Hidden benefits of public private partnerships: the case of water pressure management in Sebokeng

12 January 2011

Many water distribution systems in South Africa are deteriorating due to many years of neglect resulting in a serious maintenance backlog. Recent government legislation has introduced free basic water to all South Africans up to a limit of 6 Kl/month per property which in turn causes certain confusion regarding payment among many residents. These key issues and others have led to serious problems with service delivery specifically in the low income areas where the maintenance has been neglected for more than 30 years in some cases. The potential for support from the Private Sector has been highlighted at the highest levels within government as a possible solution to addressing the existing backlogs despite the fact that there are relatively few successful projects to support this view. This paper presents the results after 30 months of operation of a small scale public private partnership in one of the largest low income areas in South Africa where the Sebokeng/Evaton Pressure Management Project was commissioned in July 2005. The savings both in terms of volume of water saved as well as financial savings to the municipality are impressive and exceed all initial expectations. The most interesting a1spect of the project, however, is not the savings achieved from the installation, but the numerous other additional benefits that have materialised which were not originally anticipated when the project was commissioned. Such benefits, include the identification of many network problems that had been undetected for more than 9 years as well the sudden interest in helping the residents by several government and semi-government organisations. These organisations were unable or unwilling to provide any support to the area prior to the successful Public Private Partnership. The project represents a significant advancement in Public-Private Partnerships (PPP’s) and clearly demonstrates that small scale Public Private Partnerships can be viable despite the general view that this type of project is confined to large scale initiatives due to the effort and expense in developing the PPP type of contract. The paper provides details of the processes involved in setting up and implementing such a project and highlights that the model used by the Project Team to address leakage in Sebokeng and Evaton can be adapted for use in other areas and other applications to improve service delivery throughout South Africa as well as elsewhere in the world where conditions permit. The paper presents the results from the project after the first 30 months of operation and summarises some of the many additional benefits that have arisen from the project.