The Committee was briefed by the Department of Water and Sanitation on their Annual Performance Plan, Budget Vote 36. Both the Minister and Deputy-Minister were present at the meeting and answered the questions raised by Members. The issues raised focused mainly on the problem of water losses, water shortages and inaccessibility in the rural areas. Districts in Limpopo and Mpumalanga were highlighted as bearing the brunt of these failures by not receiving adequate capital.
The Department explained that it was implementing organisational restructuring so that it could work more closely with municipalities in order to resolve the problems of water looting, vandalism and the destruction of property. There was concern over irregular expenditure which had not been disclosed.
The Department said that its challenges were related to infrastructure and maintenance, and these would be addressed through restructuring, the monitoring of local municipalities, and working with the water sector collectively. It would report to the Committee on the changes over the next couple of months so that Budget Vote 36 could be formally adopted.
The Chairperson said that the issue of municipalities owing money to water boards in the rural areas, as well as their funding, had been first raised in 2014, and still remained unresolved. Although there was no reason for concern in the urban areas, the problem in the rural areas was affecting the water supply to many hospitals. She urged Members of the Committee and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to create an effective mechanism to this challenge.
She also referred to the issue of dams serving the municipalities, and emphasised the situation in districts of Mpumalanga, where there was a shortage of water. The water treatment system built by the national government had to be formalised. The system would fail if it did not provide access to water.
Mr Gugile Nkwinti, Minister of Water and Sanitation, said water shortages affected many citizens today, and communities had destroyed infrastructure as a result. He said that destruction and vandalism led to wasted expense. The regulations relating to infrastructure could not be the sole responsibility of the municipalities. The DWS had to work together with local government, and a plan would be developed to ensure this. He had already met with all the water boards, and they had agreed to work as a sector to solve the problems collectively.
The water treatment system had to be worked on by focusing on the risks. The system would fail if the water that flowed into rivers polluted them. There was a need to establish water authorities to control this issue. As an example, the Inter-Ministerial Task Team (IMTT) on bulk electricity and water accounts had been established, and had brought departments together to solve issues collectively.
The Minister thanked the Chairperson for raising the issue of dams serving municipalities. He mentioned the launch of the Mzimvubu water project, and said he had gone to see the Ntabelanga Dam. The water feeding the river would fill the dam and benefit more people.
Mr Sifiso Mkhize, Acting Director-General: DWS, asked if he could begin the Department’s presentation.
The Chairperson asked when he would be formally appointed
The Minister said that the matter was currently being handled with the national Presidency.
Ms P Samka-Mququ (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked the Chairperson if the overview by the Minister was finished.
The Chairperson said that the Minister would be present throughout the meeting.
Ms Samka-Mququ said that some issues had been not addressed, particularly where communities were not informed of the processes that would happen in an area as a result of a water project.
Ms L Zwane (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) said that the Minister could address these issues in the course of the meeting.
DWS 2018/19 Annual Performance Plan
Mr Mkhize provided the introductory remarks, focusing on the legislative framework that informed the Department’s budget. The alignment to government programmes such as the National Development Plan (NDP) contributed to the Department’s outcomes. The DWS was also implementing a change in its organisational structure.
Mr Trevor Balzer, Deputy Director-General: Special Projects, DWS, said the issues raised by the Chairperson and the Minister confirmed the complex environment in which the Department operated. He explained the impact of the drought being declared a national state of disaster, and the seasons it would take for the systems to recover from recent ground water level trends. Regarding the lack of water, he said that although municipalities might have billing systems in place, they were not being billed for water lost through the system.
The Department was changing its organisational structure, which would have to be amended as time went by. There were vacancies, and these would be filled where budget was available. The Senior Management Service (SMS) level still showed a predominance of males. In assessing its key programmes, it had found that there were non-compliant systems and that this had a national impact. Its approach to the budget shortfalls would be presented to the Minister this week.
The Chairperson asked the Minister if he would like to add anything.
The Minister replied that the biggest challenge was systemic. The structural problem within the Department means that it was difficult to monitor how money was being spent on the ground. Over the next three months, he would keep the Committee informed so that the Budget Vote could be formally adopted. There was a stand-alone agency that existed within the Department of Rural Development, and it was audited separately by the Auditor-General (AG). He would discuss this situation with both the AG and the Treasury, as it should be managed by the chief financial officer (CFO) of the DWS.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister. She said her biggest concern was that nothing had changed since 2014, and that there must be some comparison to show that issues have been resolved.
Mr D Stock (ANC, Northern Cape) thanked the Department for its comprehensive presentation. There was an issue of incomplete projects in certain districts even though money had already been transferred from the Department towards it. He asked for clarity on this and raised concerns that people were under-performing. A completed project had been funded at the Committee’s request, and he thanked the Department for its good work. He asked the Minister to explain reports about the irregular spending of billions of rands.
Mr M Khawula (IFP, Kwa-Zulu Natal) raised the issue of departmental restructuring. He asked what form it would take, considering the Department was so young. He also asked whether it had resolved the problem of water looting. He said there was a large number of dams which were privately owned, and asked whether there could be some kind of agreement made so that people who were close to those dams could benefit. When there were water shortage problems, people had to buy water from the private farmers, and this was very expensive. How could this problem be solved with the involvement of the municipalities?
He commented that there were a lot of vacancies in the Department, and wanted to know whether all the municipalities had developed their own master plans. He referred to the low budget allocation for the Western Cape, and asked whether this was ideal in view of the drought. More clarity must be provided on which areas have non-compliant systems. He also asked why the current budget had a surplus.
Ms Samka-Mququ raised concern about how money would be allocated.
Ms Zwane said that the attitude of the Minister provided hope that issues would be resolved. The IMTT would work well in dealing with collective issues. She asked how much the DWS was investing in rainwater harvesting, and why there were non-compliant systems. It was suggested that the focus should be on the youth as entrepreneurs, to prevent water losses. Lastly, she disagreed with Mr Khawula that government should be involved in making agreements with privately-owned dams for the benefit of people in the area.
The Chairperson thanked the Members for their inputs. She stated that the number of privately-owned dams could be seen as a political tool, like the issue of land, and it should be established who held those water rights. The actual value of the water boards also had to be determined. She raised concern that Mpumalanga was not well off, and was in need of more capital projects. The grants given to municipalities must be checked, to see how they were used. She asked the Minister to reply to the issues raised.
Ms Pam Tshwete, Deputy-Minister: DWS, asked the Department’s officials to address the issues.
The Chairperson agreed, but warned that there was not a lot of time.
The Minister said that the questions raised spoke to the key strategies in place. Firstly, the restructuring of the Department would focus on the issues of infrastructure and maintenance. The change in structure would build the capacity of municipalities to provide access to water. Secondly, he linked the number of vacancies to the issue of outsourcing. There was a need to have control over internal capacity, and this would save money. The issue of water rights was linked to infrastructure and reforming the water sector so that water became a public good. Regulating and reforming the water sector was on the agenda. On the issue of water boards, an alignment with government programmes was necessary. He said he would have meetings with the DDGs over the next couple of months to deal with these issues. He thanked Members for their questions and said that he took their concerns seriously.
The Chairperson asked Mr Mkhize to answer specific questions.
Mr Mkhize said that the issue of surplus and irregular expenditure would be dealt with by the respective department officials.
Mr Paul Nel, acting Chief Financial Officer: Water Trading Entity (WTE), said that there was an overdraft of R2.7 billion, where expenditure had exceeded income. The issue of a surplus could be resolved only once the municipal debt was cleared.
Ms Mbali Manukuza, acting Chief Financial Officer: DWS, replied to Mr Stock that it was correct that R6.4 billion had not been previously disclosed. When money was not spent for the general running of the Department, it did not fall within their expenditure. She explained that some transfers were direct and others were indirect, and that money had been used to service the debt of the WTE. She pointed out that Kwa-Zulu Natal had the highest allocation of direct transfers.
Ms Deborah Mochotlhi, Deputy Director-General: Planning and Information, DWS, said that the main reason for lack of water was water losses. The problem was that the system had multiple operators. She recommended that Mpumalanga employ one operator for the whole system so that efficiency could be realised. This would tie in with the institutional alignment programmes. She added that they were currently doing comprehensive studies to address areas, other than Mpumalanga and Limpopo, that required service.
Mr Mkhize said that the Department would assist municipalities, instead of transferring money.
Mr Khawula asked which municipalities had not done their master plans, and wanted clarity on the non-compliant areas.
The Minister addressed the issue of water looting, and said that the Department would work closely with an enforcement team to regulate and monitor the rivers.
Mr Mkhize said that the problem of stealing water would be resolved by a compliance monitoring and enforcement team who would investigate theft. He added that he would provide a report with examples of when farmers had been prosecuted for theft.
Ms Zwane asked how much the Department had invested in rainwater harvesting.
The Deputy Minister replied that the contributing factor to the issues raised were maintenance and infrastructure. She said that programmes have been put in place, but that either there had been difficulty absorbing the water, or municipalities had not responded to her requests. She added that harvesting rainwater should also encompass educating communities about it.
Mr Balzer said that in reality, the master plans could not all be done in one year. He added that five have been prioritised for this year, and reports would be given to Members of the Committee.
The Chairperson thanked the department and members for the discussion. She told them it was one of the most positive meetings they had had.
The meeting was adjourned.
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