consumers in general and in this case, of Overberg Water, will have to understand and support the idea and to willingly contribute and pay more. A narrow minded or conservative approach can only postpone the inevitable, which will be more expensive and difficult to implement at a later stage. The municipalities (Water Authorities) also will have to understand and support the approach as the process of determination of tariffs is prescribed the by MFMA. This particular principle will be a major challenge fur a mind shift for many consumers and authorities.

Externally comprehensive agreements between the Water Authorities and Overberg Water need to be concluded as a matter of urgency. Overberg Water has provided Draft Agreements to the municipalities in its current areas of service, but here seems to be a reluctancy at the side of the Authorities as in spite of enquiries, there have been no responses. The Draft Agreements were based on the Model Agreement as developed by SALGA and SAAWU together. It must be understood that it will be very difficult to provide a quality service, which by default will require substantial investment, without a proper contract. Apparently one of the stumbling blocks is the fact that the Authorities only want a short term contract, whereas Overberg Water requires longer term contracts to enable it to make financial investments.

Lastly, but also linked to the above mentioned short term agreement, is the whole principle of institutional reform in the water sector for the provision of services. It just has to be sped up dramatically for Water Boards to get clarity of their position in order to take the necessary steps to prepare for service delivery which is not a short term undertaking.

In many respects it comes down to the fact that people must change their attitude and they must be willing to pay more and to look for shortcuts to arrive at the desired destination.