Speech by the Minister of Environment and Water Affairs, Ms Buyelwa Sonjica, at the Gala Dinner of the Drinking Water Quality Conference, Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality
12 May 2009
Director General, Ms Pam Yako
Board members and councillors of the Water Institute of South Africa
Chair of Amatola Water, Ms Nothemba Mlonzi
Ladies and gentlemen
I speak to you tonight filled with gratitude and honour to be part of this historic South African event in my first public official function as the newly appointed Deputy Minister of Environment and Water Affairs, where the first blue drop report is to be released. The Minister and I have worked in the water and environment sector for many years in her capacity as Deputy Minister and as Chair of Mvula Trust. I myself have worked in the water sector in parliament and when I was the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry. I must say, it feels good to be back.
I am thrilled and quite excited for this initiative which my predecessor, Mrs Lindiwe Hendricks launched and championed. I would like to congratulate her on the launch of this campaign and everybody else in this conference for playing their part in ensuring its realisation and achievement.
The Minister and I would like to emphasise the importance of water in sustainable development. Water is central for the achievement of our economic and social development objectives, as well as the nurturing of our ecosystems. South Africa being a water scarce country, it is critical that we do all in our power to ensure that we use water wisely for the current and future generations.
That is the challenge to all of us. We have to raise awareness to all strata of our society, especially through the school children and programmes we can run through the learning institutions.
During the water month, I listened with a great deal of interest to the debates and concerns that were raised around water. I am aware of the many challenges that the sector faces and I have no doubt that the Water for Growth and Development Framework lays the foundation for ensuring water security in terms of both quality and quantity. I believe that the Deputy Minister and I have our work cut out for us and on behalf of both of us; I would like to say that we are up to the challenge and working with all of you as partners, we can do more. We also intend to build on the foundation set by the previous minister.
Given the skills challenges that face the sector, I am encouraged by the content of this report which indicates what is possible in spite of the challenges that we face. If a small town in the middle of the Karoo can manage to obtain blue drop status, it is evident that a mountain of challenges can be shifted if the required passion is available. We have to admit that passion is an extremely valuable ingredient to success. However without the requisite skills it would be rather short-sighted to only depend on passion.
In this regard my department introduced the learning academy two years ago with the objective to identify promising graduates and to harness their skills and prepare them to take up positions within the sector, thus filling the scarce skills gap. We know in South Africa we have a lack of skills in a lot of sectors. I am also aware of some of the initiatives that the sector partners are involved in and I look forward to constructive engagement in this regard.
In 2008 the department and our partners made attempts to address the skills shortage at grass roots level where they hosted a competition, namely the Aqua Enduro, for Grade 11 learners with an interest in mathematics and science. With huge success 71 learners were enticed to take up tertiary study directions that will qualify them for positions in the water sector, where the country is currently experiencing huge skill shortages. The learning academy granted 16 of these learners’ bursaries to fulfil their dream of making a difference in the water sector.
Councillors, municipal managers and managers of water services institutions, your commitment are essential to our country’s success in the sustainable improvement of overall water quality management.
I would like to emphasise this as at the local level that is where we have the most challenges on issues of delivery of services. We are aware that during the previous campaigns we realised the gravity of this challenge.
As I said, the Blue and Green Drop Certification Programme was launched by my predecessor, Minister Hendricks on 11 September 2008 at the Municipal Indaba, and ever since a lot of work was done by DWAF officials engaging with municipal officials to assess water supply and waste water systems across the country in search of those qualifying for recognition of excellence.
The blue drop report should not be regarded as just another document produced by government, but should be deemed as evidence that the department and partners are serious about regulation, serious about our responsibility to improve the manner in which the drinking water of the South African people is being managed. I am impressed by the municipalities’ and institutions’ positive attitude towards the Blue Drop Certification Programme. It was shared with me that most see this process as the opportunity to improve and to reach for the prestigious Blue Drop Award.
This incentive based regulatory approach is a first for South Africa, and internationally regarded as unique in the drinking water quality regulation domain. We admit that we are still in our infancy with this approach and the concept must be further developed towards perfection, to the point where we will share our innovation with the developed world. The regulatory principle of revealing performance is rather new but certainly will ensure that the public at large will have their confidence restored in our tap water quality. It has also ensured that authorities and providers alike upped their game towards higher levels of efficiency over the past six months, since the assessments commenced. This report is now equipping the public to keep the relevant authorities accountable. It is very important that every citizen understands what we are doing here today so that we can raise public awareness and get our citizens to take charge of their own destiny.
A parallel effort is underway for the waste water services, where the green drop report is currently being finalised. The colour green was chosen according to the colour universally used to portray a healthy environment. It thus implies that should a municipality achieve green drop status the public can be assured that the authority is excellently and responsibly managing its waste water services and thus is doing so to the benefit of the environment and the people. Please note that this programme is also an incentive based regulatory approach but is linked to other regulatory initiatives within our department which will include drastic measures when continued failures are recorded.
Based on the results thus far available it can be assumed that the prestigious green drop status is more illusive than the blue drop. However a count of 30 waste water plants qualifying for green drop status is encouraging, proving that excellence is possible.
For too long waste water services was out of the public eye, and this allowed authorities to under-invest in the adequate maintenance and management of this essential service. The green drop certification programme will inform the general public of the excellent as well as inadequate management of waste water services of each service system.
I am pleased to release the first Blue Drop Report and to participate in the handing over of Blue and Green Drop Awards later tonight. We are here to celebrate the efforts of those who excellently perform their duty to provide safe water to the people and to deliver excellent waste water services. I also wish to encourage others who did not make it as yet, to aspire to greater heights of efficiency towards obtaining blue and green drop status in the future. While some authorities and providers are regarded as winners tonight, we can all take pride in that this initiative is making the ordinary man and woman in the street the actual winners, since they are the ultimate beneficiaries of the positive outcomes of the programme.
I would like to reiterate to all of us, that our drinking water is safe. The vast majority of South African people cannot afford bottled water and depend on us to continue providing them with safe tap water. We cannot and shall not fail their trust in us. The question our more affluent citizens should ask themselves is: is it necessary to depend on bottled water when we do receive world class water from our taps?
Ladies and gentlemen, as a last word I would like to quote from the Inaugural Speech of President Zuma when he spoke to the nation and said:
* “for as long as there are South Africans who die from preventable disease
* for as long as there are workers who struggle to feed their families
* for as long as there are communities without clean water, decent shelter or proper sanitation
* for as long as there are rural dwellers unable to make a decent living from the land on which they live
* for as long as there are women who are subjected to discrimination, exploitation or abuse
* for as long as there are children who do not have the means nor the opportunity to receive a decent education
* for as long as there are people who are unable to find work
* we shall not rest, and we dare not falter. “
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Environment and Water Affairs
12 May 2009
Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs
12 May 2009
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