A comparative performance approach

Jim Gibs (R) from MBI team, here with Lungi Cele from Ugu Dristrit ­Municipality on the left. (Elvis Ntombela)

Jim Gibs (R) from MBI team, here with Lungi Cele from Ugu Dristrit ­Municipality on the left. (Elvis Ntombela)

It is no secret that South Africa, like many others, is facing a water shortage. In fact, analysts cite water security as one of the biggest economic challenges that face countries today. Even here, the effective management of water resources has been a government priority for some time.

This has led the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), with the support from the Water Research Commission (WRC) and the Institution of Municipal Engineering of Southern Africa (Imesa), to initiate the Municipal Benchmarking Initiative (MBI) in 2011. 

The initiative is aimed at supporting municipalities in improving the efficiency of service in the area of water management. It does so through comparative performance benchmarking and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. 

In essence, this ensures that all municipalities reach a minimum standard of water delivery and the quality of it. At its heart, the MBI aims to create a support network to drive information exchange between peers, in this case the 152 water services authorities (WSAs) that cover the municipalities throughout South Africa.

The importance of the MBI

“Water is vital to human dignity. There is much to celebrate when we look at the progress we have made as a country in the past 20 years. We have registered tremendous -success in giving people access to water (93% of South Africans) and sanitation (74%),” says Xolile George, chief executive of SALGA.

He says that local government plays an essential role in working collaboratively with water and sanitation services to reach as many people as possible. But how do we ensure water security is not compromised?

“We must respond to the reality that not everything is good in terms of water infrastructure and development. We are challenged to provide reliable access to water. We need to create best practice for everyone to share. Enter the MBI,” he says.

According to Dhesigen Naidoo, chief executive of the WRC, benchmarking will be used as a tool to empower local municipalities.

“We are a resource-based economy and therefore it is essential to focus on water services. This results in an increased demand on water than before. Water management leaders use highly informed decision-making. 

“Water is a key development consideration and high levels of science and technology. Infrastructure and innovation form the package to deliver water. Also, we need large pools of skilled talent in this sector. And, we need to instil water use behaviour across all sectors. This ensures the nature of water security inside the water system.”

Moving forward

For SALGA councillor Pinky Moloi, the MBI could not have come at a better time for the country.

“It is evident that we have municipalities performing well and we have ones that require assistance. The eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality has demonstrated how to be the most progressive water utility in Africa. This indicates how municipalities are at work and striving to serve the communities with reliable water services. However, municipalities still face many challenges towards water supply and sanitation services,” he says.

Going forward, SALGA will be a facilitator for the sharing of successful stories among local municipalities. This includes the recent development of a Water Services League that include all WSAs and is -examining the competitiveness of the water services sector in the country.

“The league will promote transparency and accountability. Measurements will be done for all WSAs based on the same set of parameters. However, the league consists of three divisions (premier, first division, and those who require urgent assistance), which results in a differentiated approach recognising the different characteristics of municipalities across the country,” says William Moraka, director of water services at SALGA.

Growing competitiveness

Dr Dino Petrarolo from Competitive Capabilities International, believes that for the MBI to work effectively it needs to include key performance indicators (KPIs) for benchmarking that involve municipalities measuring themselves internally, against their peers and across industries anywhere in the world.

“This cross-industry review is important as the water industry can learn from others such as healthcare and the cleaning efficiency employed at hospitals. 

“But the practices and KPIs need to be standardised to provide a -common measurement so municipalities can learn from one another. This makes learning from other industries much easier and more unified. Benchmarking process needs to be a learning framework that enables collaboration,” he says.

Part of the benchmarking involves a scorecard that includes context data and 31 core performance indicators that cover all elements for the WSAs. 

This scorecard consists of six pillars (water conservation and demand management; human resources and skills development; service delivery and backlogs; -operations and maintenance; -product quality; and financial manage—ment).

“The MBI scorecard, which is produced for every WSA, is an extremely useful management report on the key benchmarking performance indicators of a muni-cipality,” says Makhaya Dungu, -director of technical services at Chris Hani District Municipality.

Frank Stevens, president of Imesa, says people have already benefited from the benchmarking initiative by sharing in best practice and master class skills training.

“But there is still no fast tracking towards pulling skills together and getting qualified people in place in rural areas. Children need to be encouraged to go into maths and science at a young age. It is difficult but not an impossible task.”

However, for Neil Macleod , head of water and sanitation at eThekwini Metro, there are significant challenges to overcome.

“Even if we get young people into the environment, they are frustrated by corruption, general incompetence and other things. Eventually, this results in them become disillusioned and leaving the public sector. Even strong municipalities are struggling to keep their engineers as a result of this,” he says.

Dungu says one of the solutions is to fast track skills training at the municipalities and get new employees integrated into the system as quickly as possible.

“We have 16 towns in our district and need to look at ourselves closely in terms of what we are doing in water affairs before comparing -ourselves against our peers. An important element of this is to ensure that we also have the skills in place to effectively manage water-related issues,” he says. It is clear that local municipalities still face many complex challenges to overcome.

“The answer does not lie in easily identifiable and linear approaches. For example, eThekwini carries out experiments to see what works. This helps to drive innovation in the public sector. Even if skills are created then it will migrate to where it is nicer to live. Especially in rural municipalities where people do not want to live. A different approach is needed and experimentation is required,” says Jim Gibson, engineer at Maluti GSM.

However, it is apparent that many believe the MBI is a step in the right direction for local government.

The contents of these pages have been supplied and/or signed off by SALGA.