Twenty-seven years into democracy, it can be said of the public service that while several pockets of excellence exist, we have serious challenges in many government departments with regards to skills, competence and professionalism.
These were the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa in his March 1, 2021 letter to the people of South Africa.
The Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) recognises the importance of a highly competent and professional water sector. In response to a request from the National School of Government (NSG) for submissions, WISA has proposed the development of a set of professional designations that should be made mandatory for senior local and national government officials. These would ensure that government had the competences in place to ensure safe, potable water available when needed as well as wastewater treated so that it can be safely discharged into the environment.
“We know that government, and small municipalities in particular, often appoint individuals who do not have the necessary competencies to manage water and wastewater treatment works as well as the associated reticulation systems,” said Lester Goldman, WISA CEO. “Often they do not have even minimal technical competence, let alone a broader understanding of the services they are supposed to provide.”
Within the water sector, academic knowledge alone is not enough to ensure competency. Services fail, and public health and the environment suffer because those tasked with managing the water system lack not only understanding of technical (engineering, chemistry, and health), financial, legal and administrative issues, but also lack the general management capabilities needed to ensure a safe water system.
“In our submission to the NSG, we indicated WISA’s willingness to develop a Professional Water Services Manager designation which would be a mandatory requirement for the appointment of water service managers,” Goldman explained. “We would also support suitable recognition of prior learning, to ensure that those without academic qualifications are not unfairly prejudiced.”
This would go hand in hand with WISA’s existing Professional Process Controller designation. Both would require peer-designed and sector-supported entry criteria, and lifelong learning through Continual Professional Development.
“WISA has the capacity and the experience and the strong network with key stakeholders that are needed to align tertiary qualifications and continuous professional development” says Goldman. Once the professional designations are recognised by SAQA, relevant Water Services and Public Service Regulations could be amended to require government (and other agencies) that own specific water and sanitation infrastructure to employ staff with the Water Services Manager and Professional Process Controller designations.
“Water has a direct impact on human life and livelihoods. Our communities are counting on us to deliver water that is safe, and to remove waste without adversely impacting the environment and human health. Our constitution enshrines the right to clean, safe water and basic sanitation services. The professionalisation of the water sector will ensure that this need is met.” Goldman concluded. ~