Minister briefing on Water & Forestry Budget and Strategic Plan 2009/10

Water and Sanitation

09 June 2009
Chairperson: Ms M Sotyu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Presentations were made to the Committee by the Directors General of Water Affairs and Forestry, which had now been placed under two separate portfolios. The Minister explained briefly that there would be restructuring, which should be complete by the end of October. The Director General for Water Affairs gave the first presentation giving the overview of the sector, the Department's work and Strategic Plan. The dams in the country were at about 90% of their storage capacity and most of South Africa's water resources were from surface sources. The highest levels of usage were in the agricultural and domestic areas. 91% of households now had access to water. The target for 2014 was to achieve higher levels of delivery and this would be achievable if the current trajectory was maintained, adequate funding was provided and existing infrastructure was maintained. Most of the assets were built during the 1970s and 1980s and  most remained in good condition. Challenges remained in the illegal water use and the fact that municipalities, mining and industry continued to discharge non-compliant effluent. The Department had plans to introduce a diversified water mix and set up delivery of rainwater tanks. The different programmes to improve water quality were outlined.

The Director General for Forestry, then gave a presentation to the Committee on Forestry. She noted that realignment needed to be done. The functions included forestry oversight, sustainable forestry management, fire regulation, enterprise development and securing livelihood in rural areas. The functions were at a national level but staffing and units were in place in all provinces.
There would be some challenges including integration with national and concurrent competencies, IT systems such as service level agreements, support services and alignment of legislation, as well as departmental policies and procedures. The forestry sector covered 1% of the land, and directly employed 76 000 people, with up to 2 million dependent on forestry in the rural setting. Challenges included timber shortages, insufficient research and development and innovation, lack of staff and funding, the regulatory environment and climate change. The key priorities included sustainable resource management, strengthening skills and human resource base, speeding up growth and transformation of economy, creating decent work and sustainable livelihoods, pursuing  international co-operation, and comprehensive rural development related to agrarian reform and food economy. The work of implementation of the Forestry Sector Charter and establishing sector partnerships with the private sector would continue.

Members asked questions about water shortages in deep rural areas, the timetable for distribution of rainwater, why the Forestry vocational colleges had closed down, what interventions were planned for sewerage treatment plants, and what "short" and "medium" term meant, the financing of rentals,  interventions in sewerage treatment plants, and the extent to which mining was polluting water. Other questions related to the transfer to local communities, the criteria for awarding a water licence, cooperation with other institutions, the long term vision for the infrastructure, skills and training, the point of testing if no sanctions followed for those failing the tests, and where the bucket system was still in use.

Meeting report

Ministerial Briefing by Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs
The Chairperson reminded Members that the new Department of Water and Environmental Affairs was now made up of portfolios held by the former departments of Water Affairs and Forestry and Environmental Affairs and Tourism.  However, presentations from Forestry and Water Affairs were being heard today as the old budget and processes were still applicable. 

Hon Buyelwa Sonjica, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, noted her apologies for her inability to attend the meeting the previous day, as she had been in the Eastern Cape attending to deaths resulting from waterborne diseases. She appreciated the role of Parliament in holding the Executive accountable as mandated by the Constitution, and noted that she saw the relationship not as one of conflict but of accountability, and that she looked forward to working together with the Committee. She noted that the restructuring of the Departments would have legal implications and conflict, and that these would need to be resolved.

Departmental briefing on Water Issues
Ms Pam Yako, Director-General: Water Affairs, Department, gave the first presentation to the Committee, providing an overview of the sector, an overview of the Department, and of the Strategic Plan. She noted that her presentation was briefer than the documentation handed out.

She noted that dams countrywide were at about 90% of their storage capacity and that most of South Africa's water resources were from surface sources. The highest levels of usage were in the agricultural and domestic areas. Since 2004, an additional 1.5 million households gained access to water, meaning that 91% of households now had access to water. The target for 2014 was to achieve higher levels of delivery and this would be achievable if the current trajectory was maintained, adequate funding was provided and existing infrastructure was maintained. Backlogs were experienced, mainly in Limpopo, Eastern Cape (EC) and KwaZulu Natal. (KZN)

She noted that most of the assets were built during the 1970s and 1980s and that most remained in good condition.

Challenges remained in the illegal water use in many areas and the fact that municipalities, mining and industry continued to discharge non-compliant effluent.

She said that the Department had plans to introduce a diversified water mix and to set up delivery of rainwater tanks in rural areas. Reconciliation studies would be conducted in most areas to balance demand and supply.

Ms Yako mentioned that there were two different programmes to improve water quality: the River Health programme – which monitored and managed drinking water quality – and the Blue Drop programme, whereby certificates would be issued to towns and municipalities that complied with certain standards of water quality.  Furthermore, a municipal indaba was held last year to look at ways of assisting municipalities, as well as at plans to establish a learning academy to develop skills in the Department.

In the medium term the Department would ensure sustainable and equitable water resources were managed, would work on universal access to safe and affordable basic water, would make attempts to achieve effective infrastructure, would look at African enhancement, international co-operation and development and the creation of a value-driven, effective and responsive department.

She also briefly went over the department’s budget, including revenue and expenditure, noting that the department spent 93% of allocated funds last year.

Departmental Briefing on Forestry Issues
Dr Shibu Rampedi, Director General for Forestry, then gave a presentation to the Committee on Forestry. She noted that as her Department was now being placed under a different portfolio, realignment needed to be done. She said that a departmental task team had been formed to assist in re-alignment and that work towards this was being done at both managerial and technical levels.

She listed the Forestry Department’s functions, which included forestry oversight, sustainable forestry management, fire regulation, enterprise development and securing livelihood in rural areas. The functions were at a national level but staffing and units were in place in all provinces.

The transfer would pose challenges including integration with national and concurrent competencies, IT systems such as service level agreements, support services and alignment of legislation, as well as departmental policies and procedures.

A brief overview of the forestry sector was provided. She noted that it covered 1% of the land, with the largest plantations in KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and Mpumulanga. It directly employed 76 000 people, with up to 2 million dependent on forestry in the rural setting. The sector contributed 170 000 jobs in the forest produce industry.

Challenges faced by the sector included timber shortages, insufficient research and development and innovation, lack of staff and funding, the regulatory environment and climate change.

The statutory and other legal instruments were also listed.

Key priority areas that were identified included sustainable resource management, strengthening skills and human resource base, speeding up growth and transformation of economy, creating decent work and sustainable livelihoods, pursuing African advancement and international co-operation, and comprehensive rural development related to agrarian reform and food economy.

Interventions to address these challenges included support for forestry development and enterprise, implementing the Forestry Sector Charter and establishing sector partnerships with the private sector to address mutual threats such as fires, disease and pests.

Minister Sonjica made a statement before questions were taken from the Committee. On the structuring of the departments, she said that by 30 June all areas conflict and legal implications would have been identified and by 31 October everything would be running smoothly. She indicated that there would be a new Strategic Plan relevant to the new departments and their competencies. She further emphasised the problems presented buy climate change. She noted that there were two Directors -Generals, handling water affairs and environmental affairs respectively.

Discussion
Ms H Ndude (Cope) asked whether the Department had ever undergone a fact finding mission to investigate water shortages in deep rural areas and, if such a mission was planned, when this would be done.

Ms Ndude asked for a time-table of the Department's plan to distribute rainwater collection tanks to households in rural areas.

Ms Ndude asked the Department of Forestry why the vocational forestry colleges had been allowed to close down.

A Member asked a question about the sewerage treatment plants, noting that interventions where required at 70% of them, and wanting to know what interventions were in place.

A Member enquired why 13 officials from the Department of Water Affairs were present today.

The Chairperson pointed out that sending a significant delegation was appropriate for a first meeting but would not be necessary for subsequent meetings.

Mr G Morgan (DA) disagreed, pointing out the carbon footprint that would result from officials flying in from all over South Africa to Cape Town.

A Member noted that the Director General: Water Affairs had referred to R130 million expenses in financing of rentals, noting that this was very large for a government department, and wanted to know what it was being spent on. He added he did not expect the Director-General to know the answer offhand but would require a written answer to be sent in.

A Member wanted to know what was meant by “short and medium” terms, relating to interventions in sewerage treatment plants.

A Member noted that parts of the Free State still used the bucket system, and he wanted to know which towns in particular.

A Member asked to what extent mining was responsible for polluting water, Lastly, he noted there was talk of transfer of forests to local communities and he wanted to know how they would benefit.

Mr Morgan asked what effects mining had on the environmental flow, expanding on the question asked earlier

An ANC Member asked what the criteria were for the awarding of a water licence. He further asked what institutions the Department was currently working with.

A DA member noted that only two water catchment agencies had been formed since 1998, and highlighted the general lack of new infrastructure since the 1980s. He noted that there was a critical shortage and wanted to know what the department’s long term vision for this would be.

An ANC Committee member asked whether there was an intention to prioritise the backlog of 1,2 million people mentioned in the report. Secondly, he wanted to know how municipal monitoring would be conducted to ensure that the obligations were met.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) enquired about the issue of skills and the end for training at local government level.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) asked whether the Learning Academy would provide engineers for local governments.

Ms Lovemore asked what the point of Blue Drops was if municipalities submitted water test reports on a monthly basis, yet consistently failed to meet those requirements without fear of consequences. She pointed to her home municipality of the Nelson Mandela Bay, as an example, stating it had submitted water test results for four or five years, always falling below Blue Drop standards.

Ms Yako listed the towns in the Free State that still used the bucket system and said that the municipalities where this was a problem had been identified. She noted that communities preferred a waterborne system, but that sometimes there just was no water to provide for this.

Dr Rampedi stated that the Department would do whatever it could to support local government working with local and provincial governments, and would also intervene in hospitals, such as in the Free State area. However, she conceded that there was a need for more efficient use of water, and said that the Department was exploring the use of seawater, an option that they had previously not considered

Ms Yako said that there was an ageing problem of infrastructure and 165 dams were being attended to in order of priority.

The meeting was adjourned.

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