Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, on Tuesday said that South Africa needs to invest R670 bn in water and sanitation infrastructure over the next decade and that more than half of the required investment will have to come from the private sector. The message remains the same: we have to involve the private sector. But is government serious about involving the private sector?
One would assume that the majority of the water and sanitation infrastructure referred to by Minister Molewa will reside at local municipalities as the relevant water services authorities. The same local municipalities who are facing severe challenges with regard to their capacity, sustainability and service delivery. The question may therefore be asked whether it is responsible to leave this up to the local municipalities. My answer is a resounding ‘yes’! – on condition that we use the opportunity to create capacitated, functioning and sustainable local authorities on the back of large scale infrastructure projects. This can definitely be done with the assistance of and in partnership with the private sector.
But is government really ready for the private sector to become involved? The private sector will typically require and enforce best practice in the areas such as planning, operation and maintenance, cost recovery, tariff structures, good governance, etc. But this is nothing new. This is how things are supposed to be done, isn’t it? To me it seems that it is this very requirement that often leads to a break-down in the involvement of the private sector.
Minister Molewa, why doesn’t the Department of Water Affairs identify a project and create the opportunities to involve the private sector in this project? Let’s work together under the leadership of your Department and create a success story and recipe which can be used on other projects. We have the ‘will’, let’s create the ‘way’.
In our Friday blog we explored the question of “decent” Free-ways and appropriate Levels-of-Service (“LOS”).
Lets briefly look at history. The level of service concept was first developed for Free-ways in an era of rapid expansion in the use and availability of private transport. The primary concern was congestion (and its impact on a country’s economy). It was commonly held that only the rapid expansion of the Free-way network would keep congestion in check. Road or Free-way LOS were therefore defined as :
B=Reasonably free flowing
D=Approaching unstable flow
F=Forced or breakdown flow
The damage caused to a country’s economy as a result of unstable flow (congestion) on (especially) key roads is obvious to all.
Its clear that an appropriate LOS stretches far beyond the issue of surface quality or lane width, and is in essence connected to economic growth and prosperity of a country. So the question really should be: “Do we want economic growth?”
The Emalahleni Local Municipality was placed under administration by the Mpumalanga Provincial Government. About time, many would say. Having grown up in Witbank it was sad to see the city and its services deteriorate over the past two decades. And deteriorate it did: raw sewerage running into the Witbank dam, constant water and electricity interruptions, dirty water, potholes, and the list goes on.
But where does one even start with remedying these problems to restore the living conditions of the residents of Emalahleni? I take my hat off to the administrator Mr Theo van Vuuren, who has taken up the challenge to start righting the wrongs. Mr Van Vuuren indicated in an interview with a radio station this morning that there are short term interventions which he and his team are working on which will have an immediate impact, and that there are also longer term interventions which will form part of a proposed turnaround strategy. He further indicated that the growth exceeded the resource base in recent years to such an extent that it will require more than R1 billion to address just the water challenges in the municipality!
I want to pose the question: is that not exactly where one should start? To strengthen the municipality’s asset base and ensure the medium and long term sustainability of the municipality through a comprehensive ‘infrastructure led’ turnaround strategy. An infrastructure led turnaround strategy focused on addressing and improving the ‘municipal business’ and returning the Emalahleni municipality to its rightful status as a well-functioning and model municipality.
Yesterday, News24 quoted the Democratic Alliance (“DA”) as saying it was leading the fight against tolls around the country because “citizens should not have to pay more than was necessary to have decent roads.” Sounds alright doesn’t it? But here is the thing: what is a decent road? Does “decent” refer to the quality of the surface of the road? Yes, it surely does, but that is certainly not all that one should look at. Take the N1 (Ben Schoeman) highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg a couple of years ago. Then it was a 3-lane highway each way with a sound surface – seemingly a decent road in the language of the DA. But then it would take you on average more than 90 minutes to travel the 50 odd km’s if you were lucky not to hit a snag. That simply wasn’t a decent road in anyone’s language.
So let us clear this up once and for all. We do not want decent roads! What we want is a decent level-of-service on our roads! Can the DA please take note that there is a huge difference between these two concepts. Next week we will spend some time on this blog to discuss how the level-of-service on a road is defined. In the meantime, suffice it to say that if you spend three or four hours a day trying to get into or out of Cape Town on the N1 or N2 (the routes that SANRAL is proposing to toll and upgrade) then that is not an acceptable level-of-service. So why is the DA going to court to stop this? More on this next week.