Members met with the Department of Water Affairs to be briefed on its Strategic and Budget Plan for 2010/11. Members noted their frustration with the Department’s poor preparation for the workshop, and especially with the poorly prepared and insufficiently detailed documents. The Chairperson also voiced her concern about the poor communication between the Department and the Committee. Department members were taken to task for not possessing or providing information sought from them by the Committee.
The first presentation dealt with Human Resources. In it the Department gave a breakdown of its make-up in relation to race and gender and noted that it had failed to meet the set targets for representation of both women and persons with disabilities. It also had a total branch vacancy rate of 31.23%, though these figures were lower in the lower-level posts. Members asked about plans to deal with the numbers of vacancies, asked whether there was any strategy to transfer scarce skills of retiring employees,and questioned whether all provinces were covered when dealing with learnerships.
The second presentation was given around Integrated Water Resource Planning, in which the Department outlined its objectives around its reconciliation strategy studies. These had been completed for the Western Cape, Buffalo City, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal metropolitan areas, and were still being completed for the Nelson Mandela Metro and surrounding areas, Bloemfontein and the Olifants River water supply area. Subsequent to these, a strategy study would be conducted for the Richard’s Bay area. These studies had revealed that water would become more expensive in future. They emphasised the importance of groundwater usage, as well as the viability of desalinating water close to coastal cities and towns. Implementation was however being affected by lack of adequate infrastructure and funding. Members were concerned with whether there were monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in place, and queried if the long-term effects of uncontrolled groundwater use were to be looked into.
The Department gave a presentation on its Emergency Response Plan for Eradication of Water Use Authorisation Applications Backlog (Letsema). The functions of the Letsema programme were to define and categorise the backlog, develop an action plan to deal with the various categories, ensure redress and equity as these backlogs were eradicated, and monitor of the plan’s implementation progress. The progress of the programme should not be looked at solely in relation to the number of applications received, but also with an eye on the capacity-building it had ensured in the interim. Its vision for long-term sustainability included skills acquisition, continuous training and a review of the business process. Members raised questions on how long it took to process an application, when communities surrounding the Loskop Dam would be receiving water and the reasons why the Department, for three consecutive years, had underspent so significantly.
The Department gave another presentation on regulation of water quality and compliance, noting that the Acting Director-General, with the Minister’s approval, had reorganised the Department’s regulations units. The National Water Act had also been amended in order to align the Act with other legislation and to better regulate water services. The status of South Africa’s drinking water quality was generally good. An audit process known as the Blue Drop Certification was initiated, as figures provided by municipalities could not be relied on for an accurate picture of drinking water quality. The Department had resolved a number of disputes and had tabled recommendations to the parties concerned. The Minister had announced that there would be dedicated Environmental Courts. These would be rolled out by May 2010. The Department currently had directives issued against eight municipalities. Members asked if the Department would release an annual report around compliance, monitoring and enforcement, questioned what the amendments to the Water Services Act would cover, and questioned whether the compliance rates for drinking water quality tested for chemical content. The Committee and the Department would have to meet with the Local Governments in order to work at addressing these issues.
The Department also briefed the Committee on its communication strategy, setting out the key focus areas for public education and awareness. Members questioned the budget, who would do the training and whether these programmes linked with programmes of other departments.
Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA): Strategic Plan and Budget 2010/11
Human Resources presentation
Mr Adam Bogoshi, Chief Director: Human Resources, Department of Water, said that in terms of race and gender representation at senior management level, the Department of Water (the Department) comprised 54.21% Blacks, 2.63% Indians, 6.84% Coloureds and 36.32% Whites. It was, in relation to representation of both women and people with disabilities, below the set targets of 50% and 2% respectively.
The make-up of graduate trainees at its Learning Academy stood at 120 males, 96 females, 194 Blacks. 81 of these entered the field of engineering. The breakdown of its experiential learners was as follows: 13 males, 8 females and 15 Blacks. Bursary grantees consisted of 75 males, 50 females and 83 Blacks.
The Department intended building capacity by looking at workforce planning, attraction and acquisition of new staff, workforce development, knowledge transfer, workforce movement, building capacity and young graduates.
It had a total branch vacancy rate of 31.23%. Vacancy numbers were not as high at senior management level as they were in the lower post levels.
With regards to the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD), the Department was currently busy with the implementation phase. It had a total of 429 staff additional to establishment. A total of 1 128 of its employees were eligible for retirement in the next financial year. This was estimated to cost the Department R89.7 million.
Ms A Lovemore (DA) asked whether the exact figure of graduates absorbed was 0 or 17. She also asked what ‘additional staff to establishment’ meant.
Mr Bogoshi answered that the 17 learners were being absorbed on 1 April 2010. These were employees who were previously employed, although were not placed in permanent posts. The Department had initiated a process of absorbing these employees into permanent posts.
Mr P Mathebe (ANC) asked whether there were any plans to deal with the number of vacancies. He also wanted to know if the learnerships extended across all provinces.
Mr Bogoshi answered that advertisements were placed in national newspapers.
The Chairperson asked whether there was any strategy in place to transfer the scarce skills of retiring staff members.
Mr Bogoshi answered that the Department had looked at initiating a process whereby skilled staff members who were close to retirement mentored younger employees in an attempt to ensure a transfer of skills.
Integrated Water Resource Planning Presentation
Mr Solly Mabuda, Chief Director: Integrated Water Resource Planning, Department of Water, said that the Department’s first priority was to set up strategies for water-scarce areas. As most of these areas bordered neighbouring countries, the Department had water piped in to these water-scarce areas from the neighbouring countries.
The objectives of the Department’s reconciliation strategy studies included the development of future water requirement scenarios, investigation of all possible water resources and other interventions, investigation of all possible methods for reconciling these requirements, and developing a system for continuous updating into the future.
Thus far the Department had completed strategy studies for the Western Cape, Buffalo City, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal metropolitan areas. Current strategy studies were being conducted for the Nelson Mandela Metro and surrounding areas, Bloemfontein and the Olifants River water supply area. Subsequent to these, a strategy study would be conducted for the Richard’s Bay area.
These studies, which were started in 2009, were part of a three-year programme to cover all towns. Priority was given to towns with the largest growth potential and the biggest problems. Certain small towns were already covered by the metro studies. This was also a process which involved continuous stakeholder engagement and participation.
These studies had revealed, amongst others, that: groundwater use was important, that there was a potential for an increase in re-use at coastal areas as well as the Vaal River system. More dams and inter-basin transfers were inevitable. Desalination of seawater was becoming a viable option for coastal towns and cities. It also found that water would become more expensive in the future and that implementation was a major challenge, including getting the necessary funding for the infrastructure.
Mr Z Luyenge (ANC) asked whether there was a monitoring and evaluation mechanism in place.
Mr Mabuda answered that a steering committee had been set up which would review the progress of all relevant entities.
Ms Lovemore asked why the Department had not reviewed its National Resource Strategy within the requisite five-year period, as laid out in the National Water Act.
Mr Mkhize answered that the Department had felt it needed to contextualise its activities, and that proceeding with the review of the National Resource Strategy would not have done justice to the current situation. Now that there was a framework, a strategy could be developed. A revision of strategy had already commenced.
Ms Lovemore asked if each municipality had water services development plans. She noted that the long-term impact of lack of control over groundwater use needed to be looked at.
Dr Helgaard Muller, Acting Deputy Director General, Department of Water, added that the Department had teams working with the different municipalities on the Integrated Development Plans (IDPs), and that the Department was also trying to review most municipalities in this regard, though it faced challenges with funding.
Mr Mabuda continued that if it was found that groundwater needed to be developed at a Government waterworks, the Department would do so, though this would most likely be the responsibility of the relevant municipalities. Though the Department was aware of lack of controlling mechanisms it was archiving information it received in this regard.
Emergency Response Plan for Eradication of Water Use Authorisation Applications Backlog (Letsema) Presentation
Ms Deborah Mochotlhi, Chief Director: Water Use, Department of Water, said that the Letsema team would consist of regional as well as national staff members, in addition to Professional Service Providers. The teams were then divided into two groups: Group A was scheduled for the National Office, the North West, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Gauteng, while Group B was scheduled for Kwa-Zulu Natal, Mpumalanga, Free State and the Western and Northern Cape provinces.
The functions of the Letsema team were to define and categorise the backlog, to develop an action plan to deal with the various categories, to ensure redress and equity as these backlogs were eradicated, and to monitor the plan’s implementation progress. It had a tentative schedule of six months, after which it would plan and review further.
Its progress to date was not solely reflected in the number of applications received, but also by the capacity-building that had been done in the process. Work ethic had also increased, as well as officials having gained greater insight into the matters.
The Department had a vision for long-term sustainability around water use, which included skills acquisition, continuous training and a review of the business process.
Mr Mathebe asked how long it took to process an application. He noted that the Loskop Dam application had taken ten years to process.
Ms Mochotlhi answered that there were numerous factors that had contributed to backlogs, which included lack of capacity and underfunding. The Department was, however, doing its best to eradicate the backlogs.
Mr Mathebe asked when the communities around the Loskop Dam would be receiving water.
Mr Cornelius Ruiters, Deputy Director-General: NWRI, Department of Water, answered that, as infrastructure for this had to be put in place, it could take up to one year, though this was a speculative timeframe.
The Chairperson asked why the Department had, for the past three financial years, underspent its budget. She noted that for this financial year alone, the figure of underspending stood at R800 million.
Mr Onesmus Ayaya, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Water, responded that the Department had already spent 91% of its budget. This figure in the presentation had not taken into account the invoices that the Department had been certifying and processing at the time.
Regulation of Water Quality and Compliance Presentation
Dr Helgaard Muller said that in order to better coordinate regulatory functions, the Acting Director General, Ms Nobubele Ngele, had, with the approval of the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Hon Buyelwa Sonjica, reorganised all the Department’s regulations units. There had been amendments to the legislation, partially in order to align the National Water Act with other legislation and to better regulate water services.
The status of South Africa’s drinking water quality was generally good. Though compliance figures were improving, these figures could not be relied on entirely, as they were provided by the municipalities themselves. As a result the audit process known as the Blue Drop Certification was initiated. It was envisioned that, through its central premise of ‘name and praise’, Blue Drop Certification would stimulate proactive drinking water management as well as bring public opinion into the equation.
There were approximately 900 waste water treatment works across South Africa. The drinking water that these provided was generally less than acceptable. This was attributable to factors such as lack of adequate infrastructure investment, and overloading due to rapid development. In order to address this, the Green Drop Certification was launched. It was, however, the Minister’s decision as to when the Green Drop Report would be released.
Proposed actions to improve the situation included offering dedicated support to low-capacity municipalities, a cost determination to assist municipalities in budgeting, as well as training and mentoring programmes for process controllers. The Department had resolved a number of disputes and had tabled recommendations to the parties concerned. The Department had discovered that the National Treasury had withdrawn some of the equitable share funds of certain municipalities, due to these municipalities not spending funds appropriately, and this in turn resulted in Water Boards limiting the supply to these municipalities. The Department felt that these funds should be diverted to the Water Boards instead.
Hon Sonjica had announced that the Minister of Justice had approved the setting up of dedicated Environmental Courts. These would utilise existing Court structures, and would be rolled out by May 2010, to hear environmental matters. The Department currently had directives issued against eight municipalities. It had also appointed 19 investigators, two Deputy Directors and a Director.
Mr G Morgan (DA) asked whether the Department would release an annual report around compliance, monitoring and enforcement. He asked who had instituted the charges against the municipalities.
Mr Muller said that the Department was prepared to compile such a report. As taking municipalities to Court would not solve the problem entirely, the Department sought instead to work with them in order to address these problems.
Ms Lovemore asked which aspects would be covered in amendments to the water legislation. She felt that the compliance rates for quality of drinking water were not as the Department had stated. Most of these tests did not test for chemical content.
Mr Muller answered that the current legislation did not afford the Minister enough power to regulate. Other issues to be covered by legislation were governance of Water Boards and tariff regulations. The Committee should meet with the Department in order to voice its suggestions as to amendments.
Mr Muller noted that the Blue Drop Certification process had been initiated in order to ensure greater compliance with drinking water quality standards.
The Chairperson asked why regional heads had not been invited to the workshop.
Ms Nobubele Ngele, Acting Director General, Department of Water, answered that this was done in order to minimise travel costs.
Public Awareness Presentation
Ms Mava Scott, Chief Director: Communications, Department of Water, said that because a key focus area of the Department was to instil in all South Africans a sense of responsibility to save water, 80% of its campaign was geared towards behavioural change. Government had a Constitutional obligation to inform the public about its programmes. Development communications also demanded active citizen involvement in government programmes. Water, as both a commodity and a resource, was an asset of the South African public.
Key strategic focus areas of the Department’s communication campaign were water conservation and demand management, compliance and enforcement, water quality and climate change. Key programmes and interventions included: a comprehensive public awareness campaign (through non-formal education), a multimedia and multilingual educational campaign, as well as the concept of ‘edutainment’. Community and stakeholder outreach was also an essential aspect of the programme.
Monitoring and evaluation would include the Department’s own educational programmes on SABC TV and Radio, educational messages determined by water sectors and impact assessments through public perception surveys.
Mr B Holomisa (UDM) asked whether the Department was working together with local government, traditional leaders and NGOs. He wondered if the skills needed for this programme were being outsourced, and whether the monies allocated to it would be spent within this financial year.
Ms Scott answered that the Department was working with other departments at Government level. It was a very good idea to include traditional leaders. It did work together with Water Boards, and had an issue-based relationship with NGOs. The financial year started in April. The Department had completed the first draft for communications and was well in advance of its plans. R20 million annually came from the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) allocation. However, certain aspects of the campaign may not be implemented by the Department in this year.
Mr Luyenge asked whether the Department of Health was a role-player in the project, and if the Departments were working together with the public in ensuring sustainability of the programme.
Ms Scott answered that the Department worked closely with other departments that did similar work. Community and stakeholder outreach was important to the campaign’s success. The Department was committed to strengthening and increasing its liaisons with Parliament.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Presentation on Water Service & Regulation
- Presentation on Regulation of Water Quality and Compliance
- Presentation on Integrated Water Resource Planning
- Presentation on Human Resources Issues
- Presentation on Emergency Response Plan for Eradication of Water Use Authorisation Applications Backlog: Letsema
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