The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) briefed the Portfolio Committee in a virtual meeting on its performance and expenditure during the first quarter of the 2020/21 financial year.
The Committee raised concerns about the delays in the implementation of projects, specifically in relation to the Vaal Dam, as it was a national key point. Covid-19 regulations were cited as the main reason for the delays. The Department assured the Committee that implementation would be fast tracked during the remaining quarters.
The slow progress on the eradication of the bucket system remained a challenge. Members were informed that the function had been transferred to the Department of Human Settlements in terms of a ministerial decision.
The Committee considered the unresolved human resource issues as an impediment to the effective functioning of the Department. An electronic recruitment process had been implemented to speed up the filling of vacancies. The target for the settlement of all disciplinary cases was set for the end of the year.
Concerns about the effective monitoring of conditional grant allocations were highlighted. The Department endeavoured to communicate the concerns to all the parties involved.
Mr Trevor Blazer, Acting Director-General (DG), Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), said the presentation was a reflection of the work done during the heart of the lockdown period in the first quarter. He paid tribute to the team who had done a sterling job under the guidance of the Minister, and with the support of the Water Boards.
The state of play at the end of the first quarter showed that 38% of the targets had been achieved. The Department reported its worst performance of only 58% achievement on infrastructure projects. This was due to difficulty of getting boots on the ground.
The expenditure on designated groups in the first quarter was unsatisfactory, and needed to improve in the remaining three quarters. The reason for the high non-achievement rates was due to lower activities as a result of the lockdown regulations.
A tactical change was proposed for the handling of the National Water and Sanitation Bill. Discussions were being held internally and at an executive level.
Only 8% of the R13 billion budget for water infrastructure development had been allocated. Contractors could not proceed due to the lockdown regulations.
The under-expenditure in employee compensation was due to vacancies.
The under-expenditure in goods and services was due to the adjustment budget. National Treasury had suspended R50 million and reprioritised R200 million. The special adjustment budget reflected the movement of the allocated budget in terms of the four programmes. Cabinet had endorsed the R257 million to support Covid-19 relief programmes.
At this point, the connection with the acting DG was lost. Mr Leonardo Manus, Chief Director: Infrastructure Operations and Maintenance, DWS, was requested to take over the presentation.
Mr Manus reported that the wasteful expenditure was caused by a number of delays. The Vaal Dam contract had lapsed and an advertisement would soon be placed for the appointment of two civil contractors. Riots had made it difficult to complete the Sebokeng project. The Meyerton civil works tender would soon be advertised. The Department had met with the new traditional leader regarding the Mzimvubu and Ecca areas. Disputes regarding the Hazelmere project had been resolved, and the Department was ready to proceed within the next month. Negotiations with Group Five had been postponed, but were expected to be finalised soon.
With regard to the Amathole and Crocodile West water supply systems, he explained that commercial funding was needed for phase two, and that application had also been made for government funding. The split would be 56% for external participants, and 44% as a social contribution. The Department had encountered procurement problems in terms of the Clanwilliam Dam. A similar situation prevailed at the Tzaneen Dam. Negotiations needed to be completed.
Mr Manus reported a decline in waste water management implementation. A level of monitoring was in place, and the Department would ensure stimulation for a turnaround in water quality. The services of municipalities were being considered to assist with compliance to the Green Drop regulatory requirements. The Blue Drop would augment the Green Drop system.
Interviews would be conducted on a semi-virtual basis to address the backlog in the filling of vacancies. There were currently 63 disciplinary cases in progress. The target was to complete the cases by the end of the year.
Ms S Mokgotho (EFF) asked whether delays in the implementation of projects would impact on water tinkering, and if the water and sanitation master plan would be revised. She requested an overview of the analysis of the first quarter report in terms of National Treasury issues and internal audit findings.
Ms C Seoposenwe (ANC) enquired about the number of jobs created by the Department, in light of the high rate of unemployment in the country. She wanted to know how many women, youths and people with disabilities had been empowered.
Ms G Tseke (ANC) welcomed the comprehensive report. She queried whether the Department would be able to revise the targets in the annual performance plan (APP), and if it had a recovery plan to achieve the targets. She wanted to know when the posts of the Director-General (DG), Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the other top management positions would be filled. She was concerned that the report had been silent on the eradication of the bucket system, and requested feedback on the progress of this matter.
Ms E Powell (DA) enquired about the cost of the National Water and Sanitation Bill, and what the reason for the reversal was. She wanted to know whether the Swartkops River in Nelson Mandela Bay formed part of the river eco-status monitoring plan, and what the role of the national Department was in the monitoring plan. She asked whether the Department had an action plan to deal with the worsening debt management crisis at both the local and government level.
Ms N Sihlwayi (ANC) was troubled that the results were not in accordance with the action plan, and asked for clarity about the differences. The Committee was not getting a clear picture during its oversight visits of progress in implementing the waste water management system. She queried how the budgets of last year and this year were being used to address the problems with water quality. The issue of vegetation and sewage in water was not a new issue, as it was also raised last year. She proposed that the Department return with an updated report that would give a clear picture of the areas visited by the Committee.
She queried why there had been no feedback on the implementation of a gender-based violence (GBV) intervention, in light of the proposal and the budget allocation that had been made. The Committee was looking for a sustainable solution on the issue of water tanks, and she queried whether the tanks would be filled by the Department or the municipalities. She asked whether the Department believed that the huge amounts of money spent on entities was providing value for money, as entities were doing their own thing without involving the Department.
She wanted to know whether the employment issues which had caused the protest action in Sebokeng had been resolved, and who was taking care of the intervention in light of the fact that the contractor had left the site. She asked for feedback on the progress of the broken sewer that was reported last year. She queried whether the skills development intervention by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) was not supposed to have been a management function.
The Chairperson indicated that she had difficulty understanding the finances. She acknowledged that the report for the first quarter would have been affected by the lockdown, but needed clarification on the amounts in the budget that were not spent. She asked whether the R257 million suspension was going to affect the baseline of the Department, and what the consequences of the suspension were. How had projects, such as the one in Limpopo, been affected by the lockdown?
The Committee had conducted an oversight visit to the Vaal Dam, and had requested the Department to provide a progress report on the Vaal Dam, Tshwane and Giyani interventions. National Treasury had made money available for an impact study on the Vaal River, as it had been declared a national key point. She suggested that the culprits responsible for polluting the Vaal River included people from the Gauteng, Johannesburg and Mpumalanga regions. She advised the Department to inform National Treasury if they did not have the capacity to do the impact study, as the money would be suspended if it was not utilised.
She was not pleased with the progress in filling the vacancies, especially the CFO position. The Department only referred to problems without offering solutions. She requested it to fast track the disciplinary issues, as it amounted to delayed justice.
National Treasury had announced R20 million to assist with water issues. She asked whether the Department was collaborating with municipalities in terms of the conditional grant allocations. She was concerned that systems were not strong enough, and asked if the Department could guarantee that the findings in the Auditor-General’s report would not affect the conditional grant allocations. She queried whether the monitoring and evaluation capacity of the Department would ensure that the money did not disappear.
Mr Manus replied that the Department did communicate with municipalities regarding fund allocations, and issued letters about its expectations. Provincial heads were going to engage with municipalities. No responses had yet been received.
The Department took note of the Committee’s concern regarding fund allocations, and would make sure that partners were also made aware of the concerns.
He apologised for not meeting the expectation to provide a report relating to on-site visits, and promised to rectify the matter.
In response to queries on the uMzimkhulu project, the Chief Director said that the Department was focusing on starting phase one, to ensure implementation of the plan. It was not deviating from its commitments, but was mitigating the challenges through various interventions. Discussions regarding phases two to four were continuing, and alternative funding was being considered. Additional options were being discussed with National Treasury to fund outstanding programmes.
A decision had been taken by the Minister to transfer the eradication of the bucket system in the Northern Cape and Free State provinces to the Department of Human Settlements.
The contract in relation to the Vaal Dam intervention had come to an end. The Department was considering the employment of contractors to work on the waste water and water treatment projects to limit the exposure caused by spillages in the Sebokeng area.
Mr Squire Mahlangu, Deputy Director-General: Corporate Services, DWS, said that 360 people were employed at the Vaal project. More people would be employed in the next quarter, and 1 714 project-based employees were on site. All senior management service (SMS) posts, except for 17, had been placed. The placements were done by the Minister and the acting DDG.
An e-recruitment process was in place to fill all vacant posts across the country, based on the new structure. Vacancies would be assessed once the new structure was approved by the DPSA. The process should be completed within four months. It was envisaged that a number of jobs would be lost, as the new structure was lean and mean.
The Minister had indicated that she would institute a disciplinary committee to speed up the process, which involved a number of cases.
Mr Anil Singh, Deputy Director-General: Water Sector Regulation, DWS, said that the validation and verification (V&V) report was being reviewed internally. The Limpopo V&V report was locked in a court dispute. The report relating to water quality would be tabled by the end of November. The Deputy Minister was the champion of water quality.
The Chairperson asked for feedback on the Nelson Mandela Bay project.
Mr Singh replied that he would check with his colleagues, and respond by the following week.
Mr Frans Moatshe, Chief Financial Officer, DWS, explained that the R257 million reallocated funds were in respect of the broader Covid-19 relief programmes. The Department had been requested to contribute. The funds had come from the travel budget, as travelling was suspended during the lockdown period.
The under-expenditure could be contributed to Covid-19 conditions. Programmes did not take place during the latter part of the quarter. He said that the accounting officer was accountable for the close monitoring of projects.
Ms Mokgotho was unhappy that the Department had not responded to her questions and reiterated them. She wanted to know whether the delays in implementation would impact on the bulk water project, if water tankering was becoming a norm, and if the water and sanitation master plan would be revised. She also requested an overview of the analysis of the first quarter report in terms of National Treasury issues and internal audit findings.
The Chairperson indicated that she had not received feedback on the Vaal issue and the CFO position.
Mr M Tseki (ANC) asked whether feedback on the bucket eradication system must in future be requested from the Department of Human Settlements (DHS).
Ms Sihlwayi asked for an explanation about the V&V report and the court process that had been referred to earlier in the meeting. She wanted clarity on the R20 million allocated for the Vaal River assessment.
The Chairperson explained that the Deputy President had negotiated the R20 million allocation with National Treasury to assess the impact of the pollution of the Vaal River. The idea was to get the culprits to pay for the pollution according to the polluters-pay principle.
Mr Blazer explained that the sustainability project was intended to address the bulk water and water tank interventions. He was hesitant to claim that the water tanks would be completely eradicated. The provisional targets in the master plan would have to be revised. The targets were based on the economic downturn and budget constraints. The Minister was in a better position to respond regarding the CFO and DG appointments. The R20 million was an assessment regarding the polluters’ payment policy.
Mr Mahlangu replied that all SMS members had been placed except the DG, as it was the Ministers’ decision to make. The process was currently stalled.
Mr Singh explained that the V&V project was run as a national project. The Department had been sued for the three projects in Limpopo, and the disputes were settled out of court. The report would be presented to the DDG and the Minister before it would be tabled in Parliament.
Ms Mokgotho insisted that the Department respond to her question about the overview of the first quarter report by National Treasury and internal audit.
Mr Blazer replied that he did not have the two reports, but would obtain them and submit them to the Committee.
Mr Tseki advised Ms Mokgotho that the Department had been requested to present the first quarter report, and that she should divert her question about the internal audit report to the appropriate department.
The Chairperson intervened and said that it should not be an issue, as the acting DG had agreed to share the report. She requested him to submit it within seven days.
The Chairperson acknowledged that the lockdown had impacted on service delivery, and encouraged the Department to continue with the implementation of their mandate, as it remained a challenge if communities did not have access to water. She requested officials to convey the message to the Minister that she needed to prioritise the appointment of the DDG, as the Department needed stability in order to do its work and function effectively.
The Chairperson proposed that the next meeting should take place Parliament, and that Members who were able to go to Parliament should do so. Members who were not able to attend in person would be accommodated via the virtual platform.
The meeting was adjourned.
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