Prosecution of polluters and vandals of infrastructure: Department of Water & Sanitation & SAPS briefing, with Deputy Minister present

Water and Sanitation

01 September 2015
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed on the approach being adopted by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to deal with polluters and vandals of the country’s water infrastructure.

The SAPS had investigated 53 cases of vandalism, and 53 suspects had been arrested and charged. However, several cases had been withdrawn and others had been closed due to being undetected. The SAPS was going to review the cases to see why so many had been withdrawn and would report back to the Committee. It would be looking at the involvement of specialists and the training of the law enforcement officers within the organisation. It intended to form a strategic committee with the Departments of Water Affairs (DWS) and Environmental Affairs (DEA) to prioritise water protection and water sanitation.

Members asked what was meant by “withdrawn” and “undetected” cases. They were told a withdrawn case was one where the SAPS had placed a docket before the Prosecuting Authority (PA) with a suspect in mind, but the PA decides it is not worth prosecuting, either through lack of evidence or materiality. An undetected case was one where the SAPS were unable to identify a perpetrator after a lengthy investigation. On the issue of scrap metal dealers’ involvement, SAPS said it had been empowered by the amendment to the Second Hand Goods Act. Scrap metal dealers could be prosecuted for buying metal without verifying who had sold it to them, and the SAPS could obtain access to surveillance footage and use it as evidence.

The DWS presented on the Blue Scorpions that were proactive in their interventions, through creating heightened public awareness and launching joint operations with inter-governmental task teams to counter vandalism and polluters. More than 70% of the cases investigated were related to pollution. There had been strengthening of the penalties for offenders. Because there may be economic sabotage involved in some offences, the DWS was conducting a vulnerability analysis to put security in place, to make sure that vital installations were protected. The Department had a national effluent quality regulation to deal with municipalities that were polluting, and looked at revoking the licences of wayward municipalities. The DWS had established an Infrastructure Rapid Response Unit to deal with crises and cases, and was working with other organisations to make sure they had enough staff capacity and training.

Discussion revolved around the notice period for offenders, pollution of rivers by butcheries, the effectiveness of the toll free number for reporting offences, the replacement of copper taps with plastic ones, and the process of the DWS investigations. 

Meeting report

Presentation by South African Police Service (SAPS)

Major-General Charles Johnson, SAPS, presented the criminal statistics related to vandalism. The SAPS had investigated 53 cases of vandalism, and 53 suspects had been arrested and charged. Three cases were under investigation. In the North West Province, one had been undetected, and one was under investigation. Three cases in the Free State had been withdrawn. A case in Gauteng had gone undetected. In Limpopo, two cases had been closed due to being undetected, one had resulted in a conviction, and one was under investigation, while a few had been withdrawn. In Mpumalanga, six cases had been closed and nine had been withdrawn, while there was one warrant of arrest and three cases were with the Prosecuting Authority (PA). The SAPS was going to review the cases in Mpumalanga to see why so many had been withdrawn and would report back to the Committee. In the Northern Cape, four cases were with the PA. In the Western Cape, two had been withdrawn and one had been closed. The SAPS was investigating the reported cases. The SAPS would be looking at the involvement of specialists and the training of the law enforcement officers within the organisation. The SAPS intended to form a strategic committee with the Departments of Water Affairs (DWS) and Environmental Affairs (DEA) to prioritise water protection and water sanitation.

Discussion

The Chairperson said there was a minimum sentence issue lingering. The maximum could not exceed 30 years in prison. What was the norm for legislation and the actual apprehension of criminals?

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked what was happening with the pipes being stolen, and the issue of non-ferrous metals.

Mr L Basson (DA) said that in Brits, people had vandalised some pipes, and the reply had been that it was under investigation. What was happening there? What was happening in Madibeng, in the North West Province (NW)? Was it possible to get an answer as to why these cases had been withdrawn, especially those involving the mines? The Committee needed reasons for the withdrawal or undetected cases. What did “undetected” mean?

Ms T Baker (DA) asked if there were no cases being investigated involving municipalities, or was it just company cases?

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) asked about who reported the undetected cases, and whether the SAPS took any leading evidence that could help with the case? Did the SAPS have any qualified people for these cases so that they could be prosecuted?

Ms M Khawula (EFF) stated that copper theft was a huge issue. The people involved were criminals and needed to be tracked down. On the identity document (ID) issue, the criminals could make transactions with different IDs. There were surveillance cameras, but often the shop owners declined to give the footage, even when the SAPS asked for it. The scrap yards often combined two metals and it was hard to identify the actual metal used. The theft of copper from the rail lines affected transport.

Ms Pam Tshwete, Deputy Minister. DWS, asked how the SAPS co-ordinated all the cases. The vandalism and theft of copper pipes affected the economy terribly. She was happy that her reported case was still in process.

Maj Gen Johnson responded that the SAPS had done everything in its ability to identify perpetrators. If it was unable to identify a perpetrator, the docket or case was “undetected.” If any new evidence was uncovered, it would re-open the case and follow up on it. A withdrawn case was a case where the police had placed a docket before the PA with a suspect in mind. The Authority was responsible for prosecution in this case. Based on what had been presented to them, the Authority could decide to prosecute or not to prosecute, and did not have to say why they did not prosecute. In some cases, the evidence was circumstantial or there was a very small amount of damage, the law might say that it was not worth pursuing it. The SAPS would be following up on the withdrawn cases. The SAPS did not register a case on its own -- it worked with the DWS. There were many other cases in connection with non-ferrous metals. The cases in the presentation related to the Water Act only. He said he would look into the Brits case and Madibeng (NW) and provide a written report.

On the issue of scrap metal, the Second Hand Goods Act had been amended. The SAPS had now been empowered. Scrap metal dealers were prosecuted for buying metals without verifying who sold them the scrap metal and for the changing of the non-ferrous metal. The Act provided that there had to be a banking transaction. Currently, people provided false identity documents. The SAPS had the power to search and seize, and the scrap yards could not stop them from confiscating video footage. There was no law requiring the footage to be kept for a certain length of time though, and the dealers could delete the footage. The stealing of copper was a priority issue, and the SAPS was addressing it. The SAPS was engaged with all the affected parties. It had established investigation task teams, and was engaged with parastatals to prevent these crimes. The SAPS had identified certain individuals who are selling and collecting these metals, and was working with the Hawks to target the thieves.

Lt Gen Vinesh Moonoo, Divisional Commissioner: Detective Service, SAPS, said that some courts gave different sentences, and they were taking up this issue with the PA.

Presentation by Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS)

Mr Anil Singh, Deputy Director General: Legislation Enforcement and Compliance, DWS, said that under the Department of Mineral Resources, there were the Brown Scorpions, the DEA had the Green Scorpions, and the DWS had the Blue Scorpions. They all worked together. Having an agency outside these departments, like the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), may be what was needed to handle these cases. The DWS had a standard operating procedure to deal with the prosecuting of polluters. The Blue Scorpions were proactive in their interventions, with heightened public awareness, joint operations and inter-governmental task teams. The DWS wanted to publish an annual report on compliance monitoring. More than 70% of the cases investigated were related to pollution. There had been a strengthening of interventions, with penalties of R5 000 or five years for the first offence, and R10 000 or ten years in prison for a second offence.

Because there may be economic sabotage involved in some offences, the DWS was conducting a vulnerability analysis to put security in place, to make sure that vital installations were protected. In the Rand Water case, there had been cable theft, and in the Madibeng case, there had been vandalism of pipes. The DWS had a national effluent quality regulation to deal with municipalities that were polluting. The DWS looked at revoking the licences of wayward municipalities. The responsibility lay with local governments to apply the local grants in the correct areas regarding treatment, sanitation, etc. The national government assisted and supported local government. The DWS had established an Infrastructure Rapid Response Unit to deal with crises and cases. The DWS was working with other organisations to make sure they had enough staff capacity and training.

Discussion

Mr T Makondo (ANC) asked how the organisations worked together to achieve coordination.

 

Mr M Galo (AIC) commented that the Eastern Cape had not been listed -- were there no cases in the EC?

Mr M Shelembe (NFP) asked what was being done to make sure that the information was cascaded down to councillors.

Ms Baker asked who complaints were received by, and who carried out the investigation. Was it the Department, and what was the timeframe? When would the annual report be finalised?

Mr Basson thanked the Department for its help. After a notice of non-compliance had been sent out, how did the DWS follow this up to make sure there was compliance after the 14-day notice period? He thanked the Department for the answers about the Apies River, but queried what was happening at Tswane (Rooivaal) and Groblersdal?

Ms Khawula said that butcheries were dumping blood and waste in rivers, and citizens were reporting this, and asked why nothing was done about it. She asked for the contact details of DWS for people to report those that were illegally dumping in the river.

The Chairperson asked about the alignment of penalties, as he saw a disjuncture in them. Could the DWS change the amount of a fine on their own volition? Was the toll free number effective? What was the plan around the copper taps -- were they being replaced with plastic taps? Did the DWS have one team that worked on these issues? How much did it cost per tap?

Ms Tshwete replied that they were replacing copper with plastic taps. If the municipalities were not doing their work, the Minister would be informed.

Mr Singh replied that the agencies and organisations did work together -- they looked at how they were prosecuting cases and what impact they were making. There were some slides showing the Eastern Cape cases, and they had been shown in the presentation. Councillors were taken to the theft sites and were briefed on the cases, so the messages were cascaded to the councillors. When the DWS picked up a complaint, they would investigate it and then supply the SAPS with all the information, water samples, details, affidavits etc.

The annual report was a work in progress and would be supplied in October 2015.

On Tswane (Rooivaal), the DDG was dealing with the municipality, where they were going to use ferric chloride chemicals to clean the water. The deputy city mayor had assured the DWS that they would be dealing with it. Butcheries were being dealt with, and the toll free number worked. The municipal by-laws dealt with these polluters. The fines had been designated in 1998. They were not necessarily fixed and the amount could be increased, depending on the case. He would supply information about the cost of taps to the Chairperson. As soon as a notice expired, the DWS acted and looked at the case, checked for remediation and after that they then took action. He believed the steps needed to be made shorter and quicker.

Ms Anet Muir, Director: Compliance and Monitoring, DWS, said that the rapid response unit had helped out in Groblersdal, and the municipality had acted on it.

The meeting was adjourned.

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