Department of Water and Environmental Affairs on the Green Drops Certification Report
28 Apr 2010
The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs highlighted the challenges that it would faced as a result of its findings in the Green Drop Report.
Q: Could Mr Manus introduce himself and tell us his position as well as spell out his name for us please?
A: Mr Mavuso Scott replied that Mr Manus was the Deputy Director for Water Services and Regulation in the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs.
Q: How was the figure of 53% assessed and how was the selection process conducted for those municipalities that participated?
A: Mr Manus replied that municipalities were required to avail themselves as far as waste-water management services were concerned. There were municipalities that were unprepared and thus it was not possible for the Department to perform assessments. The risk criterion was aimed at ensuring that there was some sort of uniform profile to determine what had to be done.
Q: Before the Minister left for Washington she said that she wanted to share the report’s results with Minister Shiceka of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA); I would like to know if she did so and what are his opinions on the report? I was wondering if we could have the results of the risk assessment that was done after 53% of the municipalities participated in the Green Drop Certification Report.
A: The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Buyelwa Sonjica said that Minister Shiceka was not content with the current state of affairs and he was ready to work with the Department in combating the problem. The plan that the Department would put out would be inclusive of Minister Shiceka. COGTA had a turn around strategy that also included the Department. Both Departments had plans and they would work together to redress the state of water affairs in the country.
A: Mr Manus added that the risk assessments comprised scientific information, and that the Department would consider how to make it available at a later stage.
Q: The report refers to 7500 mega litres of waste water which is treated at plants around the country each day. It also states that the bulk of the plants can be described as poor to non functional. My question is how much of this 7500 mega litres of water is being discharged illegally into the environment and how many municipalities have been formally charged because a lot of them are clearly in contravention of the Water Act and various other Acts. How many are being prosecuted? Mr Manus, you said that you aim to turn business around instead of focusing on litigation, there are numerous municipalities discharging billions of human waste into the environment. Why are you not prosecuting these municipalities?
A: The Minister replied that the Department had brought charges against two municipalities. One was in the North West province in the town of Madibeng and the other was in the Free State province in the town of Batshabane. The Department had also issued directives, 400 had been issued against the guilty institutions and there were 11 pending cases. The Department was performing its regulatory function. The Department could follow the legal route of either instituting legal charges or issuing directives. The Department wanted to rectify problems and not exacerbate them.
A: Mr Manus added that the main challenge was that the micro-sized plants were inadequately designed and could therefore not keep up with the growing demand. The plants were operating at a level where the Department was satisfied with the quality of effluent that was discharged.
Q: The Municipalities in the Berg River area had not been adhering to the Water Act; will you be prosecuting these Municipalities?
A: Mr Manus replied that municipalities in the Berg River area had been issued with directives by the Western Cape regional office. The municipalities had opted to work with the Department to identify their own areas of risk. They had come up with their own risk abatement structures and plans. The Department also sought to rectify the problem and not exacerbate it.
Q: I want to move away from the focus of non-compliant municipalities and focus on commending those that do comply. What makes those municipalities, which do comply, excellent?
A: The Minister replied that the municipalities that had excelled were those that had a strong revenue base, were able to employ and retain the necessary skills, pay attention to operations and maintenance and had the necessary capacity
Q: Given that 56% of municipal sewerage works score less than 50% on the Department’s rating, was the Minister of the view that treatment plants in South Africa were facing a crisis? Would there not be more plants that would score less if the Department had assessed the other 50%? Given that the Department was taking legal action and issuing directives against non-complying municipalities, what of those that the Department had not assessed because they were virtually collapsing? Is the root cause of the problem down to lack of skills, awareness or just poor management? Against whom did the Department take legal action?
A: The Minister replied that there was reason for concern but the Department had not reached a crisis level. A level of crisis would be where there was an outbreak of water born diseases. The Department was not at this stage nor would it be in the future. In some instances it was municipal managers that were prosecuted but it depended on who was the accounting officer in a particular municipality. The Department had targeted the municipalities and the municipal managers.
A: Mr Manus added that the risk-based assessment revealed that 46% of municipalities were priority cases. The 37% who simply could not be assessed were classified as being an even more serious priority group. The Department was looking to improve and have a 100% assessment across the board next time
Q: I would like to commend the Minister for this undertaking by the Department and the report that has come out of it. What was going to be done to assess the other municipalities and is there a possibility that this whole process can be reviewed, as we know that the municipalities assessed themselves as well? Has Emfuleni Municipality been issued with directives as currently it has just lost four cases against non-governmental organisations that have taken it to court?
A: The Minister replied that the Department had not considered a review, as the process was conducted transparently. The Department could look at a third party review mechanism.
A: An official from the Department mentioned that the Department had lodged a case with the National Prosecuting Authority and was awaiting a court date.
Q: What form is the litigation, is it in the form of a fine or suspension perhaps? Have you quantified how much it is going to cost to turn the situation around? One of the strategies was to recall retirees, how many have actually come back and what were the incentives?
A: The Department had not prescribed the form of litigation, the courts decided on the punishment. It was difficult to convince retired engineers to go to rural areas; the question on retirees was too detailed and hence difficult to answer at this stage. The Department needed R23 billion to correct the problem.
Q: How often would this process be repeated?
A: The Minister replied that the Green Drop Certification Programme was an annual programme as it was a regulatory tool. It provided an opportunity of assessing the municipalities strictly.
Q: Sonnieshoff is a small area that had experienced lots of problems and decided to take its own initiative and it seemed like it wanted to help the community by doing its own stuff. Instead of embracing this, the government has taken residents to court over non-paid taxes and infringement of the municipalities’ duties. It seemed like some communities wanted to get involved but the government is saying that this will only happen on our terms.
A: The Minister replied that it was difficult to respond to this issue, as the facts were unknown to her. Such situations would be a cause for concern. All help was welcome. It should be said that a specific municipality did not want residents to be involved and not the government.
Q: How long has the Department known of the looming waste-water problem, you must have had some sort of indication over the years of a crisis in the near future? How many engineers do you need to turn the situation around? Where are the treatments that scored below 55% situated? Are they mainly in rural areas or small towns and in which provinces?
A: The Minister replied that she had been an incumbent for only a year and it would be wrong to say that she should have known about this problem. There were many stakeholders involved within the Department; this was municipalities, COGTA as well as policies and strategies from COGTA.
A: Mr Manus indicated that it was not just engineers that were needed but technocratic individuals as well. Scientists and Process Controllers were also required. There were municipalities that did not have any technical skills. There were micro plants that needed to be assessed but one needed to do further assessments to find out if the problem was rural or urban based.
Q: Who assesses the risks and was it scientifically done? What risks are you assessing?
A: Mr Manus said that the four areas of risk had been scientifically formulated with regards to size of the treatment plant, whether there was any excess, the required skills and the effluent quality. The risk rating was being developed further.
Q: How is the R23 billion going to be procured, what’s the plan? What is going to happen with the small low revenue based municipalities? Why would infrastructure not be included in the assessment, how does one separate infrastructure from a risk based assessment?
A: Mr Manus replied that the infrastructure was not being excluded at all. The performance of the treatment works was of importance and infrastructural assessments would be carried out in the next round.
A: The Minister added that the Department had considered the costing that was involved with the municipalities it had assessed. The Department would work with Treasury to identify hotspots that required urgent attention.
Q: Since there was an outbreak in cholera last year does that means we are in a crisis then? The Department has a legal obligation to make people aware of risks downstream. Will a report on the eco levels of certain streams be released, if so when and if not is there a process to allow people down stream to be made aware of the risks to their health.
A: The Minister replied that identifying a problem and finding an immediate solution was what the government had to do. When everybody was sick in the country one would say that there was a crisis. The Department was doing everything in its power to avoid a crisis.
Q: Could you highlight what the alternative technologies could be?
A: Mr Manus said that the Department was working on a Green Drop System that would be released later.
Q: Have the assessment for this year started and when can we expect the report to be handed over?
A: Mr Manus confirmed that the assessments have started even though it’s later than normal.
Media Briefing Adjourned
Statement by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs
Ms Buyelwa Sonjica ‐ release of the Green Drop Report
Date: 29 April 2010
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen
Let me begin by expressing my disappointment over the leaking of this report to the press and others, despite the fact that I said previously the reason for the delay in its release is the fact that we are in consultation with various affected stakeholders including the municipalities themselves. This is in order to seek consensus on an action plan to address the problems that exist and to look at the resource requirements.
This report is an initiative of the Department of Water Affairs. It is also a globally unique approach to incentivise local government in order to improve waste services.
Over the past few months following the completion of the report, my department has been accused of being part of some kind of cover up and sweeping the report under the carpet because its contents are not pleasing. This is not at all true. We are committed to ensuring sound intergovernmental relations as such the consultations I have referred to are essential.
It must however be noted that since the completion of the Green Drop report in 2009 and even before that my Department has not rested on its laurels but has been engaged in various waste water turnaround initiatives and there are ongoing efforts to improve the current situation. Our intention as regulator of the water sector is to put things right by supporting where we can, hence the reason for extensive consultations.
I pointed out that the department engaged in various waste water turnaround initiatives some of these include:
The Department participating in the joint process between National Treasury and relevant Departments to formulate the Bulk Infrastructure and Refurbishment Grant (which is to include funds for waste water treatment infrastructure improvements)
Partnering with the Siyenza Manje Project administered by the Development bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to get retired engineers to municipalities where no technical skills are employed;
Obtaining assistance from United Kingdom waste water specialist to assist with improvements for at least 6 Water Services Authorities;
Providing all 162 Water Services Authorities (municipalities) with waste water risk profiles for structured planning informing the Integrated Development Planning (IDP) processes;
Initiating litigation where the regulatory process was found to be unsuccessful;
I want to state clearly that we acknowledge the shortcomings in the management of Waste Water Treatment Works as revealed by this report. These assessments were done in order to help struggling local authorities to better manage their treatment works and to incentivise those who have done well.
The main objective of this regulation approach is to create a target for waste water management excellence which has been set at 90% compliance with the stringent criteria set. I am encouraged by the fact that this programme forced the management of waste water treatment into the foreground of many municipal discussions since it was for far too long neglected, under‐funded and under‐maintained.
Yes, the findings of the inaugural Green Drop Report are certainly not favorable but all is not lost. The report confirms the need for improvement of waste water services, and requires pioneering initiatives that would result in sustainable turn around. I must also mention that the upgrading of waste water treatment works is already a priority of government and forms part of its program of action.
My department is fully supportive of the Local Government Turnaround Strategy facilitated by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. This process will remain one of the key stimulators of sustainable change in the management of waste water services in the country.
An important fact to remember is that this report is only reflecting on 53% of waste water treatment facilities in the country, we therefore introduced a risk‐based assessment which was conducted over the second half of 2009. This report equipped the department with a complete view on the status of the entire municipal waste water infrastructure. It largely correlates with the findings of the Green Drop report but also provides tangible yet practical risk abatement targets towards sustainable turn around.
The risk based exercise provided all municipalities with site specific analysis of their waste water treatment business in terms of Effluent Quality, Treatment Capacity vs. Operational Volumes and Process Controlling Skills. Many municipalities were empowered by this process to do effective planning towards more efficient waste water management.
I now turn to the finding of the 2009 Green Drop assessments. The report revealed that out of the 449 treatment plants assessed, 7% of these were classified as excellently managed, 38 % scored between 50% and 89 % measured against the stringent set
criteria, this means that these systems performed within acceptable standards. Thus a total of 45% of systems performed within acceptable standards. This implies that in spite of all the evident shortcomings, the sector is not in complete disrepair.
I am however concerned about the remaining 55% of the assessed waste water treatment works that scored below 50%.
As I stated earlier some of our municipalities face many challenges, these include: the fact that some treatment works were not designed to serve previously disadvantaged communities, a lack of adequate funding for operations and maintenance, skills shortages and insufficient attention given to maintenance by municipalities.
We should all be encouraged by the excellent Green Drop performances of municipalities such as:
Mbombela Local Municipality,
City of Tshwane
City of Cape Town
City of Johannesburg and
George Local Municipality;
These municipalities have shown that excellent waste water services management is a possibility which should serve as the motivation for other municipalities.
I want to conclude by saying we are committed to doing all within our power to ensure a turnaround in the general state of the waste water treatment works in our country.
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