Department of Water and Environmental Affairs response to 2009/10 audit findings

Water and Sanitation

26 October 2010
Chairperson: Mr J Skosana
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs presented the Committee with its response and proposed solutions to the findings and recommendations raised by the Auditor General in the qualified audit report for 2009/10. The Department would seek to remedy its non-compliance with regulatory requirements by improving quality assurance and alignment. It would seek to train its managers, and appoint a Deputy Director General to assist in improving quality of the Department’s service delivery. It was noted that there had been irregular expenditure by the Department, but now the defaulting employees had been served with disciplinary warnings. To avoid recurrence of late submission of the Department’s financial performance report, the Department would endeavour to tighten the performance of the person managing those reports, under the supervision of the Chief Operations Officer. The Auditor-General had also commented that the financial statements had not been reviewed for completeness and accuracy prior to submission for audit, and that the transactions were not reviewed by competent officials prior and subsequent to being captured in the financial systems. Furthermore, the Department had not assessed the likelihood and impact of risks relating to supply chain management and responded to the assessed risks adequately. In response to all these issues, the Department indicated that it would be hiring experts to address the problems. In general, the Department advised that it was working on a turnaround strategy that would remedy the problems. It stressed that its main challenge in implementing the strategic goals was related to shortage of dedicated technical personnel, across fields of climate change specialists to engineers to artisans. Similarly, the inability to address cases of non-compliance, and to finalise backlogs for water use licences were due to capacity constraints. The Department had not finalised its National Water Resources Strategy 2004. There were also delays in finalising the strategy for conversion of dams, which meant that the three planned dams had not been converted. 

Members were appreciative of the Department’s honesty, but felt that some of the responses given orally did not necessarily accord with the written report. They noted that some issues would be addressed in written reports.
Members asked whether the Department would continue to produce and circulate assessment reports, specifically the Greendrop Reports, what was being done to increase the number of environmental inspectors in the country, why so little attention was paid to limnology, what the Department was doing to improve links with the environmental affairs sector, and what would be the turnaround strategy for compliance and enforcement on water issues, and to address problems of pollution. They were concerned that timeframes had not been shown, and asked for clear plans for control of problem areas and monitoring of performance. They believed the Department should be working with municipalities to keep track of water losses, and asked in what rural areas the Department had conducted assessments.

Meeting report

Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA): Responses to the Auditor General Report, Findings and Recommendations
Ms Nobubele Ngele, Acting Director General, Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA or the Department) tabled the Department’s responses to the findings set out by the Auditor-General (AG) in the 2009/10 audit report, and the recommendations made.

She noted that the Department would seek to remedy its non-compliance with regulatory requirements by improving its quality assurance and alignment. The Department would seek to train its
managers, and would be appointing a Deputy Director General who would assist in improving quality of the Department’s service delivery, in order to further remedy such non-compliance.

In regard to the irregular expenditure by the Department, she noted that the defaulting employees had been served with disciplinary warnings.

In relation to the late submission of the Department’s financial performance report, the Department would endeavour to tighten the performance of the manager tasked with managing those reports, and in future the Chief Operations Officer would take over that responsibility.

Ms Ngele noted the
finding that the Department’s accounting officer had not exercised adequate oversight over reporting and compliance with laws and regulations relating to supply chain management, to prevent irregular expenditure. The Department would be repositioning the internal audit and risk management. It would further engage the Accountant-General to assist with the assessment of the effectiveness of internal audit and risk assessment unit.

The Department would bring in experts to assist with the technical work
in order to address the fact that financial statements had not been reviewed for their completeness and accuracy prior to submission for audit. This would also address the issue that the transactions had not been reviewed by competent officials prior and subsequent to being captured in the financial systems.

In relation to the finding that the Department had not assessed the likelihood and impact of risks relating to supply chain management, nor had responded
adequately to the assessed risks, Ms Ngele noted that the Department would, once again, be getting experts to assist with the technical work and to tighten performance management. The Department was working on a turnaround strategy that would remedy the problems it faced.

She noted that the
Department had seven strategic goals, on which it would focus to further improve the quality of its work and delivery. She set out these goals as follows:
Strategic goal 1: Ensuring sustainable and equitable water resources management
Strategic goal 2: Ensuring universal access to safe and affordable water services
Strategic goal 3: To build, operate & maintain infrastructure
Strategic goal 4: To achieve aligned and effective institutions
Strategic goal 5: Pursuing African advancement
Strategic goal 6: Create a value driven, effective and responsive department
Strategic goal 7: Transformation

The Department faced numerous challenges in implementing some of its strategic goals, including a shortage
of dedicated technical personnel, such as climate change specialists, to develop and implement climate change programmes. The inability to successfully address all identified compliance cases was due to shortage of suitable personnel to carry out the functions successfully. The inability to finalise all water use license backlogs was also due to capacity constraints and the fact that the review of the National Water Resources Strategy, 2004 was not finalised, although an inception report was completed.

The Department further faced problems with the training of staff on dam safety issues, and a shortage of dedicated technical personnel (such as climate change specialists, water plant superintendents, artisans, technicians & engineers). There were drought situations in the Southern Cape. The Algoa System also posed a challenge. There was poor water quality that negatively affected irrigation farmers. There were delays in the finalisation of the strategy for the conversion of dams, which in turn occasioned the delay in convert the three dams planned from single to multi-purpose use. These ranked among some of the more challenging problems which the Department faced (see attached document for more detail).

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked the Department for the presentation and said that it was important that the Department should reflect improvements in areas of concern noted in the presentation. The Department should draft a list of completed projects that it had initiated.

Ms Ngele responded that the Department would do so in future.

Mr G Morgan (DA) thanked the Department for the frank assessment provided in the presentation. He expressed concern over some of the water deficiency problems facing some areas in the country. He asked whether the Department would continue to produce and circulate assessment reports, with specific reference to the Greendrop reports published by the Department.

Mr Trevor Balzar, Chief Operations Officer, Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, replied that the Department was aware of the problems around the lack of water supplies in certain areas in the country, and was attempting to alleviate the problems, but required additional funding to do so.

Ms Ngele added that the Department would continue to produce Greendrop reports on a regular basis, once capacity in the Department had been improved.

Mr Morgan asked what the Department was doing in order to increase the number of environmental inspectors in the country. He also asked for comments from the Department on the need for synergy between it and the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Mr Balzar said that the Department would work hard to achieve better linkage with the Department of Environmental Affairs, as that linkage was important.

Mr Morgan asked whether the Department was requesting that municipalities keep track of the losses of water.

Mr Balzar noted that some municipalities had issues of capacity and the Department would work closely to assist them in improving Water Affairs administration to improve the overall system.

Mr Morgan thought that there was a lack of specific policies targeting dams in the country, which he said was of great concern. He was also worried about the fact that there was less attention being given to limnology.

Ms Ngele said that the Department regarded the field of limnology as one that was slowly dying, since there was much less interest shown in it at a university level.

Mr Morgan expressed his dissatisfaction with this response on the field of limnology, and said that South African limnologists were not, according to reliable information that he had received, up to international standards.

Ms H Ndude (COPE) commented that she appreciated the honesty of the Department in its presentation. However, she was concerned that no timeframes had been given for the Department’s turnaround strategies. She asked specifically for details on the Department’s turnaround strategy for compliance and enforcement on water issues. She also asked whether the Department felt that its plans to combat water pollution were sufficient.

Ms Ngele replied that timeframes for turnaround strategies would be added as the Department received funding for the following financial year. The Department’s water pollution policies were not as efficient as they could be, but were a reflection of the capacity issues affecting the Department.

Ms Ndude suggested that the Department should incorporate rural and remote areas in its future policy planning and should undertake to go on more fact-finding missions in such areas.

Mr Balzar replied that the Department did go out on fact finding missions in rural and remote areas.

Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) asked the Department to provide more assessment reports, and to give an indication of some of the locations of the Department’s oversight visits.

Ms Ngele said that the Department would provide these details to the Committee in a written response.

Mr S Huang (ANC) commented that the presentation document was confusing. He sought clarity on the use of consultants by the Department. He commented that he was happy with the Acting Director General’s honesty and hoped she would become the permanent Director General.

Ms Ngele responded that the Department would use consultants and experts where it did not have adequate internal capacity to tackle outstanding issues.

Ms P Bhengu (ANC) commented that the Department had only mentioned five committees dealing with water affairs, and asked why the other four had not been mentioned.

Mr Balzar responded that the Department had only highlighted the committees in those provinces that had previously been problematic.

The Chairperson asked when the Department would undertake a performance review. The Department had to take more of a view to assisting remote and rural areas where administration of water affairs was poor and knowledge of water issues was poor. He also asked what the Department was doing to improve water conservation.  

Dr Cornelius Ruiters, Deputy Director-General: NWRI: Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, responded that performance assessments were being done as the Department worked to remedy areas which were problematic. The Department was in the process of costing and evaluating how much would be needed to assist rural and remote areas in the administration of water affairs.

Ms Thandeka Mbassa, Deputy Director General: Regions, Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, added that the Department faced many challenges. These included the renewed need to assist people who used to get regular water services but no longer did, owing to water being siphoned off illegally by non-paying consumers. There were further challenges faced in areas experiencing drought. She replied that the Department was doing the best it could, with the limited resources it had, in the area of water conservation. She added that further information on the issues raised would be given in a written response to the Committee.

Mr Huang voiced his displeasure at some of the answers and said that he would reserve further questions for a future sitting.

The Chairperson said that the Department should have clear plans to show how it would control problem areas and how it would monitor performance. The Department needed to have oversight structures to prevent problems. He also said that in some cases, the Department’s responses that it had given on the report did not match its responses to verbal questions, and that was also of concern.

The meeting was adjourned.

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