Minister for Water Affairs Media Briefing before Budget Speech
12 Apr 2010
The Minister of Water Affairs briefed the media before the Department's budget vote.
Journalist: On the Green Drop Report, a couple of weeks ago, Minister you said the Report was going to be released on the 19th, I see now you say it’s going to be in about two weeks does this mean it’s going to be delayed again? And then, I wonder if you could confirm how much municipalities owe to water boards around the country. I believe the figure is well in excess of a billion rand at the moment and what affect this is having on the water boards’ ability to be able to supply water? And then I’m hearing reports that illegal extraction of water by farmers is one the increase, I wonder if you could confirm is that correct? How much water are farmers extracting illegally?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: Yes indeed I have committed to release the report on the 19th but unfortunately I will be in Canada to attend the major economic forum on climate change and I have to follow up on those meetings given that there’s a strong possibility that South Africa will be hosting COP 17 so that is the reason why we can’t release the report on the 19th and I’m looking at the 28th of April being the nearest date where I can be able to do so. I’m coming back on the 24th and from the 24th I will be hosting Ministers from Brazil, South Africa and India again a Basic Group that will be dealing with matters of climate change. So it’s only because of those commitments that I’m unable to release the report on the 19th but also it was imperative for me to consult with the Minister of Traditional Affairs and Co-operative Governance especially in view of the fact that there is a turnaround strategy that COGTA is dealing with and the content of the report talks to the problems within municipalities. Thanks.
Unknown Speaker (Director General): I’m going to respond to the question of the amount owed by municipalities to water boards, they are owed R1.6bn; currently we have the following process in place to ensure that the problems are addressed. We have regular meetings with National Treasury, South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and affected municipalities and the Provincial Governments and we have put forward some proposal around multi plans to ensure that the money is paid back and we are also assisting to ensure that the grants that we have can assist municipalities in terms of making sure they get the necessary support to put their systems of revenue collection in place and to ensure that they have all the financial systems in place to facilitate effective revenue collection and that we believe would be able to assist us in recovering the debt that is owed by municipalities to water boards. Doctor Ruiters is going to respond to the issue of illegal extraction by the agricultural sector.
Cornelius Ruiters: Illegal water usage is one of the challenges in South Africa and particularly the upper Vaal River. The upper Vaal River is where most of our water coming out of Lesotho that is good quality, flows into. We now have in the Department a dedicated unit dealing with compliance, monitoring and enforcement. In terms of the Vaal system alone there is illegal water use that we have calculated to be 250 cubic meters of water that is illegally abstracted out of the Vaal system alone. This calculation was done over a period of one year. The consequence is that it’s having a direct downstream effect on other water users, if you abstract from one particular component of the catchments, it obviously affects the other water users downstream. There have been many efforts to incorporate directives in cases that exist in terms of illegal water usage. This includes not only the Vaal System but also the Mokolo System, the Berg River System in the Western Cape and the Oliphant River in Mpumalanga. We have had engagements with the agricultural sector regarding this issue not only for ourselves but also for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Journalist: You mentioned the unconventional methods which include desalinisation of seawater in coastal towns, is that coastal towns or is there a particular coastal town you have in mind. It sounds like you have a project already planned or being build?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: Well we have already launched two projects one in the West Coast which was a rehabilitation of an old plant that has been in existence for over twenty years. The second one was in Knysna, not Knysna itself but the Knysna Municipality in Sedgefield. This is the biggest desalinisation plant in the country. So we already have those two projects. I think it’s important technology for South Africa, we have a coastline that is 3000km long and you will appreciate the fact that we don’t have enough water in the country and we are facing a problem of climate change so in future it’s a technology that South Africa will need to help us enhance our water supply, it’s part of our policy and we have already started the implementation phase. Other areas like Nelson Mandela Municipality are also looking at the idea of using desalinisation but we will also encourage municipalities to look at the reuse of water, we have not really started to look at such technology and I think as a water scarce county, it’s technology that we need to move towards. George was already installing the technology, so we are going in that direction.
Journalist: Why does the Department have its own criteria for giving farmers water rights when there’s a BEE charter that caters for BEE compliance regarding water rights? How many jobs or productivity has been lost in the past three years due to the refusal to issue water rights?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: I don’t have the detail of that information unfortunately but I will talk more on principles in relation to the BEE policies. The BEE policy has to be complied with by all South Africans. Firstly, as the Department we have an obligation to ensure that we also comply with this policy. It’s a policy that is meant to redress the situation we find ourselves in so we can’t compromise on that policy but again we have a criteria that has to be met when people apply for water licenses and if people meet those requirements we issue licences. I’m not aware of a situation where jobs have been lost because we have not issued licences the only problem that I know we have in the Department is a huge backlog and it’s because of that backlog that people might have suffered some terrible experience. I’m not aware that we have refused people licences but I know that we have a backlog.
Journalist: The first question just a point of clarity Dr Ruiters, was that 250 million cubic inches or was it metres?
Cornelius Ruiters: We don’t work in South Africa with that old system we are using the International Standard System.
Journalist: Could the Minister just elaborate on the plans for desalination. Is there a plan that says in the next 15- 20 years we would like to see 15% of our water being desalinated water. Could you give more concrete information on these desalination plants? How concerned is the Department/Government on water shortages and do we have sufficient water to supply the needs of the power generating industry? I would like to hear you talk about specific augmentation for the Medupi project, as it is one of several projects planned over the next few decades. Is the amount of water available for cooling towers a big concern, in respect of not just coal but nuclear power if we decide to go that route?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: I wish you could go back to your first question because you ask many questions in one question. I only hear the last one our concern about water availability for energy generation.
Journalist: The initial question was just on a little bit more details on your plans for desalinisation plants we would like to have an additional 30 in the next 20 years and these plants should hopefully provide 15% of South Africa’s total extra water needs.
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: We are busy working on a desalination strategy unfortunately the drought situation overtook that event so the desalinisation strategy is being developed as we speak I’m sure it is almost there in terms of its completion we will release that with the course implication but my view is that desalination must be seen as one of the sources for water supply and the only source for water supply. We are looking at other sources for water supply as I said for reuse of water we need to recycle and that will help us do other things with that water that has been recycled. Grey water for example has to be recycled for reuse that is also another source that we will be looking at. Desalination is a source, ground water is a source, rainwater is also a source therefore it’s a mixture of sources that we are looking at not only desalinisation. If you are going to look at the course effectiveness of desalinisation it will be course effective mainly for the coastal line towns. So I’m saying that we are looking at a number of other sources not only desalination as it can’t be the only option.
We will be concerned about the availability of water for any development, it is our responsibility to ensure that water is available for economic development and growth in our country whether it is for generation of electricity from any source coal, nuclear and that is why in the wisdom of the Department there is now water for growth and development strategy it is for that reason but what is important for us is planning and putting water at the centre of planning for development. The problem is that water has been looked and we have to ensure that there is enough supply for all development that is necessary for the country.
Journalist: Is my interpretation correct that you are concerned that we will not have sufficient water to supply these new generation projects. Is that correct?
Cornelius Ruiters: Can I explain, in particular in terms of what the Minister says, you referred specifically to Medupi and you are talking about the North Western parts of the Limpopo province and that is where most of the coal deposit is in terms of the coal fire power station. We do have at the moment enough water for the electricity generation in South Africa. I am the leader of the task team for South Africa in terms of the phase 2 for the Lesotho Highlands project to make sure in that there is efficient water supply for South Africa out of the Lesotho Highlands water in phase 2. In terms of our negotiation for the Polohani Dam in Lesotho, the augmentation of the Vaal system is to make sure that we do have sufficient supply of water to the Western Highveld to Umhlanga in particular the power station of Eskom there. The Minister announced at the media briefing that the Medupi power station within the Makola system of the Limpopo province is proficient and that we are looking to further augment that system in terms of the Crocodile West Systems. We have to ensure that there is sufficient water for the coal power station in Limpopo. We have not planned only for the Medupi power station itself but there was originally a discussion with Eskom for 6 more power stations within that particular area of Limpopo. You must understand that we have in terms of scenario planning said that there is a whole suite of projects that we look at in terms of energy, particularly now that we have a dedicated team with Eskom and also independent power producers in order to make sure there is a sufficient supply of water for the power generation in South Africa.
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: I think what I was really referring to is the principle that we are obligated as the Department of Water Affairs to ensure that water is available for any development and that will come with us as various Government Departments planning together so that when there will be development especially funded by the public sector. We have to sit together to look at the availability of water for that development. The principal here is giving you the detail even if the area does not have water in our planning we need to decide how we make water available for that development which is our responsibility.
Journalist: The first question is: the money owed to the water boards the R1.6bn,when do you expect that to be paid back to the water boards, I mean is there some kind of deadline time frame and how do you expect the water boards to operate and function without getting the money in ? And secondly you mention special courts there will be 4 special courts where will these courts operate and give us more details on how they will function will they have special prosecutors? How will those works? And just on the Green Drop report, you said that the report will only be reporting on 55% of the water treatment facilities now what is the state of the other 45% of the facilities will you report on those? How does it work if you could just explain to me?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: Well it’s like any survey, a survey will not target all citizens in the country and that is what happened with this investigation that was conducted, it covered 55% of the municipalities and that is what we are saying, can you wait until we release the report and then we will deal with those details. There is a contract between the municipalities and the water boards we really come as an appeal authority and help the water board to recoup its funds from the municipalities because they are service providers for municipalities so that is a contract that the two parties enter in to and it’s quite clear in terms of what is to be recouped when and how. The other question was the courts, the courts will be in four towns we will give you the details but its four towns, I think it’s Free State, Gauteng, Western Cape and Mpumalanga, those four provinces. How they are going to operate they will be dealing with environmental crimes, we are looking at them sitting between special times, you can’t have them fulltime they will operate more or less like the labour courts where they will sit maybe for one day per month, so many hours, we have not yet spoken about the detail about that. This is what I envisage when I asked the courts to come back, what else was there with the court?
Journalist: Will they have special prosecutors, magistrates?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: Yes they will have special prosecutors, they have already been trained, and we have about 200 of those that have been trained.
DG: With regard to the monies owed to water boards I can just indicate in some cases we are able to reach an agreement around the deadlines that is plans on how the municipalities are going to pay for example we have been able with Bloom Water, they were owed R68m and to date we have managed to reduce the money through the interaction to R47m and also with your Bothell Water they were owed R33m to date they are owed R29m so there are cases where you can see there is a reduction of the debt but there are cases where we are struggling and through the negotiations we believe we would be able to reach some consensus around the plans to really pay back the debt but there are municipalities that are willing to come on board but there are others that are struggling but we believe that through co-operation and working together as partners we will be able to get over the whole problem.
Journalist: Recently you gave quite an alarming reply to a parliamentary question about some municipalities in Limpopo who were dumping raw sewerage in the rivers and your Department hauled them over the coals but then you reported they didn’t have the money to fix the problem and so it’s back to square one. I want to relate this to a report of fish dying in rivers around the Kruger Park and the mysterious disease that is threatening to kill the crocodiles, is there a connection?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: It’s a bit difficult for me to say there is a connection or not because some people have disputed that there is a connection, some scientists have disputed that and they were still investigating as to what led to the death of the crocodiles. Indeed there are some municipalities that might not have enough money and there are quite a number of reasons for that you will get sometimes to a municipality and I have one municipality in mind whose budget is R20m the whole budget and the water master plan of that municipality is around R1bn, I mean that is a big joke, surely you will have municipalities that are cash strapped and in their priorities they may not be able to prioritise dealing with the purifying of water before it gets into streams. So that problem is there but the Minister of COGTA in the turnaround strategy is looking at all of those matters. There is a talk about a percentage that should be ring fenced for certain things but I can’t get into the detail of that but I’m saying you are quite right that there are such situations. We as the Department of Water Affairs can’t fold our arms and say the municipality doesn’t have money and not do much when can we do assist in such situations.
Journalist: Minister can you comment specifically on the claims made by your suspended official Sandile Mathe, according to the papers in the Labour Court she says that South Africans will likely pay up to more than 18 times what they pay for water because of the plans for the Department to secure R30bn through commercial banks for new infrastructure projects. Is there any truth to this and can you tell us why she was suspended?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: I’m sure you will appreciate that the matter is with the courts so the matter is sub judice. I will just make three comments on that, firstly it’s unfortunate that an internal matter relating to discipline went out to the public without the internal processes being exhausted. Secondly the Minister does not necessarily interfere on the matter of discipline and insubordination between the manager and his or her officials until and unless there has been an appeal from one of them, sitting here I have not had an appeal from the official concerned, she didn’t even raise the matter with me the first time I learned about the matter it was through ETV. Thirdly I want to allay the fears of South Africans that there is not in the near future a possibility of a hike, it’s not in the pipeline. You will appreciate we are a participatory democracy any matter related to a hike of a water tariff has to go through an extensive consultation starting with the ruling party, alliance partners, with NEDLAC with all of the stakeholders of South Africa, the water users of South Africa must be on board if we are looking at a tariff hike. What is happening in the Department we are looking at our tariff policy because it’s a very fragmented policy so we are changing that policy even that policy will go under extensive scrutiny before we reach consensus and the last place for that policy will be Cabinet so for now the tariff hike is not on the cards.
Journalist: I seem to remember when they built the Berg River Dam they said this extra water supply for Cape Town would last until 2012 which seems a long time away when they were starting but it’s just around the corner. What are the plans for Cape Town’s water supply in the future? As far as I understood they said this would only provide enough water by 2012 by which time the demand would have reached the supply.
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: The details of that will be responded to by Cornelius, just to say we have a national water resource strategy which we are suppose to review every five years it then forces us to monitor the trends for demand and supply in the whole country and then we come up with plans in terms of how we deal with each specific situation so there is that policy in our plans which we try to follow religiously.
Cornelius Ruiters: Thanks Minister, the supply to Cape Town was increased to 18% from that augmentation scheme and we have said that we must look for Cape Town as of 2014 to further augment. Now the Minister spoke already extensively about desalinisation and one of the options for the increase of the supply for Cape Town is desalinisation because that in itself although it would increase the cost of water here, it’s the only viable option that we can look at now. If you look in terms of the augmentations that we have for Cape Town than obviously you have to increase. We are also looking at the Voelvlei Dam to increase water supply, those are the options that we are looking at in Cape Town. The options analysis in terms of the augmentation for Cape Town are under discussion with the City of Cape Town in terms of what are the best option for the desalinisation at the Voelvlei Dam also what it’s going to be in terms of the increase or cost implication for the City of Cape Town. The other option we are looking at is the further augmentation of the Breede River for Cape Town so those are the three main options we looked at and the details of the report in terms of the augmentation schemes for the City of Cape Town is where we have had an in depth discussion with the Planning and Water Division. Thank you.
Journalist: The budget for the Department over the next three years is I think is R8bn, R9.1bn and R9.6bn, given the scale of the challenges your Department is facing in terms of infrastructure breaking down, skills shortages, you are looking at global warming, would it be fair to say that this Budget is totally inadequate and you don’t have enough money to be able to meet the requirements?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: Why don’t I evade that question? Just to say the issue of infrastructure must also be seen to be a matter that should come into the COGTA Budget, especially infrastructure for water supply but Budgets are never adequate and you would appreciate that there are competing interest so all of us would want to see our Budget appreciating. We are making the point is that water is a catalyst to all problems related to poverty, related to development and we are making sure that that matter is appreciated and we hope that will translate into a bigger Budget.
Journalist: The figures I just read out ads up to R27bn/R28bn over the next the three years. In an ideal world if you had to meet all those challenges, how much would you need?
Minister Buyelwa Sonjica: More than a R100bn.
Media briefing ends
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