The Department presented its Annual Performance Plan, and also provided the Committee with details of the steps it had taken to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the water needs of the country.
It said its planning had to take into consideration the current situation, such as the fact that three million households did not have access to reliable drinking water; and 14.1 million people did not have access to safe sanitation; 41% of municipal water did not generate revenue, and 35% was lost through leakage, representing an annual loss of R9.9 billion; 56% of waste water treatment works and 44% of water treatment works were in a poor or critical condition, and 11% were dysfunctional; a R33 billion funding gap each year for the next 10 years had to be closed through improved revenue generation and reduced costs; only 5% of agricultural water was used by black farmers; and South Africa was facing a projected 3% water deficit by 2040 if it did not successfully implement the planned measures.
In response to COVID 19, the Department had established a Water and Sanitation Command Centre which had provided water tanks to vulnerable communities, water tankers to supply tanks with water, and health and hygiene material distributions. Reprioritised funding of R306.5 million had resulted in water storage tanks being delivered to a total of 158 municipalities and districts between 28 March and 3 May, and 196 Ml of water had been delivered by water tankers over the same period at a daily average volume of 8.3 Ml. To sustain the COVID-19 emergency water and sanitation intervention, a further R625.6 million of grant funding would be reprioritised.
Members said they had received complaints that the emergency water tanks were filled once, but were not re-filled after that. Were water supplies capable of transmitting the Covid-19 virus? How would the Department ensure water was drinkable, and not contaminated? What was the future of desalination as part of South Africa’s future water mix? Would schools have adequate water and sanitation facilities when they reopen? The Committee also urged the Department to fill its vacant senior positions.
Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation: Annual Performance Plan
Mr Mbulelo Tshangana, Acting Director-General, Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, said the plan had to take into consideration the country’s current water situation. Key factors were:
- Three million households did not have access to reliable drinking water, and 14.1 million people did not have access to safe sanitation;
- Only 64 % of households had access to a reliable water supply service;
- 41% of municipal water did not generate revenue. 35% was lost through leakage, representing an annual loss of R9.9 billion;
- 56% of waste water treatment works and 44% of water treatment works were in a poor or critical condition, and 11% were dysfunctional;
- 33% of the remaining wetlands were critically endangered, and more than 50% were already lost.
- A R33 billion funding gap each year for the next 10 years had to be closed through improved revenue generation and reduced costs;
- Only 5% of agricultural water was used by black farmers
- South Africa was facing a projected 3% water deficit by 2040 if it did not successfully implement the planned measures.
The 2019 national demand for water requirements was 10 233 million m³/a, with the current reliable national yield of surface water at an acceptable assurance of supply at approximately 10 137 million m³/a. This meant there was a national deficit of 96 million m³/a -- in other words, the demand was exceeding supply. Although there was a national deficit, there were certain areas with surpluses, and water was transferred through the transfer schemes to service the demand areas.
Mr Tshangana provided details of the Department’s targets for the current year, and the next four years. It was planning to ensure the vacancy level in high skills positions, like engineers and scientists, to less than 10%. The draft National Water and Sanitation bill would be submitted to Cabinet for approval, and a conceptual framework for the National Sanitation Integrated Plan would be developed. Water infrastructure development would see the completion of the Hazelmere Dam, with three other bulk raw water projects under construction at Tzaneen, Clanwilliam and Mzimvubu. The Department would also develop strategies for acid mine drainage (AMD) mitigation, and draft methods to implement the Waste Discharge Charge System.
The Department’s total 2020/21 budget estimates amounted to R17.3 billion, of which infrastructure accounted for R13.6 billion. The Magalies, Sedibeng and Umgeni water boards would receive a combined R809 million through the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant (RBIG), and R4 billion would be distributed to the provinces through the Water Services Infrastructure Grant (WSIG).
In response to COVID 19, the Department had established a Water and Sanitation Command Centre which had started operating on 23 March 2020. This emergency water and sanitation intervention had provided water tanks to vulnerable communities, water tankers to supply tanks with water, and health and hygiene material distributions.
The interventions were funded with reprioritised RBIG funding of R306.5 million, and had registered the following progress:
- Water storage tanks were delivered to a total of 158 municipalities and districts between 28 March and 3 May;
- 196 Ml of water had been delivered by water tankers over the same period, at a daily average volume of 8.3 Ml.
To sustain the COVID-19 emergency water and sanitation Intervention, a further R625.6 million of grant funding would be reprioritised. This funding would be used to continue supplying tanker services in interim, implementing a tanker dependency reduction strategy, source development in the areas where storage tanks were installed, convert tanks to rudimentary water supply schemes, and initiate an asset transfer process to relevant water services authorities.
Mr L Basson (DA) expressed his concern about the three million people who did not have drinking water. There were 17 000 tanks distributed during COVID-19, but communities were complaining that they were filled only once and not refilled again, and some communities did not even have tanks. How was the Department dealing with municipalities that were not serving their communities adequately during this crisis? More people were without water now because of the collapse of infrastructure, and not because of the growing population.
Ms Z Ncitha (ANC, Eastern Cape) commented on the fact that 56% of waste water treatment works, and 44% of water treatment works were in a poor or critical condition, and 11% were dysfunctional. She emphasised that water was now a critical source, especially during this pandemic, and the Department needed to report on what its plans were to deal with the situation. She asked the Department to provide a broader breakdown on the financial aspects of projects in the provinces, and how the particular areas were chosen, as this would enable proper oversight. On the issue of safety of water for children and in rural areas, what was the Department doing to ensure that the water was drinkable and not contaminated, especially during this pandemic?
Mr I Sileku (DA, Western Cape) spoke about the position of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and said that in their quarterly budget there had been under-spending due to vacancies. Why had the Department not filled the vacancies? There needed to be stability in the Department, because this would help it to deal with issues of irregular and wasteful expenditure.
Ms S Shaikh (ANC, Limpopo) pointed out that reliable water was a concern, especially during the pandemic. Considering that schools were likely to open, what progress had been made in ensuring water supply to schools? There was an indication that there would be diversity in the water resource mix, and desalination was being considered -- could the Department provide an indication of the costs of desalination? What was the status of the Giyani water project? At what stage was the Mogolo and Crocodile water augmentation project, and what was the financial allocation to this project?
Ms S Mokgotho (EFF) asked if the internal audit committee from the 2020/21 financial budget process was capacitated to monitor ongoing Supply Chain Management (SCM) and procurement transgressions in the Department. With regard to the water sector regulation programme, the budget for 2020 had decreased, yet this was a critical programme in the water sector. There was a serious crisis because of poor regulation of river and waste water treatment systems, so why had the Department not allocated a larger budget in order to employ more water compliance monitors? Why was the Department keeping the vacancy rate at 10% or less, instead of filling the vacancies, especially in the scarce skills positions? How was it going to ensure the planned measures to combat the 3% water deficit which occurred in 2014 were implemented effectively and successfully? Why was the budget for goods and services lower than the budget for the compensation of employees?
Ms E Powell (DA) was concerned by the number of senior executives in the Department who were in acting positions. From previous reports on acting executives, it was evident that they lacked the teeth and authority to take difficult decisions. When would the positions of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and CFO, that were currently ‘acting,’ be filled? She said this year’s water budget was R17 billion, which meant it would take 52 years to roll out the R900 billion water services master plan. How did the objectives of this year’s budget plan fit into the broader picture of the plan that had been announced by the Minister? Was everything on track in terms of fundraising for that plan? Last year, the Committee interrogated the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and Treasury on the debt of municipalities owed water boards, and they had owed R14 billion at that time. Could the Department give an overview on how it planned to recoup that debt? According to Stats SA, only 40.9% of South Africans pay for water, so what were the Department’s plans to ensure its future financial sustainability?
Ms N Sihlwayi (ANC) said that although the presentation referred to three million households that did not have reliable drinking water, it was general and did not accurately portray which areas were affected, and how the budget was spent in those areas that were affected. A large portion of water was distributed to agriculture -- how was the water distributed within the sector? Were there areas that had unaccounted water? How did the Department monitor for efficiency and effectiveness?
Mr S Zandamela (EFF, Mpumalanga) asked for a breakdown on the projects the 2019/20 annual performance plan (APP) completed, and those not done owing to the disruption of COVID-19. Schools were being geared up to reopen, and in areas such as Mpumalanga there was a scarcity of water and sanitation -- what was Department’s plan with regard to those schools?
Ms G Tseke (ANC) asked the Department to elaborate on transformation, and the capacity of its internal construction unit.
Ms M Mohlala (EFF) said the Department’s APP baseline targets had been set high, and it was unable to reach its targets. How did it identify its targets without considering the baseline target? Only 5% of agricultural water was used by black farmers, which meant that the government focused more on commercial farmers -- why was it taking so long for transformation in this area? What was the Department’s long term plan to hold COGTA accountable for disaster management funding and initiatives? Would it utilise the district development model to evaluate the peer performance and accountability for their weaknesses? The Department had used some of its expenditure from this year’s budget for Covid-19 intervention, but what measures had been taken to ensure that payables and overdue amounts owing were not neglected? She also wanted to know what percentage of the budget had been spent on rolling accruals, payables and overdraft amounts, how this would impact on its annual targets and performance indicators.
Mr G Tseki (ANC) there had been two figures in the report dealing with COVID-19, one for R291 million and another for R600 million. What was the R291 million for? The issue was not moving water from agriculture to other resources, but rather transformation and it should be for South Africans, and not individuals. When dealing with mega housing projects, when a project was ready, the regulation of water connectivity was done by municipalities, so how could the Department plan to link with the municipalities? How was it dealing with transgressors in the communities?
Chairperson Dodovu asked what the Department was doing to ensure that the master plan was shared and communicated to the people in order for them to know about the issues related to water and sanitation. Stats SA had identified problematic provinces which needed attention, so what budgets had been planned for these provinces?
Ms C Seoposengwe (ANC) asked whether municipalities consult with the Department with regard to their master plans and vice versa. Did the Department engage with different entities to ensure that they met the needs and demands of the population?
Chairperson Semenya asked if the Department had developed a structure that would assist in implementing the programmes that they were going to implement through the APP and strategic plan. Regarding the distribution of water, the Committee had learnt when it visited Limpopo that 80% went to agriculture, 19% for domestic use and 1% to industry, and those numbers were abnormal. She added that the Department had been distributing tanks during the COVID-19 lockdown, and assuming they would be withdrawn at some point, was there a permanent plan to replace this temporary measure to ensure that people would still receive water?
Deputy Minister’s response
Ms Pam Tshwete, Deputy Minister: Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, said the Departments strategic plan and APP were based on the national development plan (NDP), and was in line with the national water and sanitation master plan. There were three million South Africans, not households, which did not have access to water. Infrastructure was a key issue to why there was a lack of access of water in some areas, due to the apartheid regime.
It was a policy decision to support irrigation. Agriculture was using more than 60% of the available water, and if certain plans were not met, there would be a deficit in water security of around 3% by 2040. As a country, there was a need to guarantee assurance of supply.
The R900 billion water services master plan aimed at securing water availability beyond 2040. The Department needed R126 billion of this amount for 10 projects. With most major projects, the state tries to mobilise private sector funding, and economic sector users were usually the ones that funded the full cost. The infrastructure expenditure would be part of the rejuvenation of the economy. From the R900 billion, the budget would be allocated to different components. She said the country had neglected asset management.
If the Department was going to balance the distribution of water, the sectors that received more water need to be prepared and there had to be a transition period in order for them to use disruptive technologies. Incentives had to be offered to sectors where they could save water or use less, but produce more. The only water strategy available to the country was a water mix, because surface water would not be available all the time because of inter-basin, or inter-catchment transfers, or drawing water from other countries.
Desalination was going to increase, but when technology was introduced it came at a higher price. There were issues of input costs, the question of electricity, and the management of the environmental impact. The coastal cities were working with the Departments of Environmental Affairs, and Mineral Resources and Energy, and when gas was introduced, all those cities would be in a position to use them. In Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), desalination was being used as a reserve or for emergency purposes. Ground water was going to be the most important element in the mix, and the numbers would increase. In rural areas where there was no water, communities had been getting by through drilling bore holes. There was a possibility of contamination when the population increased and the issue of sanitation was not addressed.
Water testing was important when using ground water and the results must be available in order for communities to know that they were drinking safe water.
On the possibility of the corona virus being carried in water, there were reports from the Netherlands and Australia that there was nothing to suggest that the RNA component of the corona virus could live in water.
The master plan documentation would constantly be reviewed, and must be responsive to current conditions. It was widely consulted by various experts, industries, role players and local government. The expectation was that each province and each district, as directed by the President, must develop its own provincial water and sanitation plan that was aligned to the master plan.
There was an issue regarding water allocation -- water to support historically disadvantaged individuals, especially farmers. There was a time when there was a water allocation reform programme, but it had not yielded the desired output. Transformation in the water sector was non-negotiable -- more water would be supplied to emerging farmers, and they would not be supported in isolation. The technical work of validation and verification had to be carried out to ensure that there was water in a particular catchment area. Transformation was not only about giving water to historically disadvantaged farmers -- there had to be a multi-purpose use for the water, because there were other people who used it for various purposes.
They were cascading the officials in various departments in order to have one voice as a Department. Many municipalities had debt issues, and all the reports from the water boards contained complaints. There had been engagement with the boards, and the Department was working with SALGA and COGTA to acknowledge the debt, and they would deal with the problem. The Department would not always be able to intervene when people did not honour or respect their commitments.
With regard to vandalisation, corruption and pollution issues, the Department was trying to strengthen its capability to enforce regulations, especially to people responsible for pollution. The anti-pollution task team mandated by the Minister was already working, many directives had been issued, and the Department had gone to court on the matter. Technology must be used to safeguard the infrastructure from vandalisation. The internal audit in the Department had done a lot of investigations into corruption, and action had been taken.
Acting DG’s response
Mr Tshanga said tendering was the biggest cost component in the provision of water to the communities. There was a plan to exit that approach, but it would not happen haphazardly. The Department would continue with the current water tendering until July, because Treasury had given it permission to use its operational budget, as it was unlikely that they would approve their capital budget. Treasury had given permission to continue with tanking.
With regard to the recovery of debt, the discussion with SALGA, COGTA and National Treasury was that top slicing was allowed, and they should top slice the grants and the budget, but do it in a manner that did not affect service delivery. If the top slicing of the grant or the budget was for water services, then the payment of municipal debt budget must also be top sliced, because municipalities were also owed by national and provincial governments -- in essence, what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander. Therefore, the provincial and national budget had to be top sliced to ensure that municipalities were paid what was owed to them. The proposal came from the president of SALGA. The top slicing must also not affect the cash flow of municipalities, or the provincial and national government.
The DG informed the Committee about the projects that had started, and those that had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department had reduced accruals and payables by almost 50%. This was important, because they took up a lot of the budget. There were two figures. The first was for the previous financial year, as the lockdown started before the end of the previous financial year. Money had been taken from the previous financial year to prioritise water tendering and water tanking, and R3.6 million had come from the previous financial year. The new budget spending was going to come from the current financial year; but the amount had not been approved by Treasury because they needed to make some adjustments. Treasury needed to come to Parliament to have those adjustments approved.
The Minister had approved the restructuring of the Department to support and work with municipalities better, but it would also help them respond to the mandate of the Department instead of relying on water boards.
Where there was no baseline, there were a lot of benchmark studies that the Department relied on, and it was those benchmark studies that informed the baseline.
The R600 million would fund the exit plan, but it had not been approved. The R291 million was for goods and services, and the compensation of employees (COE), which was not under pressure because most of the vacancies had not been filled. The vacancy rate was at 14%, positions had been advertised, and short-listing had been done for the CFO position. The filling of the DG position was up to the Minister and Deputy Minister.
There was a policy that was likely to be approved by Cabinet regarding mines, which addressed the issue of acid mine drainage, because the current operators were arguing that they were not the ones polluting. The percentage of water pollution that was not being paid for was affecting the viability of water boards.
Deputy Minister Tshwete referred to the Department’s working relations with COGTA, and said there had to be intervention with failing municipalities regarding water issues. A broader discussion needed to take place on the interventions that could be implemented for wastewater treatment works, because the money available was not sufficient.
Ms Mokgotho asked if the internal audit committee in the 2020-21 budget process had been capacitated in order to monitor ongoing SCM and procurement transgressions in the Department. Secondly, why had the Department not allocated Program 4 on water sector regulation a larger budget, in order to employ more water compliance monitors?
Deputy Minister Tshwete said the water sector regulations were twofold -- there was self-regulation, which had conditions. The Department, as regulators, also had a duty to monitor issues such as pollution. There was therefore also a web-based system so technology could be employed in areas that they could not be in.
Mr Tshabalala said the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and Rand Water had partnered and planned to prioritise water to more than 3 400 schools. Rand Water would be administering the programme on behalf of the DBE, so they had signed a three-party agreement with the DBE and Rand Water. The DBE had set aside a budget of R600 million.
The internal audit unit was the most efficient component in the Department, and did all the oversight around budgeting, irregularities and assistance in forensic investigation. At times it was supplemented with service providers if they were overstretched.
The budget for programme 4 (water sector regulation) was also supplemented through the water trading of catchment management agencies (CMAs), so the budget of CMAs was also used. The budget did not perform well last year, but they had reached 80% of the targets.
Deputy Minister Tshwete added that they did not rely only on the internal auditing, but also vetting and declarations, and the procurement process was transparent.
The co-Chairpersons commended the Department for its hands-on approach and the strides it had taken to eliminate their weaknesses, and its fast reaction to the COVID-19. The Committee would continue to hold the Department accountable. As part of its oversight work, it would engage the Department on all the investigations they had undertaken.
The meeting was adjourned.
Dodovu, Mr TSC
Semenya, Ms MR
Basson, Mr LJ
Mashego Mr MR
Mfayela, Mr SE
Michalakis, Mr G
Mohlala, Ms MR
Mokgotho, Ms SM
Mthethwa, Mr EM
Ncitha, Ms ZV
Powell, Ms EL
Seoposengwe, Ms C
Shaikh, Ms S
Sihlwayi, Ms NN
Sileku, Mr IM
Tseke, Ms GK
Tseki, Mr MA
Zandamela, Mr S
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