Eradication of bucket system progress: Department of Water & Sanitation, in presence of Deputy Minister

Water and Sanitation

11 March 2015
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water and Sanitation gave a brief background to its progress report on the implementation of the sanitation function, by explaining that this function was transferred from the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) to the former Department of Water Affairs, which had become the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) in May 2014. The transfer of the sanitation function was done through the Department of Public Service and Administration, and National Treasury, and the component of 99 posts and equipment was transferred straight to the new DWS. There was a budget of R899 million transferred for the bucket eradication programme and R113 million for the Rural Household Infrastructure Grant (RHIG). By 2010, 78% of the South African population had access to sanitation, 300  000 households were served with sanitation annually by various spheres of government, but 2.2 million households were still using sanitation facilities below basic level such as pit latrines, septic tanks, chemical toilets or no sanitation facility. An estimated 88 127 households in formal settlements, and 140  000 in informal settlements, still utilised bucket toilets as a form of sanitation. Further challenges included ageing infrastructure, inadequate capacity of waste water treatment works to accommodate effluent for treatment, and inability to deal effectively with sludge. DWS aimed to replace the bucket system with full waterborne sanitation facilities, connected from stand to reticulation networks and then to bulk infrastructure.  connected with individual service connections to the stand linked to a water and sewer to a reticulation network which must be connected with bulk infrastructure. The three Departments of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation and Cooperative Governance had, in consultation, decided to appoint public entities, when it was hoped to change the scope of the project from dry to water-borne sanitation and to conclude by May 2014. This was not achieved, due to various complications with contractors, service protests, lack of capacity of implementing agents to roll out at large scale, and the fact that water-borne sanitation was more complex and costly. Alternatives were being explored to speed up the programmes. The Director General expressed her absolute commitment to meeting the final target to eliminate the bucket system from 88 127 houses in formal settlements, although she conceded informal settlements, being a moving target, were far more problematic, especially since several were constructed on private land on which the DWS would not spend any money, and that this would take time.

Members asked when and if the bucket system would be totally eradicated, mentioning the complications posed by migration, asked whether houses were still being built without toilets, cited several problems with the VIP toilets, noted problems with contractors and asked how the DWS was responding to service delivery protests. They urged that disability and equity requirements be fully observed in new appointments and enquired if there was still a moratorium on filling posts.  Members asked why no mention was made of Mpumalanga, how toilet to population rate were chosen, were critical of contractors who performed unsatisfactorily. They asked for more detail on the new waste water treatment vision, said it was important to educate people to preserve and respect the structures, asked how the Department would guard against under-spending, and how the Department tackled unserviceable areas and people refusing to be relocated. They were interested in how the DWS was aligning with municipalities,and stressed the need to create viable human settlements where all indicators were developed.

The Deputy Minister stressed that the three departments were working together and pointed out that community protests were not only about service delivery of water and sanitation. Members asked if anyone was checking to see that municipalities were not attempting to claim several grants or sources of funding, and urged the Department to accept its role in meeting sustainable development goals and work in cooperation with others. The Department of Human Settlements said that this function had been traditionally under-funded, and high toilet to family ratios would mean the system deteriorated sooner, and suggested that the Committee be fully briefed on how the various upgrade grants were performing.

Meeting report

Chairperson's opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed the Minister of Water and Sanitation, officials from the Departments of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) and Members from the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance.

Eradication of the Bucket System and inclusion of sanitation component into the work of the Department of Water and Sanitation: Departmental reports
Ms Nthabiseng Fundakubi, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Water and Sanitation, reminded Members that on 25 May 2014, the sanitation component was transferred from the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) to the former Department of Water Affairs, which was now named the Department of Water and Sanitation. The transfer of sanitation was facilitated through the national micro organisation of State, through the Department of Public Service and Administration and National Treasury, led by the Presidency. The sanitation component comprised of 99 posts and was transferred to the DWS exactly as it had stood under the DHS. A budget of R899 million was transferred for the bucket eradication programme and R113 million for the Rural Household Infrastructure Grant (RHIG).

The sanitation component had the following key functional outputs

  • Implementation of RHIG
  • Implementation of bucket eradication programme
  • Supporting municipalities on the implementation of sanitation programmes funded by the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG)
  • Supporting municipalities on health and hygiene advocacy
  • Main-streaming of sanitation in Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) including councillors' induction.

Ms Margaret-Ann Diedricks, Director General, Department of Water and Sanitation, noted that by 2010, 78% of the population had access to sanitation. 300 000 households were served with sanitation annually by various spheres of government. However, 2.2 million households were still using sanitation facilities below basic level, such as pit latrines, septic tanks, chemical toilets or no sanitation facilities at all. There were significant sanitation backlogs in Northern Cape, Free State, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and North West, in rural areas, and old townships in urban and peri urban areas. While the use of the bucket system was still widespread, in KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng and Limpopo, there were no bucket toilets in formal areas. An estimated 88 127 households in formal settlements still utilised bucket toilets as a form of sanitation, while 140 000 in informal settlements used them too. Other challenges with formal structures included ageing infrastructure, inadequate capacity of waste water treatment works to accommodate effluent for treatment, and inability to deal effectively with sludge.

The DWS was replacing the bucket system with full water-borne sanitation facilities connected with individual service connections to the stand linked to a water and sewer, to a reticulation network, which must be connected with bulk infrastructure. DHS, DWS and the Department of Cooperative Governance (DCOG) had come together and decided to appoint public entities to deal with the implementation of the bucket eradication system, accelerate completion of the eradication of the bucket system with a completion date of March 2014, and change the scope of project from dry on-site sanitation to full water borne sanitation. Dry sanitation was quicker to construct and this would make it possible to conclude the project within the timeframe chosen. By comparison, the water borne sanitation required engineering designs, trenching, piping and connections which increased time and money.

The general project challenges had been the appointment of implementing agencies, which was done based on their presence in respective provinces. However, some of them were slow to deliver because of cash flow challenges, compounded by service delivery protests resulting in delays for weeks. There was non availability of bulk infrastructure to service projects, and lack of capacity of implementing agencies in rolling out projects at scale. Notwithstanding this, the Select Committee on Appropriations had recommended that public entities should not be used in implementation of indirect grants. The DWS was now exploring an alternative delivery vehicle, to accelerate the programme from April 2015.

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) thanked the Director General for the smooth transition of the function. He asked if all posts were filled and whether this was the case, if the 2% disability targets were also met.

Mr Mnguni asked why, for Mpumlanga, no informal settlements were listed, for they did exist on the He also wanted to know if there was any programme to educate citizens on water leaks.

Mr L Basson (DA) asked if the Ministerial moratorium on filling posts in the DWS had been lifted. He asked if DWS was working on toilet to population ratios when planning toilets, such as, for example, 1: 10 in Tshwane, 1:13 in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni.

Ms M Khawula (EFF) said that there were informal settlements built in the 1960s that were still without water. She asked why government was dependent on contractors who did not do their work in a satisfactory manner and were only concentrating on the fees to be paid. She asked when the problem of houses without toilets would end.

Ms Z Balindela (DA) said she sometimes went to stay over in informal settlements that were using the bucket system and no toilets. She wondered why the Departments of Education were not included in the discussions with the three other departments.

The Chairperson said that part of the problem in dealing with the bucket system was also the need to dealing with migration, which was happening daily and altering figures. He asked if the country was ever going to reach a stage of having no bucket systems at all.

Ms T Baker (DA) also asked when the bucket system was going to be eradicated completely, given that migration was a moving target. Figures for the number of households with the bucket system in provinces could be obtained from the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Human Settlements, who attended the meeting. She asked about the new vision of water waste treatment works, especially as it was suggested that the dry system could have done better. She commented, referring to an earlier observation, that whenever she attended any Committee meeting where provincial statistics were presented, no mention would be made of Mpumalanga and wondered why. She agreed that it was also important to educate people on the proper use of ablution facilities so that the structure would not be damaged within a few months.

Ms H Kekana (ANC) pointed out that the country did not manage the goal of totally eradicating the bucket system by 2004. She asked if DWS had a strategy to guard against under spending and for meeting deadlines, because if it failed, the only person accused of failing was the President.

Ms Baker said, in answer to that comment, that she was not here to serve the President, but to serve people.

Ms Kekana retorted that the President gave "marching orders" to the Ministers during the State of the Nation Address, and these would cascade from Minister to officials. She fully understood that Members were working for the people, but was making the point that if a Department failed, it was the President who got the blame.

Ms N Bilankulu (ANC) asked if both employees and office assets were transferred from DHS and if not, what the current asset situation was. She asked if there was any plan to eradicate systems that were in existence, but below standard, and when this was going to happen, quoting the statement that "Water is life and sanitation is dignity". In areas where there had been protests, she asked if these were just about water, or something else also, and whether the DWS had made any effort to meet with the communities.

Mr B Bhanga (DA) asked about the effect on water and sanitation of people living in unserviceable areas, such as informal settlements built along freeways, pointing out also that in many cases the people refused to be relocated. He asked if there were still instances of new houses being built without a toilet. He asked if the DWS was able to acquire the additional R1 billion which the Minister had announced was needed for the eradication of the bucket system.

Mr M Shelembe (NFP) said there was some development if the DWS was aligning its work with municipalities. Municipalities had their IDPs drawn for three years. He asked if the DWS did engage with the municipalities in executing its duties.

The Chairperson said there was a continuation of the situation where toilets were being built from nowhere, while houses were also being built without water and electricity. There was a need to move away finally from the concept of housing alone, to human settlements, given that the issues were all about settling human beings and integrating their needs. Budgets had been committed, key performance indicators developed and performance plans developed, but he reiterated the question whether the country would ever reach a stage where development integrated all aspects of human settlements, including bulk infrastructure, schools, toilets and clinics.

Ms Pamela Tshwete, Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, replied that the DWS, DHS and DCOG had started to work together, collaborating in planning, as they dealt with issues that were intertwined. Protests on service delivery were not just about service delivery, but sometimes were political in nature.

Ms Diedricks added that sanitation was an emotive issue and everyone would, at some stage in their lives, have been touched by sanitation issues. A sober and dedicated approach was needed. Ideas on new areas not identified by the DWS energised it to become more active. She said that at present, the number of formal houses using the bucket system was 88 000, but she asserted that this number could be eradicated, and she was prepared to put her head on the block in saying so. This was not a moving target as new houses were being built with toilets. The DWS was geared towards eradication of the bucket system in formal settlements. In cases where the budget for that year had not been spent, the DWS could ask for roll-over, if the funds were committed. When doing oversight, the Committee must also give guidance, and not simply report that Ms Diedricks was incorrect in saying that she would eradicate the bucket system. Service delivery protests were not all about service delivery, including water. Some of the protests were also about lack of job opportunities. In informal settlements, municipalities could use interim measures, such as using chemical toilets. Another challenge was that some informal settlements were on private land, and the DWS could not use government money to develop private property. Informal settlements were booming, and eradication of that system was a moving target.

She added that in the previous years, people were happy merely to accept a house if they had never had one. However, the idea of an integrated development framework went beyond merely having a house with a kitchen and a toilet, to creating viable communities with electricity, sports facilities, schools and clinics. This was why the DWS identified areas where it could work together with other departments. While the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) specified that the Director General was the accounting officer, she had thought it wise to also include the question of  coordination in performance agreements. The PFMA also allowed the Director-General to make adjustments on appropriations to align with municipal IDPs. The planning regimes of the DWS had changed to committing funds when projects were ready for implementation. The DWS was thinking of alternative typologies for people living in unserviceable areas. The Ministerial moratorium on filling of vacancies was still in place.

Mr Joe Nkuna, Chief Director: Human Resource Management, DWS, noted that the DWS had a rigorous change-management plan in place to deal with transfer of employees. In the past month, the DWS met with all the employees to hear their views, together with the union NEHAWU and Public Service Association. Conditions of service did not really change, but there was a need for discussion on matters such as car subsidies and access to telephones. The workers were happy in the DWS. The DWS was looking at whether the structure of sanitation was designed to support the Department. 35 posts would be filled in sanitation. The employees were transferred together with their assets, so they could hit the ground running. Above all, the employees continued to occupy the buildings of Water Affairs as they had done whilst based in DHS over the past five years.

Ms Fundakubi spoke to under spending, which had mainly occurred in the RHIG, as a result of the submission of non-sustainable business plans. There was an improvement in terms of spending in the Department and committed funds would be rolled over to the next financial year.

Ms Khawula said that in rural areas, it often happened that toilet doors were made of zinc, that there was no ventilation, and toilets were situated far away from houses, and plagued with flies. The contractors who built them were never monitored, and people were just told to sign on the line to release funding. Even worse, contractors would take their own decisions where to place the buildings.

Mr Basson said the biggest culprit was the Department of Public Works (DPW) which did not even reply to written questions. The DPW needed to ensure that land was not occupied willy-nilly, as it was essentially acting as owner of the land. Some political parties were urging people to invade open land for political reasons. In Madibeng, and there were people who had been living in squatter camps for twenty years without water and sanitation.

Mr Mnguni noted the Director-General's firm statement that she would eradicate the bucket system in formal settlements. He stressed that employment equity laws must be fully complied with when filling those 35 posts. He commented that when DHS had been building houses, it tended to ensure that those in greater public view, next to highways, were constructed but those further away looked completely different. He pleaded with Members to avoid engaging in political questions in this meeting that would be better discussed in the Chamber.

The Chairperson asked if there was alignment of grants with Development Bank of South Africa, and asked if anyone was checking whether a municipality was not also sourcing money from elsewhere for the same project? The DWS must talk to sustainable development goals, rather than saying that something was the responsibility of another department.

Ms Tshwete replied that many challenges on water and sanitation arose as a result of municipalities re-routing money earmarked for sanitation to solve other municipal challenges. The problem of water and sanitation was not easy, and whilst she agreed that it could and would be overcome, it would take time, with delays caused by protests expected.

Ms Diedricks said that she had received a clear directive from the Minister that even if different implementers were being used in different locations, she must ensure that targets were being met. The issue of different grants had been a problem, and there was an attempt to put all grants in one "basket" for integrated planning.

Ms Diedricks responded to criticism of the structures by assuring Members that the toilets did have ventilation, as suggested by their name - ventilated improved pit-latrine (VIPs). She assured Members that the DWS was fully mindful of equity requirements. She would come back to the Committee to report on chemical toilets.

Mr Bhanga asked what exactly had been the problem in eradicating the bucket system, despite it being a 2006 target of former President Mbeki.

Ms Diedricks replied again that she would eradicate the bucket system. If challenges arose during the process, the Committee would be updated. A full-blown water system needed engineering, human resources, waste water treatment work and reticulation to be implemented, and all of that took time and money. Informal settlements were ballooning, and sanitation and water would remain a challenge in those informal settlements.

Mr Mbulelo Tshangana, Chief Operating Officer, Department of Human Settlements, wanted to add that when the move to the eradication of the bucket system was started, there was no funding. The money that was used came from 5% of the housing grant to be used for bulk infrastructure. There were 2 200 informal settlements needing to be upgraded to have formal services. In some informal settlements the ratio was 1 toilet to 25 families, and this would obviously affect the lifespan of the toilet. The DHS was administering R10 billion for the upgrading of informal settlements, especially in urban areas. He suggested that the Committee must call in the Department of Cooperative Governance and metropolitan municipalities to get an understanding of how grants were performing.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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