Rand Water: Bonuses keep flowing as the pipes run dry

Executives and managers at Rand Water, the utility responsible for Gauteng’s recent water “not-crisis”, are doing a splendid job – at least by the measure of their salary and bonus increases.

It was not Rand Water’s fault, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane told the country, that Gauteng in recent weeks saw hospitals without water, elderly people struggling to carry heavy containers filled with water from tankers to their homes, and some small businesses grinding to a halt for lack of liquid lubrication. It was a “technical glitch”.

Actually, said Gauteng co-operative governance MEC Jacob Mamabolo, the utility deserves praise for how quickly it acted to normalise supply.

At various levels of government, officials, acting as the clients of Rand Water on behalf of the people of Johannesburg, Pretoria and surrounds, came to the defence of the organisation in various, and sometimes downright disingenuous, ways.

The true culprits were the cable thieves who took down another pump station in the midst of what was never a crisis; closing the valves to some areas did not amount to rationing but was “load shifting” – the sequence of events amount to a “technical glitch”.

Let the public know
Throughout the “not-crisis”, there were only two charges various officials would reluctantly allow could be laid at the door of Rand Water: it could have responded faster to problems at individual pumping stations, and it could have done a better job of communicating with those affected.

That entirely ignores the failure of planning and foresight spread over municipalities, which ultimately deliver water to their residents, and Rand Water, which supplies the bulk water to the municipalities.

Even as the dust still settles, experts are already pointing to a cascading failure in the Gauteng water system caused by a variety of factors, including the failure to:

  • Maintain backup power systems intended for such emergencies;
  • Have sufficient water tankers available to supply residents in an emergency, even after previous outages in small areas proved the requirement;
  • Communicate with municipalities about the situation, and jointly monitor and control water levels in reservoirs;?
  • Prioritise pumping and reservoirs in an orderly fashion; and
  • Let the public know what was going on, and how citizens could help mitigate the problem.

Preventing such failures is the domain of managers paid, in the case of a water utility, to keep the water running.

And indeed, in its latest annual report, Rand Water said it had had the help of a risk committee to “review the arrangements management has implemented for disaster recovery and business continuity organisation-wide”.

RAND WATER’S SUPPLY NETWORK

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Picture: Rand Water

Salary and bonus increases
Measured by way of the salary and bonus increases at Rand Water, those arrangements were of superb quality. In its last financial year Rand Water paid executives and group managers bonuses equal to 70% of their basic salaries.

Bonuses for executives and group managers increased by about one-third, year on year, while their basic salaries increased by just about double the rate of inflation, to make for an average top salary of R1.5-million and an average bonus of just over R1-million.

Bonuses have been showing significant growth at the utility. In 2011 (when it reported bonuses only for executives, and not group managers) bonuses amounted to 30.5% of salaries; in 2012 bonuses were 60% of salaries.

Although Rand Water is measured against a mix of targets that includes a target for no interruption to water supply for more than a day, the target is retroactive; there is no top-level remuneration for preventing outages, or minimising them when they occur.

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Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

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