‘Almost criminal’ – Mchunu slams municipalities for water mismanagement

Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo spoke in Durban Mchunu spoke out sharply against the “embarrassingly dirty” state of South Africa’s rivers, roasting “inactive” municipal officials and denouncing the “criminal” waste of clean water flowing from broken pipelines across the country.

While he acknowledged that many municipalities had been given “huge responsibilities” to provide effective water and sanitation services, Mchunu said they also needed to realize that money would not magically fall from the sky.

Mchunu argued that municipalities were already receiving significant revenue from water services provided to customers, but not enough of this money was being channeled back into the maintenance of vital water and wastewater treatment infrastructure.

Instead, a common municipal refrain was to blame budget shortfalls, while maintenance had not been sufficiently prioritized in many local government budgets.

Instead of allocating sufficient water supply revenues to infrastructure renewal or maintenance, this money often went “to salaries and other items” and insufficient water supply revenues were set aside for operations, maintenance and upgrades.

mchunu municipalities water

Selina Lekgau gets water from a broken tap in Marulaneng, Limpopo, after spending the night waiting for water from a leaking pipe to fill a hole. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)

“This (situation) is not new. It stems from the way we have allowed things to deteriorate… Our rivers are shamefully polluted… We are a water-scarce country, but we still have just enough water – provided municipalities stop leaking water as they are doing now .”

Speaking in Durban on Wednesday at a meeting to launch four new power management agencies, Mchunu noted that at least 46% of the city’s water would be wasted through pipeline leaks (while the “non-revenue water” bill is currently around 56% lies). % in eThekwini municipality).

Read more in Daily Maverick: Billions are lost in the revenues of major cities in South Africa as 40% of treated water is lost due to leaking pipes

‘Someone needs to be arrested’

“It’s almost criminal – and when I return (as Minister of Water and Sanitation in the new government), I will be very tough on municipalities. You can’t keep walking through streets where rivers of clean water are being lost. Someone needs to be arrested. I’m not threatening, just making a statement.”

Too often, he suggested, officials and staff responsible for water and sanitation were not “cut out” to do what was needed.

This situation reminded him of an image he had seen of two cartoon characters with a speech bubble that read, “Sometimes I just sit and think… and sometimes I just sit.”

“We see in some municipalities that staffing levels are just tight – and we need to correct that.”

Mchunu, who was appointed as National Minister of Water and Sanitation in August 2021 and has been praised in several quarters for re-introducing the national Blue Drop and Green Drop performance monitoring programs and other initiatives to improve service delivery, suggested that his portfolio longer as a “retirement home for politicians”.

“Our department has not been functional in the past – that era is gone forever,” he claimed.

mchunu municipalities water

Motorists drive through water leaks along Mphuti Street in Soweto, Johannesburg on July 8, 2021. (Photo: Fani Mahuntsi / Gallo Images)

Although several vacant senior civil servant positions in his department had been filled, there was still a need for all employees to “embrace the culture of doing things today – not tomorrow”.

Mchunu also announced the long-delayed establishment of four new River Basin Management Agencies (CMAs) to improve water management at the local level.

The four new CMAs (Pongola-Umzimkulu, Vaal-Orange, Mzimvubu-Tsitsikamma and Limpopo-Olifants) will report directly to Mchunu through boards representing a variety of interest groups.

According to his department, the agencies were established to “improve decentralized decision-making in water resources management, in an integrated manner at the local level.”

Critical report

However, in a critical report to the Water Research Commission four years ago, researcher Victor Munnik noted that CMAs had been on the drawing board since 1998.

The original plan was to establish 19 such agencies nationwide, but by 2020 only two CMAs had been established and in 2012 the government announced its decision to reduce the number to just nine agencies.

Munnik then said that “after granting a list of delegated powers to the two existing CMAs in January 2015, the then Minister of Water and Sanitation had withdrawn some of the powers mandated to the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency and Breede -Gouritz Catchment. Management office.

“In 2017, the DWS (Department of Water and Sanitation) announced that it had decided to establish one CMA. This was met with shock and raised questions about the government’s commitment to a CMA system. In 2018, the new Minister, Mr Gugile Nkwinti, announced that the establishment of nine CMAs would now proceed.”

Munnik said his research had revealed many explanations for the delays, some political, some administrative and some economic.

At the time, Munnik suggested that the principle of decentralization may not have been accepted by the ruling party, while there was also high political turnover and a lack of understanding at ministerial and top functional levels about the principles of integrated water harvesting management.

There was also a lack of strong DWS leadership and clear communication with internal and external stakeholders, with several unions viewing such agencies as a form of privatization

According to Munnik, state capture in the water sector had also delayed the establishment of CMAs and stricter regulations in the water sector, while some senior officials in the department appeared to fear that their role would shrink. DM