Support provided to local government by Department of Water & Environmental Affairs

Water and Sanitation

25 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms M Sotyu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The National Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA) presented an outline of its role, functional areas, institutional arrangements, role of local government and planned interventions into water matters. Since 1994 the Department had gradually transferred water service delivery to the municipalities, so that local government could provide services whilst the Department could focus on strong sector leadership, policy and strategy development, water security, partnerships, regulation and information. It presently supported the sector, requiring local government to meet the regulatory requirements. Those municipalities accredited as Water Service Authorities received support in various areas. Electronic Water Quality Management Systems were in place and also enabled reporting on waste water. Four key risk areas were identified for waste water treatment works, while Blue Drop and Green Drop certificates assess the quality management of drinking water. Spot checks were carried out and the Department assisted targeted municipalities to comply. The Department would continue to manage the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Fund for Water Services, to deal with ageing waste water treatment plants and to collaborate with Development Bank of Southern Africa. Water Boards would be reconfigured to respond better to the provincial boundary alignment.

Provincial heads of Water Departments in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape then gave detailed presentation on the support they provided to their local municipalities. Free State outlined the nature, support to and achievements of its Water Service Authorities, and described what the municipal infrastructure grant funded and how it was monitored. The Water User Association Forum discussed whether Water Boards could manage services in regions outside the Departments’ contracts. Operation Hlasela and other infrastructure development projects were outlined. Specific challenges related to refurbishment of treatment plants and lack of funding for infrastructure and emergency work to address hotspots and drought stricken towns, as well as lack of proper planning by the Water Service Authorities.

North West reported that its province contained insufficient bulk infrastructure, which impacted on the eradication of water service delivery backlogs. There were sanitation backlogs for 437 000 households and water backlogs for 134 000 households. There was little rainfall and scattered ground water. In 2007 the region had started regional bulk infrastructure planning. However, many municipalities did not understand the requirements of reporting, and water service consultants needed to train municipal staff. The Department had asked Water Boards and the Sector Education and Training Authorities to assist. Historic backlogs in rural sanitation would cost R3.3 million to redress and there was also contamination of ground water through inappropriate services. Drought relief funds were directed only to tinkering, which was expensive and the risks of contamination were high. Some Water Service Authorities were funded and there had been greater integration of the sphere achieved. A Water Master Plan would identify all water and direct industrial quality water where this was appropriate, leaving rainwater and Magalies River water for drinking. Other challenges were the turnover of staff in municipalities, the municipalities’ inability to generate revenue, inadequate funding under the equitable share and the lack of finalisation of some legislation.

Northern Cape said that it was busy with bucket eradication, clinic and school water and sanitation programmes. The Department was moving from supporting to regulating local government. Waste water treatment works were both fixed by and certified as compliant by the same people. The regional office had received technical and financial support from the Development Bank of Southern Africa. Those municipalities already under-performing would not survive without support structures. Their current dependency on support was a challenge, as were the lack of integrated planning and weak water boards.

Members enquired about statistics on the bucket programme, whether the forums were doing their job to ensure service delivery, why there was lack of service in the areas despite funding, the relationship between the departments and the structures on the ground, and why the legislation needed to be implemented to correct the problems. Members asked for detail on operations for the indigent and free use of water, whether the Department was likely to help its provincial departments with collection of loans and what was in place to end the problem, who was responsible for implementing the plans, how the municipalities were targeted, whether individuals could sue the municipalities for failing to perform their functions properly, and whether there was a zero-tolerance approach by the National Department. Other questions related to the training offered, and the level of support by the Local Government Association. Some Members commented that they saw the main problem as the backlog in infrastructure.

Meeting report

Introductory remarks
The Chairperson welcomed members of the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA), Provincial Departments and Parliament. She said that there had been an outcry from Parliament that the regions in the provinces were accounting to themselves only, so that this Committee had felt it appropriate to ask the regions and South African Local Government Association (SALGA) to brief it on the support being provided in water affairs matters in the regions. She noted that the Committee was committed to assisting with the challenges and improving service delivery to the communities.

Mr Trevor Balzer, Acting Deputy Director General and Special Programmes Manager, Office of DG, DWEA,  apologised for the absence of Ms Thandeka Mbassa, Deputy Director General of Regions, who was ill.

He introduced the Mr Tseli Ntili, Regional Head from the Free State (FS), Mr Chedwick Lobakeng, Regional Head of the North West (NW) and Mr Louis Snyders, Regional Head from Northern Cape (NC).

The Chairperson commented that she was not impressed by the fact that across all the provinces there was only one woman, from the Eastern Cape, in a leadership position, and requested an organogram from all the provinces.

Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA or the Department): Overview of the Support Provided by Water Affairs to Local Government
Mr Balzer presented an outline of the role of DWEA, functional areas, institutional arrangements, role of local government and planned interventions. The DWEA’s mandate was to provide leadership as a national regulator of the Water Sector, develop national policy, norms and standards, and provide targeted support to municipalities.

Since 1994, DWEA had gradually transferred water service delivery to the municipalities, so that local government could provide services whilst the DWEA could focus on strong sector leadership, policy and strategy development, water security, partnerships, regulation and information.  At the moment, DWEA  was in a supportive role as sector leader with attention on local government to meet regulatory requirements, and was in the process of implementing more in accordance with strategies, policies and legislation.

Municipalities that were mandated as Water Services Authorities (WSA) had DWEA’s support in terms of planning, infrastructure development, finance, service delivery arrangements and regulation of water service supply and sanitation by the local government. Achievements had been outlined in the previous meeting, and the performance of the particular regions would be presented by the relevant speakers.

Systems in place included Electronic Water Quality management systems which were installed in all WSAs and extended to enable reporting on waste water. Risk ratio matrix had been identified and prioritised Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) according to four key risk areas (design capacity, exceeding of capacity, effluent quality, and technical skills). Blue and Green Drop Certification assessed drinking water management in the municipal schemes and DWEA would conduct spot checks on drinking water quality and sanitation, particularly on municipalities identified as hot spots. As part of the enforcement protocol, DWEA  was working with the targeted municipalities in improving their compliance to regulations through dedicated action plans that were monitored.

From the Municipal Indaba Action plan, a National Programme of Action had emerged, which Mr Balzer said would provide to the Committee.

Local government management of water resources had an impact on the way in which water was taken from the resource, the treatment of the environment within the settlements and the way in which water was put back into the streams.

DWEA would continue to manage the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Fund for Water Services which financed about R4 billion. R1.5 billion was set aside for the two outer years. There was a huge need to deal with regional bulk infrastructure and particularly ageing infrastructure, and this would cost around R60 billion. The main concern, especially in the Free State (FS), was the ageing waste water treatment plants, some of which were not operating. The Department would also continue to collaborate with Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) in terms of the Siyenza Manje Programme to optimise deployments and ensure long term sustainability, and assist the municipality to secure funds from the relevant Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA).

DWEA would reconfigure Water Boards to respond more to provincial boundary alignment. This was part of DWEA’s restructuring programmes which were presented to the Minister for the first time during the previous week.

Support and Intervention provided by Water Affairs to Local Government (Free State)
Mr Tseli Ntili, Regional Head, Provincial Department of Water, Free State, presented a detailed slide presentation of the support and intervention by his Department  to the local government institutions. In the context of the constitution, the provincial Department supported and regulated 20 WSAs in the FS.

The nature, support, achievements and WSA beneficiaries (2006-2008) were outlined, with emphasis on completion of the Section 78 study, infrastructure and funding. The municipal infrastructure grant (MIG) funded  eradication of the bucket system, and monitoring and evaluation was reported at MIG meetings, held bi-monthly. Feasibility studies for bulk infrastructure development at certain WSAs were completed and hotspots were identified. Bulk infrastructure projects had begun at Maluti a Phofung, Ngwathe and Kopanong.

The role of Water Boards in water service provision was being addressed together with DWEA  and SALGA in the Water User Association Forum, specifically in relation to whether the Water Boards could manage services in regions which were not within the Department’s contract.

Finalisation of assessments of several named previously disadvantaged WSAs were intended to determine the water service needs for these areas. These were also included in Operation Hlasela. Implementation of infrastructure development projects for 2009 and 2010 had begun in several other named areas (see attached presentation).

High level challenges included refurbishment of treatment plants and lack of funding for infrastructure and emergency work to address hotspots and drought stricken towns. He noted that R46 million was not sufficient to address the challenges). Another challenge was lack of proper planning by WSAs. The Department planned to increase collaboration with Water User Associations and increase regulation of the water sector to increase delivery to and by the municipalities.

Support Provided by Water Affairs to Local Government (North West)
Mr Chedwick Lobakeng, Regional Head, Provincial Department of Water, North West, said that this mostly rural province was characterised by insufficient bulk infrastructure which impacted on the eradication of water service delivery backlogs. The province was faced with sanitation backlogs for 437 000 households and water backlogs for 134 000 households.

The province experienced less than average national rainfall, and ground water patterns varied according to rainfall. Hydrological expertise was sought to attend to ground water challenges.

In 2007 the region embarked on regional bulk infrastructure planning within the provinces to ensure that all municipalities were involved in the Section 78 assessments.

The challenge of the technical report to MIG was that the various municipalities did not understand the requirements. It was recommended that the water services consultants train the municipal staff so the technical reports could be finalised faster. The Provincial Department had approached Water Boards and SETA for training.

The present cost of sanitation problems amounted to R4.29 billion. The key challenges were that the historic backlogs in rural sanitation required R3.3 million to redress. In addition, inappropriate services had led to contamination of ground water.

In 2006, 355 projects were recommended by DWEA  and all had been funded. In 2007, 23 000 buckets were eradicated. The municipalities had expended R205 million, with Ngaka Modiri Molema, Dr Ruth Mompati, Maquassi and Motlasane benefiting most.

The challenge around National Treasury Drought Relief funds was that the funds were specified for tankering of water and not for building of permanent structures. During droughts, tankering of water was expensive and the risk of contamination of water transported in this way was high.

Close collaboration with DBSA had resulted in funding of WSAs with critical water shortages. In addition the Department had established greater integration of the three spheres through participation in the provincial growth and development strategy (PGDS) structures, environmental working groups, housing, capacity building, economic, disaster and finance working groups.

Dinokana village had the highest number of illegal connections in their water supply network and the Department was assisting the municipality in dealing with these illegal connections.

A Water Master Plan would identify water resources and integration of bulk water planning where quality of water did not have to be the same. For example, new mining operations between Brits and Rustenburg, where there had been an increased demand for water, could utilise industrial quality water from Hartebeespoort Dam, and thereby relieve rainwater and Magalies River water for potable water supply to the urban and rural communities.

Other challenges were turnover of staff managers in the municipality, the ability of municipalities to generate revenue, the fact that the equitable share was not adequate and the fact that certain sections of the relevant legislation were not finalised. Funding for upgrading and refurbishment, the high bulk infrastructure need of R7 billion, and municipal revenue collection were being addressed. The key focus for 2009/2010 was eradication of backlog in schools and informal settlements, and sanitation.

Support provided by Water Affairs to Local Government (NC)
Mr Louis Snyders, Regional Head, Department of Water, Northern Cape, described the status of local government and the municipal skills profile. Programmes attempting to reach the national targets included bucket eradication, clinic and school water and sanitation programmes.

The Department was in the process of moving from the role of support to increased regulation of local government. One of the challenges of non compliance around WWTW was that the people who assisted in rectifying problems were the same people who issued non compliance letters. The Department was presently correcting that problem.

The Northern Cape would suffer a heavy impact from climate change and it was to be a great challenge bringing water to the communities. Feasibility and implementation readiness studies and capital projects covered areas of concern in the province.

DBSA Siyenza Manje had assisted the Department of Water’s Regional Office with technical and financial support. It was Mr Snyders view that municipalities that were already under-performing would not survive in the near future without support structures in place.

Challenges included Water for Growth and Development Strategy, integrated planning and implementation of sanitation programmes with water programmes, WSAs’ dependency on DWEA  support programmes and weak Water Boards operating in this Province who could not assist WSAs.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) said she found the Northern Cape presentation difficult to follow as certain slides were omitted from the handout.

Mr Snyders said that the presentation was 25 slides and that additional information tabled on the 25 slides had amounted to a total of 43 slides.

The Chairperson noted that the Northern Cape had the most challenges and that the Committee should receive the full version of the presentation.

The Chairperson wondered if some municipalities had capacity to deal with the good programmes that the regions had provided.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) was concerned about the bucket system, which President Mbeki had insisted should be eradicated by 2007. He asked for clarity how many areas were still under the bucket system.

Mr Ntili said he estimated that about 7 000 buckets remained. There were some areas where communities wanted other types of sanitation, and options for that were being finalised. 

Mr Skosana asked if the forums were doing their job to ensure service delivery.

Mr Ntili replied that the forum had high-level representation at both national and regional level, with the objective of providing better service delivery. Those forums that aimed at ensuring the proper functioning of the technical and political clusters were headed up by Water Affairs, SALGA and Water Boards. Priority was being given to programmes identified in the Free State, with not only national and provincial bodies involved, but, to an even greater extent, the municipalities. All the role players had been brought together to consider the way in which service delivery in the Free State should be approached, taking into account the budget.

Mr Skosana asked what the challenges were for NW Province not being able to deliver services when there was financial support from European Union, the Department, local government, SALGA and so forth.

Mr Lobakeng said that this fund was not meant for infrastructure, but for capacity-building within municipalities. Consideration was being given to supporting bodies such as non government organisations, so that they could assist in training municipalities.

Mr Skosana asked for an explanation on gender equality and affirmative action when appointing managers in NC water management.

Mr Snyders replied that the Department was implementing an Employment Equity Plan. The Northern Cape “profile” indicated that the ratio of white to black officials was 15:85, while women made up about 33% of the total. It should be appreciated that the plan had to be implemented within the constraints of the limited labour pool available in the Northern Cape.

Mr Skosana asked what the relationship was between the Department of Water in NC and structures on the ground, and also the relationship between Regional offices and SALGA. He also wanted to know about studies into by-laws, equitable share and community involvement. He also asked how Section 78 would affect water service delivery. He asked for an explanation of the shortfall of R33 million in the NW.

Mr Snyders said that in order to involve communities in the provincial Department’s programmes, the community development officers interacted with community development workers (CDW) in municipalities. They trained and sponsored awareness campaigns around health and hygiene such as the “Wash” programmes, youth programmes, 20-20 Vision and so on. Training programmes were also carried out for CDWs and councillors, to make them aware of their roles and responsibilities.  Budgets were allocated for the training and involvement of communities, using municipalities to get the message across.

Mr Lobokeng said SALGA collaborated with municipalities and Water Boards through structures where, for instance, councillor induction workshops were conducted.  Greater awareness was also created through participation in Water Weeks and Sanitation Weeks in collaboration with local municipalities.

Mr W Moroka, Director: Water Affairs, SALGA, said that from a municipal perspective, the Integrated Development Plan provided specific direction and included the Water Development Plan. SALGA had collaborated with the Department to re-look at the Water Development Plan in order to consider issues such as water conservation, including water resources at local level. In summing up, he referred to Section 78 of the Municipal Finance Management Act, where there were triggers that motivated courses of action that needed to be taken. It was clearly stipulated, in Section 77, that if a municipality refused an Integrated Development Plan, it had to consider the optimal delivery mechanism, and whether it should look internally or externally. His understanding was that Water Boards were not under threat, because Section 19 (2) of the Water Services Act stated clearly that before a municipality could enter into an agreement with a private institution, it would have to have considered all public institutions.

Mr Lobokeng said that because of the budget challenges facing municipalities, particularly the smaller ones, the provincial equitable share, whose objective was to provide services to the indigent, was not adequate. His province was using these funds to provide other services, rather than supply water. There was a need to ring-fence funds specifically for water supply purposes.

Mr Z Luyenge (ANC) asked who funded Operation Hlasela, if it was properly funded, and to explain the structure of the collaboration with them.

Mr Ntili said that all role players were brought together, and budget shifting and alignment was prioritised for service delivery to the identified 70 injunctions, so that budget allocation and implementation in provinces would be easier in the ensuing years.

Mr Luyenge also asked about pollution, waste management, and the improved pace of service delivery through re-alignment of the Department.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) asked for detail on operations for the indigent and free use of water.

Mr Ntili replied that the Department was talking to municipalities to create awareness of communication with communities. DWEA  had been working with the Agricultural Research Council and the Water Research Council on a rain water harvesting programme, and a rural development project in Thaba Nchu was under way.

Mr Mathebe asked if DWEA envisaged helping NW and NC with collection of loans and non payment and asked what mechanisms were in place to end the problem.

Mr Snyders replied that non-payment in the Northern Cape required a lot of work to ensure there was an effective system of collection in place. DWEA assisted local authorities with the by-laws, but this was a nationwide problem.

The Chairperson said that some of the previous questions asked were contained in the informative document from Northern Cape. He asked Mr. Balzer to ensure that the Committee received the document.

Ms H Ndude (COPE) said that colleagues had already asked about pollution in rivers and her concerns on water leakage and training, capacity building and the time frames had been answered in the FS presentation. She suggested that the Department should perform a national survey on the depth of all backlogs in order to gain a perspective of the problem and to allow it to have intervention plans in place to prevent a situation similar to Eskom’s. She asked if backlogs had been budgeted for appropriately.

Ms Lovemore said she understood from the presentation that there was a multiplicity of plans and asked for clarity on responsibility for the plans.

Mr Balzer replied, with reference to the “multiplicity of plans”, that the Department’s actions were interventions to deal with the deficiencies highlighted in the Water Services Development Plans and that Mr Moroka of SALGA would deal with other aspects.
Ms Lovemore asked how she could access a Green Drop report.

Mr Balzer replied that on the basis of Green Drop Reports, the Minister awarded Green Drop certificates annually, and that these were available.

Ms Lovemore asked if decisions on support to targeted municipalities were made through monitoring of municipalities to identify targets, or if the municipalities in crisis appealed for help.

Mr Balzer replied that targeted support was provided to municipalities identified as having the greatest needs. This was done through monitoring of information systems, and through engagement with municipalities and their provincial counterparts.

Ms Lovemore asked if sanitation constitutionally included sewerage treatment as a responsibility of the municipality.

Mr Balzer said that sanitation did include waste water treatment, for which municipalities could be held liable for non-compliance.

Ms Lovemore commented that the current policy was zero tolerance toward non-compliance with law. She asked if zero tolerance applied to all the strategies, policies, and laws mentioned in the presentations.

Mr Balzer replied that indeed DWEA maintained a policy of zero tolerance.

Ms Lovemore asked the NW to explain what Section 78 would achieve and what was the reason for local government to separate water sewerage authority function and the provider role. She also enquired how the Committee would be involved.

Mr Balzer replied that the local water authority was responsible for putting municipal by-laws in place and thereby created a situation of policing oneself. The separation of roles was desirable, but not a necessity.

Mr Lobakeng said there were complexities involved in implementing Section 78. The two districts in North-West Province had retained the water services authority function. However, the local municipalities did take responsibility for some of the water supply activities, for example, in the townships, while the districts had the responsibility for providing services in the rural areas. It became very difficult to regulate which entity would take responsibility when problems arose, as there was no water services provider contract. This made the implementation of Section 78 critical.

Ms Lovemore asked if the DWEA  would make the Municipal Indaba Plan available.

Mr Balzer said that he would do so.

Ms Lovemore asked what SETA funding was used for and what the municipal staff minimum qualifications were. At Alicedale, she had found the staff were not sufficiently qualified. She also asked how water services were regulated to enforce optimal staff performance.

Mr Balzer replied that SETA funding was being used for process controllers and that the problem at Alicedale was not unique, but was similar to many other municipalities who lacked qualified technical staff.

Mr Moraka said that Regulation 2834 laid down the minimum qualifications required, and that SALGA was collaborating with the Department to find means and ways of training operators up to the required standards.

Ms Lovemore asked whether in the North West, river pollution could lead to a person laying a charge against municipality if, for example, waste water treatment works had been shut down.
Mr Balzer said that information on directives was available.

Mr Ntili added that DWEA  issued a pre-directive three years ago and a directive last year to Matjhabeng regarding pollution in the rivers. However the farmers had subsequently taken the municipality to court and the current and previous municipal and financial managers were being charged. They were required to explain in court why they had not corrected the sewerage problem in the rivers.

Mr Balzer said this illustrated that indeed individuals could take the municipality to court.

The Chairperson asked what the problem was with capacity.

Mr Ntili said that capacity was one of the issues, but the main problem was funding for available infrastructure plans and identifying municipal infrastructure problems.

Mr G Morgan (DA) said that he regarded the major problem as the backlog in infrastructure. Since the Committee had oversight it needed to engage with the National Treasury. Given that in two years R1.5 billion had been allocated, excluding inflation and expansion of services, it would take about 40 years to deal with the backlogs.

Mr Balzer said that the backlog information was available, and the report was compiled by the National Information Service (NIS) with assistance of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Information on the regional bulk infrastructure grant of R60 million was available for the Committee. Information on both water purification structure and regional waste water treatment plants was available, some of which were currently operating over capacity. The aim was to bring these plants to current capacity levels and take forward projects to provide capacity for future growth. DWEA  had submitted Information to National Treasury to justify the additional funding for the outer 2009 and 2010.

Mr Moraka explained that the Development Bank of Southern Africa loan had been facilitated by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, with the objective of accelerating service delivery in a particular area.  However, MIG funding was used to actually pay for these services, so the loan was, in effect, bridging finance.

The meeting was adjourned.

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