The topic of this paper is transfer of responsibility for water distribution services from a central governmental agency to local government structures in a northeastern area of South Africa. Responsibility for community water supply is one among many services that are being shifted from the central government to local government. Currently all water supply is under the regulation of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), reformed in July 1994 to include homeland areas. Five local government units Bushbuckridge (North, Midlands, and South), Greater Hazyview, and Nsikazi North are candidates for devolution of authority for water services, when deemed capable of local administration by District Councils and the Provincial Department of Local Government. Hazyview, which was already a township, has retained autonomous status but must incorporate a neighboring area, Ward 2, and expand water services to it.
Three separate but interlinked interventions were agreed to by DWAF and the steering committee for the project:
1. A build-operate-transfer-train (BOTT) program to establish the Bushbuckridge Water Board (now termed the Bushbuckridge Water Board Establishment Program) as bulk supplier. Rand Water was assigned the role of implementing agency.
2. An operations and maintenance project, also assigned to Rand
Water but not yet approved (the proposed business plan is under review), calls for Rand to provide interim operations and maintenance of the existing water treatment plants and boreholes that DWAF currently supervises, pending transfer to a functioning Water Board.
3. An institutional development program (IDP) to provide technical assistance to local government units in the formation of appropriate structures for retail operations of distribution systems (i.e., to households and standposts).
While the first two interventions are assigned to an implementing agent (Rand Water), the IDP has yet to begin funded activity.
Among the factors which affect the potential transfer of water supply to local governmental structures, this report identified the following:
- Most communities do not have reliable water supply service;
- Unauthorized connections to the bulk infrastructure system and to community distribution systems have a significant impact on overall system performance;
- Borehole sources of water are unreliable;
- Incomplete information about the existing bulk water system, community distribution systems, and borehole water supplies hampers planning for system development and for the transfer of authority to the Water Board and local authorities;
- The current poor condition of the overall water supply system will complicate transfer of assets and responsibility to the Water Board and local authorities;
- Current operation, maintenance, and repair programs and practices are not sufficient to maintain the water supply infrastructure to acceptable standards;
- Local authorities, which will ultimately be responsible for water supply provision, are not adequately involved in the planning process.
- Infrastructure development plans do not appear to address citizens desire for household connections;
- The goal of providing a reliable amount of water through the bulk water supply system to all communities is many years away;
- Local authorities do not fully understand important technical issues related to system planning, performance, maintenance, and repair;
- Local authorities currently do not have the capacity to operate, maintain, or repair the facilities which they will become
responsible for; - Division of responsibilities within the DWAF has changed frequently, and the jurisdictional responsibilities between its offices in the Northern Province and Mpumalanga appear to confuse local officials, contractors, and indeed even the DWAF staff;
- While DWAF's policy is to turn over responsibility to local government for water services, it is not clear how long this process will take or the specific mechanisms that will be used to accomplish transfer;
- Local government officials are unclear about how the secondment process for staff transfer to local government will work or about their right to refuse to take on any particular DWAF staff;
- Resources for transfer have not been provided to local governmental structures, and the prospects for income generation are weak;
- Land titling issues complicate the potential for viable local government in the project area; and
- The jurisdictional status of Bushbuckridge as a part of the Northern Province continues to create confusion.
Three potential ways that local government authorities can structure their future water service organization were identified:
a. direct (local) administration model;
b. municipal company model; and
c. contract operations and maintenance model.
No particular model is recommended over another, but the municipal company model may have potential for being the most effective option, given the size of the populations to be served.
The EHP team arrived at the following conclusions about the approach and resources needed to move forward on the transfer of services:
- Local authorities will need assistance in making the transition from the present to their future full responsibility for water
- Transformation will require specific financial and specialized human resources;
- In order to move forward, the problem must be defined as developing capacity for water distribution structures rather
than as generically developing local government or building community capacity;
- The most appropriate organization to support the development of WSOs at any level is the DWAF;
- Relationships among all the key stakeholders are critically important. Roles need to be kept clear throughout the transition;
- The specific strategy for transfer of water distribution to local implementation beyond present efforts; and
- The capacity-building program should be focused on local authorities and community organizations, and the most appropriate skills available locally should be strengthened with assistance from a number of sources.
The goal of the transformation program should be to develop the capacity of future water distribution organizations and community-based water management services in the Bushbuckridge, Greater Hazyview, and Nsikazi North project area. The purpose is to provide improved access to water services for the populations in the project area while improving local capacity for sustainable and participatory management, and ultimately improving the health of the population.