The Portfolio Committee engaged in a virtual meeting with the national Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (DHSWS) and the provincial government of the Free State to discuss matters of implementation, delivery and budget in the provision of housing and water. Overall, much emphasis was placed on ministry-level appointments and the contribution of the Minister, whose apology for not attending the meeting was rejected. Because of various suspensions, some of which were due to new investigations and others which were the result of the Zondo Commisson and “state capture,” there had been a shuffling of Directors-General. The asbestos procurement scandal and subsequent suspension of a head of department, for example, were related issues. The Committee would be inviting the Minister to report and account on this.
Due to COVID-19, the DHSWS had experienced a loss of funds and progress. With COVID-19 lockdown challenges in mind, it was stressed that there should be a focus on economic revival. Matters of creating job opportunities, especially for women, youth and those with disabilities were important.
The Department of Human Settlements was tackling issues of allocating land parcels, and addressing access to inner city land and land use by foreign nationals. Satellite imagery of townships was being used to augment departmental capabilities. The DWS was addressing a key challenge of debt, which was an issue about which both the provincial and national departments were highly concerned. The loss of millions of rands was a considerable challenge to service delivery and keeping municipalities running. Overall, future reports needed to be given on the progress of DHS and DWS projects. The Committee committed to ensuring proper oversight, monitoring and support.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed Members, officials and guests, and said an apology had been received from Minister Sisulu, who had an urgent consultation and thereafter would be attending a meeting of the COVID-19 Command Council, and from Deputy Minister Mahlobo, who would be attending another meeting at the same time.
Ms M Mohlala (EFF) expressed her disappointment at the Minister’s non-attendance. It was so common for the Minister not to attend, that she did not understand why an apology was necessary. She proposed the apology be rejected.
Ms E Powell (DA) seconded the sentiments of Ms Mohlala.
Ms N Tafeni (EFF) agreed, adding that she felt the Minister did not care.
Ms S Mokgotho (ANC) also concurred.
The Chairperson said that Deputy Minister Pam Tshwete was in the meeting, representing the office of the Minister.
The apologies of the Minister and Deputy Minister were rejected.
Briefing by DHS on Priority Development Areas
Deputy Minister Tshwete led the presentation of the Department of Human Settlements (DHS), which included the report about 136 approved housing development areas, and the purpose to redress pre-1994 spatial planning.
Mr Mbulelo Tshangana, Director General (DG), DHS, introduced the delegation.
Mr Joseph Leshabane, Deputy Director General (DDG), Programme Implementation Support, DHS, delivered a presentation about priority development areas per province.
Ms Motshidisi Koloi, Member of the Executive Council (MEC): Public Works, Infrastructure and Human Settlements, Free State, presented the business plan and budget.
Mr Tshepo Tsuaeli, Acting Head of Department (HOD), Free State Department of Human Settlements, said there were challenges with title deeds, incomplete housing projects -- Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and Peoples Housing Process (PHP) -- and no relevant official record of performance management.
He referred to the business plan (since 31 March) and district development model (DDM), and said the funding had been reduced by R100 million and R10 million respectively. The upgrading of informal settlements amount had been increased to R181 million. Regarding bulk Infrastructure, two projects were being assisted, one of which was in a mining town. A total of 3 108 title deeds had been registered, despite the challenges under lockdown.
Mr M Tseki (ANC) acknowledged DHS’s commitment to spatial development. She asked that DHS brief the meeting on areas whether there were challenges, particularly for landowners to acquire land that was closer to work opportunities. The presentation was acknowledged, though it had prompted Members of the Committee to continue their support and oversight. There was particular media attention around the DHS and COGTA in the Free State. She stressed the importance that, when the opportunity arose, Members continue to bolster the efforts of the province to bring services to the people of South Africa.
Ms Powell requested clarity on departmental appointments. Mr Tshangana had mentioned that Mr Trevor Balzer had been appointed as the DG for Water and Sanitation – was this an acting or permanent position? Where did Mr Leshabane fit in? With regard to development of land parcels, she asked about the 40 land parcels measuring over 1 400 hectares. The Minister had commented that these parcels would be available for development pending a formal request for development and development plans. Had the DHS made any submissions for the release of these land parcels to achieve the spatial development targets presented? Regarding the DHS in the Free State, during COVID-19 it had been announced that R143 million had been given to the Free State for 161 informal settlement development in 34 locations. She asked for a progress update on the specific COVID-19 intervention plans.
Ms Mohlala referred to the presentation by the Free State delegation, specifically the provincial implementation plan for the DDM, which had been highlighted. Had the province procured the services of consultants to undertake this work? If so, could the DHS elaborate on how one could limit reliance on consultants, as was witnessed with the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). She felt that the DDM operated within a macro-myopic scope without factoring in institutional changes, which might lead to a false interpretation. How would the DHS address these challenges? Was there a possible to shift away from the use of consultants? Were the provinces aligned to the national master plan?
She directed a question to the Chairperson, asking why the Portfolio Committee was dealing with so many provincial-level matters. Was this not within the scope of COGTA? It appeared to her as if they were not serious about their scope of overseeing as a national competency. This was a concern, as it might lead the Committee to be found wanting in its co-mandate. There was so much work to be done in holding the executive accountable at the national level, but the Committee was focused on provincial work. The protocol, as per section 139 of the Constitution, was that provincial governments were allowed to administer the affairs of local governments that were not performing. Therefore, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) was responsible for interventions. She wanted present an idea to the Chairperson -- it was stated in the EFF’s manifesto that when they took over, they would remove the layer of the province, because it was a layer that was not adding any value.
Ms Tseke called for order, reminding the meeting that the agenda was a follow-on from what had been discussed at the previous meeting. The programme for calling the provinces had been adopted by the Portfolio Committee, so it was out of order for Ms Mohlala to raise this matter while the Members were interacting with the provincial government. The Committee had already reached consensus to interact with the provinces as part of their work and oversight.
The point of order was sustained by the Chairperson, who asked Ms Mohlala to continue.
Ms Mohlala continued to assert her point.
The Chairperson informed Ms Mohlala that she was out of order, and that if the Member had any points of discussion, these were to be raised in the Committee’s meeting. She implored Ms Mohlala to focus her questions on the presentations that had been made. She then told Ms Mohlala that her opportunity to raise questions had elapsed, and requested the next Member to raise their questions.
Mr Tseki added to the point of order. He said the Members were human beings and did not live “at the national level”. Local government was essential, because whatever the Portfolio Committee did at the national level was intrinsically linked to local government.
Ms Mohlala was frustrated, because she had intended to stress this in her point. She felt, along with her party, that the layer of local governance was wasting taxpayers’ money.
The Chairperson told Ms Mohlala that order was being called, and if she did not want to be a part of the meeting, she was welcome to leave.
Ms Mohlala said that she was present and wanted to participate.
The Chairperson concluded the matter by ruling that the point of order had been sustained. Ms Mohlala was informed that if she wanted to change the agenda of the meeting, this needed to be raised at a different meeting. Furthermore, the Member should not refer to “what the EFF wants to do” – this should be done when in government. The Chairperson wanted to move on to the next Member to raise their question.
Ms Mohlala contested this, calling the Chairperson out of order. She stressed the multi-party democracy dynamic of the Committee. As such, she was entitled to ask her questions and finish. She claimed that the Chairperson was involving her emotions, as she had always hated the EFF and was silencing the Member as a demonstration of this. She described this as an abuse of power.
Ms N Sihlwayi (ANC) proceeded with her questions, acknowledging the national- and provincial-level presentations, which she described as “practical and real.” The DHS required comprehensive planning and clear priorities, which seemed to be evident in the presentation. She was excited about the prospects described by the DG. However, she requested clarity from the Free State delegation. Were there no legal processes, such as the laws about the land, in relation to the plan carried out? This was particularly necessary where the DHS needed to intervene and comprehensively address the land plans.
Mr S August (GOOD) was called to raise questions, but had trouble with his connection.
Ms S Mokghoto (ANC) asked why the DHS had provided grant allocations such as the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant (RBIG) and the Water Services Infrastructure Grant (WSIG). The entire Free State province had not provided for any of the challenges in district municipalities in spending the grant. If the DHS undertook the responsibility of ensuring the expenditure of grants, could it provide details of the grants not spent for the previous financial year? What were some of the challenges encountered? What was the quality of projects undertaken with the use of grants? Furthermore, the DHS did not have an informal sector mapping layer that they could use for their decision-making. Could the DHS provide more details on their use of satellite data provided by the South African National Space Agency on the locations of informal settlements in South Africa? He said that while South Africa was plagued with overwhelming levels of unemployment, it seemed that the DHS was “dragging their feet” in alleviating unemployment. There were 24 vacant funded posts in the Free State, three senior management service (SMS) posts, one middle management service (MMS), five occupation specific dispensation (OSD) posts and 50 non-OSD posts. Why were these posts not filled?
Ms G Tseke (ANC) responded to remarks by the MEC, and asked about the asbestos project. The MEC had indicated that the HOD had been suspended, which had become an “open secret,” as it was part of the State Capture Commission. She requested details on the progress of the disciplinary hearings. How far was the process of disciplining officials who had been implicated in the asbestos project? It was common knowledge that contractors had been appointed without evidence of competitive bidding. She was disappointed that the presentation had not touched on how these matters would be rectified. Another gap in the presentation which she wanted addressed was about the role of government in economic revival, empowerment and job creation. High youth unemployment was a cause for concern, so she asked for further information on the budget which had been appropriated by the government. How would this budget be used to address high unemployment levels in South Africa?
Ms N Mvana (ANC) commented that the report by the Free State was unsatisfactory. The point that money had been returned to Treasury was unacceptable. She condemned the lack of improvement and was frustrated by the amount of money that had not been put to use. Members were interested to know how this would be rectified. Regarding the issue of the title deeds, the project needed to be finished as soon as possible. She made a commitment to monitor these efforts closely.
Ms N Tafeni (EFF) set out comments and questions in her vernacular. Could DHS resolve the land claim issues and the land that belonged to the Department of Public Works? For example, those in rural areas who were unmarried were not given land by traditional leaders. She urged the DHS to intervene, adding that water and sanitation was a huge crisis too.
Mr August had been reconnected to the meeting, though his connection was intermittent. He did not have further questions to what had been asked.
Ms C Seoposengwe (ANC) agreed with Mr Tseki on the visits to the Free State, as this was part of the Portfolio Committee’s oversight function. Members were within the mandate to play a role where provinces accounted for the budget which they received from National Treasury. She asked the Free State delegation about illegal citizens in informal settlements. This was not a problem unique to the Free State. When officials said that they were engaging with other stakeholders on this matter, could they establish what these stakeholders were doing so that other provinces could also learn what was being done to address this situation? She requested the Free State Department to share insights on this. Regarding the national DHS and the issue of accommodation, there was a challenge of accommodation in the cities, though these cities were “really going down.” How was the DHS supporting small businesses, as most towns had buildings that were owned by foreign nationals? What was being done to ensure that the local economy was being supported? She asked the Free State delegation about contractors who had low performance ratings. What were the penalties for non-performance? How was it being ensured that this was not repeated?
The Chairperson asked if progress with the Bucket Eradication System could this be addressed.
Deputy Minister Tshwete responded to the question about the moving of officials. The principal person responsible for moving officials was the Minister, the question should be referred to the Minister when she next attended the meeting, because it would be difficult for officials to answer this themselves.
She agreed with Ms Mvana that the Free State report was not a good one, and the challenge that the national monitoring role presented. The Free State government had not spent their funds in the previous year. She had undertaken a road show in the Free State, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga. This issue stemmed from the National Treasury.
She said that the questions asked had been very relevant. With the asbestos matter, for example, it was important for the Members to be told not only what the problem was, but how it was being rectified. The Free State delegation needed to answer some of the questions asked.
DG Tshangana asked that the bucket eradication question be put on hold, as he would address it at a later stage with the presentation to be made by the DWS. This was a programme that was managed and funded by the national department (DWS) and there were targets that had been contracted to be achieved.
The asbestos matter was being investigated at the time of the meeting, and was being dealt with by the province. This was a matter that the national Department was not comfortable with. A decision had been made about spending more money fixing the problem, rather than studying the mistake that had been made. The DG and other officials had been told by specialists that asbestos should be repaired only if damaged, and if it was not damaged, time needed to be taken to evaluate the asbestos by accredited specialists, not by anyone and everyone. He recalled that at the Zondo Commission it had been shown how unaccredited contractors had been appointed, and this was not acceptable. The DG suggested it was better for him not to pass judgment on the matter, as it was still under investigation, and he did not want to compromise the integrity of the investigation or the process.
The questions about the masterplan would be answered by his provincial colleagues. There were programmes being targeted by the Free State DWS. For instance, the Free State head of water and sanitation, along with the head in Gauteng, were working together to solve the problem in the Vaal River. Pollution of the Vaal was caused by four provinces -- Mpumalanga, the Free State, Gauteng and North-West. The two regional heads were working together with a budget from Gauteng. The Deputy President instructed the national DHS to assess the matter in these four provinces. At the time of the meeting, DHS was focussing primarily on the Gauteng area, which included the Vaal and greater Vaal area, and other areas outside.
The DG agreed that the focus, especially due to the Coronavirus pandemic, was mainly on economic renewal and job creation. The next budgeting cycle for the following three years was starting around the time of the meeting. The DG was confident that colleagues at the national and provincial Human Settlements Departments would be able to adjust the budget so that it focused on job creation. Officials at the national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) had also been working on labour-intensive initiatives for job creation. The DG requested that the Committee request these COGTA officials to come to one of the subsequent meetings to present their strategies and projects, as well as municipal infrastructure and waste to water infrastructure between the municipalities and the national COGTA. His only concern was that the budget for the next cycle was being started only at the time of the meeting in August. This meant that the current period needed to be evaluated to see which programmes would be prioritised, and that would assist the DWS and DHS to create jobs.
Mr Leshabane responded to six questions. With regard to land difficulties in prioritised areas, it had been confirmed that in the event that land was privately owned, it meant that the government had to negotiate with the landowner to either partner with or buy the land from the owner, to facilitate development in that regard. This was why a considerable amount of time had been taken to identify suitably located land so that it could be released to the DHS. He agreed with Ms Powell that Cabinet had approved certain land parcels to be released for certain human settlements purposes. The Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure had announced their strategy for this. This was a priority for the DHS. They were working around the clock with the DPWI to finalise receiving the power of attorney to develop the land. The process was such that the DPWI needed to secure Treasury’s concurrence, and all parties had to be engaged.
It had previously been reported to the Committee that there was a joint co-ordinating committee on the effects of land release, wherein all and any bottlenecks were being addressed. Though progress had been slow, the DG admitted that they had doubled their efforts to ensure that they at least obtained the land without any further delays.
With reference to Ms Mokgotho’s question about the use of satellite imagery, he confirmed that this was true, and had been reported as such. He explained that DHS needed this technology especially because though they had been on the ground assessing the feasibility of land, the nature of informal settlements was that they changed very frequently. The use of satellite imagery was therefore to ensure that the DHS could spend less money and time responding to the rapidly changing circumstances of the informal settlements. The Department used different technologies. This satellite imagery was one that supplemented the fieldwork done and corroborated the servicing of municipalities in informal settlements. This was therefore an augmentation of the DHS’s capabilities. This was the best thing they could do so that their response to the needs of households could be rapid.
Lastly, Mr Leshabane responded to the comment about the importance of inner city housing, which he said could not be understated. Locating housing development in inner cities was a priority. The city centres had huge investments of infrastructure, but also networks and related capabilities. Therefore, steps had been taken to develop new high-density settlements in city centres. Members would have seen the social housing projects in inner cities, along with the National Housing Finance Corporation’s (NHFC’s) report about how they funded small land lots which were revitalising small inner city buildings. This work therefore had to be escalated.
The DG submitted that the correct reference, as per the Member’s question, was ‘undocumented foreign nationals.’ The DHS could work with municipalities only to address the functionality in inner cities with regard to matters of undocumented foreign nationals, hijacked buildings and so on. From a land use, maintenance and upkeep point of view, these fell largely within the scope of local authorities, so the DHS was working with municipalities to address them.
Regarding communal land falling under traditional leaders, there had been many cases where traditional authorities had made land available for DHS development in provinces where this was the case. Where agreements were reached, this system was in fact working very well to ensure that all the communities that had a need for housing were accommodated across the spectrum.
Finally, the question of employment required a follow-up with the Portfolio Committee on the existing job-creation opportunities and the new programmes required, and this was a matter of urgency, especially so that people could have an income even as they upgraded the informal settlements.
MEC Koloi focused on the question of the disciplinary matter involving asbestos, which had required proceedings to be instituted by the DHS. There was indeed a case around asbestos in the province, and he had told Members earlier in the meeting that the HOD had been suspended. The report of the Public Protector was within the office of the Premier, but certain powers had been designated to the DHS. The disciplinary procedure had been kick started and the supply chain manager in the provincial DHS had been suspended. This was still an ongoing process, and the acting HOD was attending to the matter, as he had just been appointed to the Department. Overall, the MEC was pleased that the Public Protector’s calls were being adhered to.
(Mr T Tsuaeli’s (HOD) response was inaudible due to a poor sound connection.)
Mr Thabiso Makepe, Acting Chief Director: Project Management Unit, Free State DHS, reported that they were not using. As outlined in the model presented, it was working to be an independent department, also using the likes of COGTA, the municipalities and so forth.
Regarding the informal settlements, there was a township in Harrismith where settlements were erected where they should not have been (under power lines), and so these individuals were being permanently relocated.
Regarding Ms Mvana’s question about the R180 million, he said the Department was working with many very difficult projects where it could not necessarily just start building, but where there were rectifications that needed to happen. At the end of the financial year, there had been an approved amount of work to the value of approximately R115 million. The Department had plans to recover lost funds, and the contractors were on site. There were also performance letters for contractors which were being used to monitor performance.
The Chairperson thanked the delegations for their responses. There would be an effort made to assure that there was an alignment between government efforts at the national and provincial level.
DG appointments: Minister to be invited
Ms Powell responded to Deputy Minister Tshwete’s comments around the DG and the Acting DG appointments. She was concerned that her questions about the appointments had not been thoroughly answered. With her question to Mr Tshangana, she had not expected the acting DG to discuss the process of his appointment. Rather, she was asking for clarity on who was in which position. On this point, the Deputy Minister Tshwete had asked the meeting to direct the question through to the Minister. However, she had read the comprehensive minutes of the 15 July meeting at which not only she, but also members of the ANC and Ms Mohlala, had asked the same questions. According to the minutes, Deputy Minister Mahlobo had made an undertaking that when the water services master plan was presented, Members of the Portfolio Committee would be given formalisations on the appointment of the DG.
Ms Powell stressed that it was unacceptable to come to the Committee and have questions go unanswered. She expressed her disappointment that the Minister did not attend Portfolio Committee meetings as a general rule, and that Members were lucky if the Minister came to meetings. In light of the fact that the Committee had rejected the apology of the Minister, she asked if it was possible to summon Minister, as Members needed to understand what was happening in the DHSWS, including the DG’s appointment and the reasons for the Minister “continually shuffling the deck chairs.” She asked to summon the Minster to the meeting “once and for all” to answer the long outstanding questions of what was happening. It was not acceptable to be told repeatedly by the Deputy Minister that questions could not be answered on behalf of the Minister. The Minister reported to the Portfolio Committee, and as such it was her egal right to ask for a response.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Powell for raising the issue, which was noted. The Minister would be invited, not summoned, as the issue was not out of hand. At the start, the Minister had said that there was a DG in Human Settlements who would act in Water and Sanitation. Because of the pre-existing challenges, immediately there was stability, DG Tshangana would go back to his position. For the Chairperson, this was what was happening, but she could not speak on behalf of the Minister. Instead, the Minister would be invited to attend the meeting and to respond so that the processes followed to appoint DGs could be clarified. This was how the Minister had been assisting to stabilise the DWS in the process. According to the Chairperson, the only issue which the Minister needed to answer for was on the processes that had been followed to appoint the acting DG in the DWS.
Deputy Minister Tshwete made a special request to be excused to attend the funeral of an official who she had worked with. She did not want to appear as if she was disrespecting Members, and noted that DM Mahlobo had joined the meeting.
The Chairperson accepted this, and released Deputy Minister Tshwete. She had just been informed about the Member of Parliament who had passed on, and requested that before the meeting proceeded, there should a moment of silence for the passing of this MP and others who had passed on.
Briefing on Water and Sanitation
Deputy Minister David Mahlobo , DG Trevor Balzer and Dr Tseliso Ntuli, Regional Head: DWS, Free State, presented the key matters detailed in the presentation. These included the budget from the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant (RBIG), the Bucket Eradication Programme grant allocations, and the state of wastewater treatment works.
Dr Limakatso Moorosi, chief executive officer (CEO) briefed Members on Bloem Water, followed by Mr Mpheteng Mokubung, Acting Chief Operations Officer, who briefed them on Sedibeng Water.
The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister Mahlobo and his team.
Mr Tseki said he had a relationship with the Free State, as he had been schooled in QwaQwa. The challenge faced with water in QwaQwa was difficult for him to understand. There were boreholes and water tanks, yet he was not sure of what could be done to outsource water from the nearby dams, given the budget. He asked for this to be explained further by the board. In the apartheid era, he recalled how there were homes without electricity, despite the fact that cables ran above or nearby the homes. In present times, he was perplexed by the fact that the community of QwaQwa, which was in such close proximity to dams, did not have any water. Furthermore, he was concerned about contamination of dams. He acknowledged that the DWS was busy with this matter, but earnestly requested that it make sure it had a programme which would holistically address the issues. It was unfortunate that millions of rands in the budget had been allocated to rectify the position – could this not have been corrected through maintenance? Overloaded systems in the end needed to be fixed, which cost money. If maintenance had been carried out, using the fees relevant to services on the ground, would community members be finding themselves in this predicament?
Mr L Basson (DA) voiced his concern about the officials who stated that money was outstanding and then asked for assistance in getting this money. He did not understand how a municipality could owe that amount of money and how anybody would think this would be paid back. He did not know how this would be paid back, and deemed the money unrecoverable, suggesting that the DWS should return and indicate how the money would be recovered.
Ms Mohlala said the presentation by the Free State delegation provided proof that there was a collapse – a dysfunctional system. When would the blue and green drop assessments be undertaken by the DWS? These assessments should have been used as a guide for short and long term sustainable interventions, and the development of functional wastewater treatment plans. Furthermore, since the near drought in the Free State, what were the adaptation and mitigation strategies to ensure water security in the province in future? Had the drafting of the provincial water and sanitation master plan, aligned to the national master plan, already been done? What was the plan going forward?
Ms Tseke asked the Sedibeng water board for an update and timeline for finalising the eradication of the bucket system. The deadline for the bucket system eradication had long passed. She asked about the equipping of 10 boreholes in the Free State at a cost of R43 million. Could the Sedibeng water board provide a breakdown of how this money was spent, and in what kind of way the boreholes were being equipped to justify this amount of funding?
Ms Mokghoto referred to the money owed by the Sedibeng water board to the DWS. There was a possibility that this debt might increase, if dues to the DWS by the Nala water board continued. What form of intervention had DWS put in place to assist Sedibeng water to retrieve them so that it would also be able to pay its own debts? What was the budget allocation for Bloem and Sedibeng water boards for the financial year 2020/21? Could those boards give a breakdown of their budgets for the year? While she could understand that during apartheid, the government did not care for the majority of the people in South Africa, but what she did not understand was that even after 26 years of democratic governance, there were still people in the Free State using bucket systems. Why was it taking the DWS so long to address this issue?
On another note, many municipalities did not have skilled engineers to work on the wastewater treatment plans, and suitable employees to manage them. She asked the Bloem water board if the municipality still had a water service contract with it. If not, could Members be provided with reasons their contract had been terminated? There was lots of money owed to the Bloem water board. What was the DWS doing to assist Bloem water to retrieve money owed to them? When would municipalities in the Free State overcome the major and long-standing challenges hampering the functionality of the wastewater treatment works, such as vandalism, electrical and mechanical repairs, refurbishment of wastewater treatment works, construction of chloride rooms, etc. When would these challenges be effectively dealt with so that people no longer had to suffer?
Ms Mvana admitted that she might have missed the details on the timeframes for the 20 boreholes that were to be build in QwaQwa, but she wanted to see the boreholes working, as well as a visible improvement in the availability of water in QwaQwa.
Ms Tafeni asked a question in her mother tongue.
Ms Seoposengwe said she had seen on TV that in the North-West, there was treatment of raw water. Was the DWS involved in this? Were they taking this approach to other municipalities? She felt it was an important programme that really excited the community. Regarding the boreholes in QwaQwa, she was saddened by the story of water scarcity, and wanted to know from the province how they were able to resolve this issue, as well as how the tankering was being done. There were instances in other provinces where tanks were dropped off without water or stands, which made accessing the water difficult for community members.
Referring to procurement processes, she asked what lessons had been learnt by the DWS, besides the case in front of the Zondo Commission. It was very sad to hear what was coming out at the hearings. It seemed there were numerous pump stations needing refurbishment, including some which were being vandalised. What was being done to mitigate poor service delivery? Was this a problem of maintenance? Members could not complain forever about vandalised pump station -- how could the community be involved in issues of security? On the matter of contractors being delayed, what processes were in place to remedy this situation?
The Chairperson backed up the point made by Mr Basson, and said the Members had interacted with the DWS and invited National Treasury and COGTA to the meeting as a start to dealing with the debt at the water boards in the country. There had been an agreement on the process that was to be followed after this, and they needed to know at what stage this process was. What other assessments had the DWS carried out on the water services authorities? What support was provided after this? There were a number of wastewater plants that were not in operation, or that had broken down. She suggested returning the money for maintenance so as not to aggravate a situation where a project could collapse.
Regarding Ms Tseke’s point on the borehole costs, she was worried about prices in the country and how business was conducted. The government was controlling the budget, and needed to determine the price that was to be paid. The Bloem Water report had shown that there was still a feasibility study that needed to be done at a cost of R30 million. She felt strongly that something government needed to learn was to utilise the few resources they had for the maximum benefit of the people. It was possible to spend R50 million on the planning of a project, for example, and this showed that there was a problem. With the boreholes, it seemed that the government was paying three times the budget charged to households – why was this? Why was it comfortable with paying this amount of money without engaging or comparing prices?
The Chairperson requested clarity on the timeline for the Bucket Eradication System. Would this happen by the end of the financial year? Regarding wastewater treatment plants, there were instances where municipal officials did not have capacity in these areas. The Committee was seeking a way forward so that as it assessed and progressed in a situation, and collaboration with COGTA occurred, sustainability could be achieved. The issue of employment was also critical. There was no target for the empowerment of women, youths and those with a disability, and she want to know how this would be executed. Lastly, she referred to gaps in the structure that needed to be filled. Were the provincial structures, with unfilled posts, still standing? When would these positions be filled? The Chairperson asked for a timeline on this, and called on the team to respond.
Ms Moorosi (Bloem Water) responded to questions about the contract with Kopanong and Bloem Water. Kopanong had terminated their contract with Bloem Water, which was supposed to be renewed in October 2020. The matter had been elevated by Bloem Water to the Ministry and the boards. There were valid concerns about how the communities would be provided with water, how debt would be handled, and the infrastructure and offices that Bloem Water had in the municipalities in the region. No formal response had been received, but she had received a call from the municipal manager (MM) saying that there was an intention from the Council to rescind that resolution. This had not happened yet, however, and the notification was still pending at the time of the August meeting. Ms Moorosi stressed that it would be irresponsible to simply end the contract when there was so much at stake with service delivery. The matter had been elevated to the provincial Premier. At the time of the meeting, the municipality was owed approximately R400 million. Mangaung owed the municipality approximately R1.2 billion.
Regarding feasibility studies, there were pre-feasibility studies taking place. These were combined into a feasibility study, which included an environmental impact assessment (EIA), which accounted for the R30 million cost about which the Member had been concerned. The pre-feasibility study had cost much less than that.
Mr Mokubung (Sedibeng) responded on the water challenges in QwaQwa, and said there had also been a huge impact of drought in the previous terms which had affected 80% of the supply in QwaQwa. There had been an upgrade to a nearby water project to supply 20 megalitres – an increase from 10 megalitres -- in order to augment availability. There were two other projects which were also part of drought efforts. A pipeline augmentation had also been carried out.
Regarding the 10 boreholes costing R43 million, a breakdown of these costs had been given. After drilling took place, an analysis of the water was done to check what elements were there. In the case of QwaQwa, the water required treatment before it could be supplied to residents. Each borehole and borehole cluster required electrical equipment, pumping mains, elevated steel tanks, motor control centre (MCC) panels, pipelines, foundations etc. The timelines for the 20 boreholes was a six-month period, scheduled to end by February 2021. There were four contractors working in parallel on this, to speed up the process. Tanks and tankering was done with an approach to put in temporary installations such as holes and fittings, so that the tanks could be used while waiting for permanent solutions. The issue of delays by contractors meant that Sedibeng was using penalities where contractors did not stick to the programme.
Ms Mpinane Shasha, Chief Financial Officer (CFO): Sedibeng Water, responded to the matter of budget allocations, and said that the PFMA schedule governed the money used. Unfortunately, her sound connection was intermittent and her answers were disrupted. She stressed that they were in concerning circumstances, and requested assistance. Approximately 21 small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) had been appointed to assist with the drought-mitigation process, as part of an effort to empower small business.
Vandalism was coming under control, as the board was improving circumstances through the use of water tankers. They had hopes to demobilise the tanks when further tankering was required only on an emergency basis. Sedibeng would be looking into vandalism that was being caused by the zama zamas (illegal miners) in the area.
A Free State representative addressed matters of water pollution, contamination and spillages. Most of the wastewater treatment works had an enforcement team which went out on a monthly basis. They operated in terms of the task team, as well as the infrastructure development team. Where there was need and municipalities could not deliver, the Free State department was working with COGTA to demand that certain infrastructure be operated on. The representative was concerned that this was dysfunctional. It was emphasised that a maintenance budget was critical, along with proper methods of collecting funds.
Regarding operator standards, from time to time the municipalities would check to make sure they could employ staff, which came up as a gap in the yearly assessments. They wanted this process to be integrated with the IDPs. To mitigate the drought, much work was being done. There were gauging stations at rivers to look at the river floors, which impacted on decision-making at the municipal level. A process of water rationing and bulk infrastructure management had begun, and there was even an enforced restriction to make sure the infrastructure could recover. There was a need to fill positions, and two-week to six-month periods were being considered to employ new staff. There were some areas where they were working with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist in monitoring water resources and management.
Drastic steps to ensure compliance with blue drop and green drop standards at water treatment works were being formalised with the head office. There was a laboratory which was being used to enforce good standards for wastewater and drinking water.
DG Balzer finalised the responses. He spoke about the debt owed, and confirmed that there would an engagement with National Treasury, COGTA, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and MINTEC. There would be a response in the coming week as to how they would deal with the water entities.
Deputy Minister Mahlobo referred to the issue of lack of access to water in the Free State, saying it was being attended to. It was an apartheid era-related system, which was being rectified. There were many communities being bypassed, even though there was water nearby. He stressed that dams must be able to be tapped, so that water could be drawn for communities that needed them. Regarding debts, the DWS would come back to the Committee with a concrete report on finances --for example, on water tariffs. If water boards continued to be owed money, they would not be able to fulfil their mandate. It was important to be able to come back and account, even under the challenging economic environment. The number of municipalities that were struggling with the Water Services Act was high, and the DWS was intervening.
He agreed that there were serious challenges with procurement, especially where the system was being abused. This was being followed up on. The country had been embarrassed by those who were stealing money from the poor, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He thanked the Portfolio Committee for its support, and stressed the importance of supporting municipalities to fulfil their mandate.
DG Tshangana responded on the bucket eradication issue. A programme had started in 2019, and one part of the project was to be managed by Gift of the Givers. Unfortunately, they could not agree with National Treasury on procurement. The programme management aspect would be done by the Housing Development Agency (HAD), which had government officials on site. There were 6 000 buckets out of 10 000 that had been managed by the government. A clear project schedule needed to be provided, but he was confident that they would conclude it by the end of the financial year.
The meeting was adjourned.
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