DA says water boards are in dire straits

The Democratic Alliance has urged Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica to give urgent attention to making regional water boards sustainable.

South Africa’s water infrastructure problems are second only to Eskom’s infrastructure problems, DA spokesperson Gareth Morgan said on Wednesday. The maintenance backlog of existing water infrastructure and building new infrastructure was partly a result of various problems facing the water boards, he said.

R1,1-billion was owed to water boards by municipalities, which was comprised of R630 290 676 of current debt and arrears of R525 632 866.

Water boards are responsible for pulling together water resources within a particular area and ensuring that it was purified and delivered.

Their income was almost exclusively from the sale of water to municipalities.

South Africa has 14 water boards, the majority of which were managed fairly well and had received clean audit reports from the Auditor General in recent years.

But many faced financial strain. The Namakwa and Botshelo water boards, for example, both made significant losses in the 2007/08 financial year.

“To ensure that problems do not escalate further, the minister must place significant attention on making all the water boards sustainable. While there may be an argument in one or two cases to close a particular water board or to merge some water boards, the minister must first and foremost address the lack of payment of funds to water boards by municipalities, as well as find means to tackle infrastructure problems and skills shortages,” Morgan said.

Sonjica should ensure that the National Treasury, which had a mandate to mediate between water boards and municipalities in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act, put pressure on municipalities to pay their debts.

“Indeed, there should be punitive measures taken against municipalities that are tardy in paying.”

Sonjica should make a point of listening to the concerns of water boards in 2010.

One of the most common criticisms by CEOs of water boards that appeared before the portfolio committee in 2009 was that it was exceptionally difficult to engage with the department of water affairs or to get it to respond to issues of concern. – Sapa

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