Government Departments agrees with substantive findings and recommendations of the SAHRCs Water and Sanitation Report
ATTENTION: Editors and Reporters
13 June 2013.
Against the background of serious service delivery breakdown in several parts of SA and a perceived lack of government accountability, a defining meeting took place today at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
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At the Commission's National Hearing on Water and Sanitation in March, 2013 on ensuring Government accountability to poor communities, the Commission sent its findings and recommendations based on its 2012 provincial hearings to all relevant Government departments, which were asked to respond with urgency.
The Commission received positive responses from Government Ministers of Health, Human Settlements, DPME, COGTA, Finance and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Today, five departments, including Water Affairs and Basic Education accounted to the Commission Panel chaired by its Deputy Chair, Commissioner Pregs Govender.
Under oath, Director Generals, Special Advisers to Ministers and Directors responded to and agreed with the Commission's key findings and recommendations from 2012 hearings. These findings included the lack of access to water for the poorest communities in the country; the poor quality of water; the lack of sanitation services in informal settlements, poor maintenance of existing facilities, lack of effective monitoring of private companies contracted to provide services and the effect of mining and agri-business activities on water supply.
Census 2011 showed that while access to water and sanitation is improving in the country, this development is not enjoyed by all provinces and districts. The result is that millions of SA's poorest citizens remain without access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.
Departments responded by providing policy responses to systemic challenges as well as practical answers to specific complaints raised during the hearings. After each Government Department's response to the findings and recommendations, Commissioner Govender and co-panelists, Commissioner Danny Titus and Head of Research, Karam Singh, interrogated and further engaged the department submission, in the light of what communities had presented to the Commission in its provincial hearings. Commissioner Titus raised the crucial principle that Government service delivery programmes needed to be congruent with human rights principles.
Government's non-responsiveness to the impact on the rights of women, children and people with disabilities was highlighted, with Commissioner Govender raising the question of what had happened to Government's 1998/99 commitment to ensuring that SA's budget was gender-responsive. She pointed out that despite the positive work reported by the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, a UN periodic review mechanism found that Government still urgently needs to integrate a gender perspective into all its work.
In the Commission’s findings, a comprehensive, inter-governmental collaborative approach to resolving the water and sanitation crisis in schools and communities is needed. The lack of urgency by various provincial government departments and municipalities in responding to the Commission’s requests for plans and reports as well as the lack of inter-governmental co-operation, was raised in the Commission's findings. The Commission recommended a cabinet-level task team to ensure the necessary collaboration, especially with regard to funding and technical support in poor municipalities. In addition, a funding model that allows municipalities to provide the water and sanitation services that citizens are entitled to is required. The DPME’s second report to the Commission committed to providing such technical and financial support to municipalities.The Panel will use Government's submissions in finalizing its Report to Parliament in July this year.
The Commission remains deeply committed to ensuring that people who are poor access their rights to water and sanitation in the country. Since 2009, the Commission has investigated, made findings and ensured action on complaints related to the lack of access to water and sanitation, notably unenclosed toilets in DA-run Makhaza and ANC-run Rammulotsi. The Commission found that both had violated the right of people to dignity, privacy and clean environment.
At present, the Commission has been investigating a number of water and sanitation complaints in provinces across the country. In the Free State, the Commission is monitoring the state of sanitation in the Moqhaka municipality, where complaints of unenclosed toilets were previously received. The Eastern Cape is dealing with water and sanitation-related complaints, which deal with a lack of access to water as well as a lack of access to sanitation. The latter complainant alleges that raw sewerage is spewing out onto the streets of Mthatha.
In Mpumalanga the Commission is dealing with approximately eleven complaints relating to a lack of access to water and sanitation in various districts. In the Western Cape, the Commission has received complaints from community based organisations as well as NGO's such as the Social Justice Coalition. It has recently undertaken an investigation based on complaints from communities in informal settlements in Gugulethu, who allege that they have not received sanitation services since April this year.
These are all ongoing investigations that the Commission is treating with the necessary urgency.
In today's hearing Government departments committed to ensuring using their independent mandates and inter-governmental co-operation to ensure complaints are speedily addressed.
The Commission's report will be tabled in Parliament and will be available to the public. We remain committed to protecting the life and dignity of poor communities and holding Government accountable.
SA Human Rights Commission