The Department of Water and Sanitation briefed the Select Committee on its Annual Performance Plan (APP), and Budget for the 2021/22 financial year in a virtual meeting.
The Department presented revisions in the 2021/22 budget structure and measuring outcomes. A detailed overview of the APP was presented per departmental programme. A detailed overview of the budget was also presented.
Members asked questions about filling all the strategic positions in the Department; raised concerns on the unfinished projects in areas such as Madibeng; the urgent need for people to access fresh water; asked about the catchment areas, and the pollution in rivers through South Africa. Members asked if the Department could explain in which ways the Department was enforcing consequences on the vast neglect of wastewater treatment work plants. Members also wanted to know what was happening with the war on leakages; asked about the Department’s strategy regarding maintenance of the old plants, and asked if the Department was still receiving complaints, especially regarding the dysfunctional dealings of people who were still being billed higher amounts.
The Committee commended the Department on turning around its performance in the past two years.
Apologies from the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, were noted.
The Chairperson welcomed Members, the Department of Water and Sanitation, and the Deputy Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Mr David Mahlobo. Parliament was considering the Annual Performance Plans (APP) for the different departments, as well as the budgets for the financial year 2021/22. This was the busiest period of Parliament. It was important to see to it the budgets were approved and the departments were able to implement it in line with the strategic framework. It was important because the challenges being faced in the sector of water and sanitation were very big. The Members of Parliament needed to keep an eye on what the departments were doing so there was positive impact in changing the lives of people. Water had to be provided and it had to be ensured challenges were addressed. The Department could only do this if Parliament held it accountable by asking pertinent questions to understand what it was doing and if it was going to be achievable, time bound, and realistic.
The Department of Water and Sanitation was going to present its Annual Performance Plan (APP) for 2021/22. It was there to share its intentions regarding the budget and how the budget was structured according to the different votes and programs.
The human settlement component would be engaged with on the following Tuesday. The current meeting was going to focus on water and sanitation. The Deputy Minister was invited to address the House to share some strategic issues regarding the Department.
He noted Mr William Moraka, Manager: Water Services, South African Local Government Association (SALGA), was present, which was noteworthy because the current year is focused on local government elections.
DWS 2021/22 APP
Ms Debra Mochotlhi, the Acting Director-General, DWS, gave opening remarks.
Ms Babalwa Manyakanyaka, Chief Director: Corporate Planning, DWS, made the presentation The Department presented revisions in the 2021/22 budget structure and measuring outcomes. A detailed overview of the APP was presented per departmental programme. A detailed overview of the budget was also presented by Mr Frans Moatshe, the Acting CFO.
See attached document for full figures.
The Chairperson said water was an important resource and it was important to ensure the Department provided this service to people, especially in rural areas where the need was acute.
Mr I Sileku (DA, Western Cape) said he was disappointed because the Department still had an acting Director General. He wanted to know when it was going to fill all the strategic positions. If it did not find any stability on the management side, it was going to be very difficult for the Department to go forward. It was the second year it was engaging on the APP and budget of the Department, without a Director-General.
Another matter flagged during the first engagement was the use of ‘consultancy’. He thought the use of consultants would have been phased out in the budget, but the use and cost of consultants, and business and advisory services was increasing every year. He asked what plans the Department has in place to make sure the usage of consultants was being phased out, going forward.
Regarding the travel and subsistence vote, there was an increase even during Covid, where people were not even allowed to travel much. He asked if the Department could elaborate on this increase. Since there were droughts, municipalities were still not able to manage water losses, and he asked if there were comprehensive and effective plans as a Department, to support the municipalities to make sure water losses were not sky high but manageable.
Regarding policies/acts which the Department had to review, he asked the Department to share which policies were being reviewed, so the Committee knew what was outstanding.
Ms C Visser (DA, North West) asked about the catchment areas, and the pollution in rivers through South Africa. She asked if the Department could explain in which ways it was enforcing consequences on the vast neglect of wastewater treatment work plants. Some of these were newly elected. These would still break down and then it spills over into the environment, and nothing happens about it. The Department would say it was the responsibility of the District, the District would say the local government, while all our natural resources were contaminated with raw sewer.
Regarding the involvement in water boards, there was a lot of money in the budgets, but on ground level there were so many municipalities without water. Many villages had to dig deep holes in dry riverbeds to use seepage water to make a living from this. These villages spent the past ten years not having any fresh water, except seepage water. The budget showed there were allowances for the provision for bulky water, however she said she failed to see this on the ground.
Ms Visser also asked what was happening with the war on leakages. This project ran around 2017 and 2018. She asked what happened to it, because in all areas the pipelines were not maintained, leakages flowed freely into the fields and the long roads, and into rivers and streams in South Africa.
Mr E Mthethwa (ANC, KZN) asked about the Department’s strategy regarding maintenance of the old plants. He asked if it was still receiving complaints, especially in the dysfunctional dealings of people still being billed higher amounts, while seeing water running on the bushes and sometimes along the road. He asked what strategy the Department had to ensure the billing was an effective revenue collection tool; asked if people are being billed according to what was used; and regarding the issue of the maintenance of the plant, he asked what strategy the Department had going forward. He was also concerned about travel, because departments could save much money in this area. He asked why there was an increase in the budget.
The Chairperson said the presentation was good, and the document was in line with the Medium-Term Strategic Framework of the Department, as well as with what the President said in SONA. He made some reflections on what was a cause of concern.
There were communities in the country, especially in rural areas, which did not have access to water, and it was unjustifiable that 27 years after the new democratic dispensation people were still without water. The government had done a lot in providing water services to communities. In 1994, 40% had access to direct water. At the moment it was well over 90%, but the remaining 10% still wanted water. Water was life, and sanitation was dignity. The Department had to uphold this slogan and belief. It had to develop clear cut plans to be encapsulated in the APP, spelled out in precision. These would show the intention to ensure the situation was ameliorated. There were certain areas with a water crisis. In Vryberg, there was a big problem. The Department, together with the District Municipality and the Citadel Waterboard embarked on a process to build a pipeline and the necessary water treatment plant to support and help the people who needed water in this area. It had not been completed for years. He urged the Department to go and attend to the matter with urgency.
Madibeng had the same problem. A project which started in 2011, ten years down the line the project was not yet completed. He was trying to demonstrate there were challenges, and these needed to be sufficiently covered in the APP of the Department. The Department was doing well in stabilising the waterboards, and it was welcome to ensure transparency and democratic processes unfolding. It would ensure the Department had the people with the necessary skills and capacities on boards, so good governance and financial accountability was secure. He commended the Board in this respect. His concern was, the process has to be expedited and the positions filled urgently, for stability in the boards, especially those which were not doing well. The Department was in chaos regarding financial accountability in the years leading up to the new team, led by the Minister and the Deputy Minster.
There were allegations regarding wrongdoing. It was important in the APP, for those issues to be explained. It was important to set out what the Department was doing to ensure the problem was addressed. There had been problems regarding contingencies and liabilities of the Department undertaking projects which were not budgeted for, which was not acceptable. There were problems of accruals, but the Department had tried to close the gaps.
He said what the Committee had to do was follow up on all the issues. The Committee was going to ensure the Department was held accountable and its oversight function was exercised well, so the issues were attended to. It was in the best interest of the Department to fill senior management positions. He asked what the Department was doing about it. It was a matter which received national attention and it was therefore imperative for the Department to take the Committee into its confidence to brief it on what was happening. He asked what the Department meant regarding capacity, asking if the Department had capacity, or if the capacity had to be developed over time, to ensure the water sector had the necessary capacity with people who could do the job. Whenever a crisis arose, the Department should be able to intervene and address the problems. He said the Department would not be able to comment on all the questions, but the questions were raised so the Committee was able to follow up.
The Deputy Minister thanked the Committee for the questions it asked. He told the Committee it took time when it came to the question of stabilising the Department, because the Department had to go through reorganisation and look at the structure. The structure of the Department was finalised and it was at the stage where it was doing placements. The Department was to look at the question of the CFO soon, and the DG. It had taken longer than expected and agreed some timelines were to be given. It was necessary to commend those who had been working very hard in the Department, even in the time of stabilising the Department.
The Department was able to achieve an unqualified audit opinion for both accounts. The previous audits were not good, but there had been an improvement and the Department was to continue to strive so there was no regression. There were signal issues and investigations which had to be dealt with. The Department was working for the relevant entities. Internally, there was a team working with the Ministry to be able to comply with outstanding matters. This was because there were several outstanding issues. The Department had made the commitment, and it would be able to share the information with the Select Committee from time to time.
The DM agreed there were several communities which did not have water. The statistics around access to infrastructure change was different from the issue of access to water for households. The infrastructure was done well over the 27 years, and the Department gave roll outs to many communities. However, there was a regression in the number of municipalities which were not in a good position. One of the reasons was because the population had grown, and its infrastructure was not directly proportional to the population growth. Big cities continued to have the biggest migrations inwardly, and from outside. The well-developed infrastructure in Gauteng, Western Cape, and KZN, was also included in this. These were the big metros with its systems of water treatments, and even these metros were unable to cope, even in Tshwane. The President addressed this as part of the Works Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. Infrastructure on network structures would be at the centre of the work being done. This failed because of one of the challenges in South Africa. The infrastructure was in good condition, but had never been properly operated and maintained because fo the lack of skills.
The second reason was because of the lack of financial provision. The Department was lagging behind because the threshold of five percent was never respected by many municipalities, and not only on water, but also regarding roads. The power generation was one of the fundamental problems. There were many reasons why projects were incomplete, while some projects were managed without the full funding for the period. Some of it was because of issues of corruption. Some of the projects were affected due to delays, or due to community issues. A very big apology was due to the community of Madibeng because of delays. It was unacceptable, but it took the Department a long time. These issues were taken to heart and the Department was going to address it.
The Acting Director General said the Department was working hard to change the situation and the perception. It was not all everyone who was found to be wanting in capacity and in wastage of resources. Though unfortunate, it was going to take a very long time to change the perception of the public. The Department remained encouraged, noting change took time, and the Department was going to continue to do so.
Most of the Department’s employees were not in lockdown because the staff were out working on the various functions to ensure the least advantaged were catered for, enabling such persons to stand. These persons were out there with the delivery of tanks, ensuring those tanks were filled with water, so when the taps were opened the communities could get water.
During outcome nine, before Covid, the Department was working on the issue with COPTA and made sure it reduced the number of those who did not have water. Unfortunately, Covid dealt a terrible blow. Maintenance was supposed to happen at local level. This would reduce the reliability of the supply of water in those areas. Through the Department’s hard work it obtained an unqualified audit opinion for both the Department and the WT.
The Department had a financial recovery plan, and it was in this plan where the Department was reducing the accruals. The unfortunate part was, when dealing with a historic problem it was challenging to deal with it at once. A mistake had been made in the past, where to please communities, the Department would share the cake only in small amounts, and the projects which started, could not be completed.
Regarding pollution, it was dealt with in various ways. Water resources, water quality, and water services quality, are interrelated. In the case of resources being polluted it became more expensive for the Department to treat it. If, during the water service, it was not done correctly, the Department tends to impact on the resource. The Department would issue a licence for a wastewater treatment plant, for example. These were normally called sewage plants. The Department had to comply with certain standards. Most municipalities had water treatment plants which did not comply. This meant the Department put in resource water which was not in compliance with the standard, and water which polluted the resource. It would kill the ecosystem in the resource, and it would also kill the economic viability of the place. The Department would find dams filled with algae and water spots.
The regulatory branch of the Department would have issues with non-compliance against whoever the transgressor was, regardless if it was a municipality or a private entity. If it was a private entity the Department would take it to court. The government entities posed a higher challenge and were problematic because the IDR had to come in, and the Department also had to intervene. It was not easy. The Department would still be taken to court.
The Blue Drop and the Green Drop were in the process of resuscitation. It did not mean because the Department had not issued a booklet it was doing nothing. In the past the Department used a system called the Blue Drop and the Green Drop report, which meant nothing was done. The Department was working around the issue and this was why it was issuing directives.
Madibeng had gone through interventions for years, but the Department was going to look at the specifics of what was happening so it did not give generic responses, but rather was sure of its reply.
Mr Leonardo Manus was the DDG for infrastructure at the Department of Water and Sanitation, and was well able to reply to the question.
Mr Thoko Sigwaza, Chief Director: Institutional Oversight, DWS, would address what the Department was doing to strengthen the regulation function, and Ms Ndileka Mohapi, Chief Director: War on Leaks, DWS, who was the project manager for war on leaks, would address this matter.
The Department was battling to get the necessary support from local government and from SALGA.
Ms Sigwaza was going to address what the waterboards were doing to assist municipalities. On the use of consultancies, the natural escalation of costs was the reason why the costs were increasing, but she assured Members, the Department had done a lot on the use of consultants.
Further, National Treasury’s cost containment measures were followed.
The travel budget was due to the water infrastructure, which was not necessarily around the corners of the Department’s offices and residential areas. The Department had to travel to water resources either for operation and maintenance, or for regulation functions.
Wastewater treatment plants were situated far out. Such costs were expected where the personnel were stationed where the water resources areas are. Surveyors also had to travel to the dams to do survey work there, and assisted with the movement of dams. With infrastructure, there was a movement which gave rise to the need for operation and maintenance of the dams.
The Dams Safety Office would need this information for it to draw a conclusion regarding if the dam was stable or not stable, and if something were to be done. The Department was a service delivery department, and the service delivery happened out there. The high bills issues were not the Department’s and it was not the right department to respond to the high bills unless it was the high bills on the water resources. The bills were in the purview of the local government municipalities.
Mr Manus replied regarding Madibeng. The implementing agency was busy with two components which were important to the project. These were the service providers to ensure the work could go forward. There was a meeting on the current day and the Department was awaiting a site visit from a Minister, and a report. The Deputy Minister was also going to visit the area, which showed the level of concern associated with the area.
The Department was aware of the unacceptable delays it had in this area. It ensured effort was being fast tracked. It was aware of some of the phases completed, including in the coastal area, but it was taking notice of operations and maintenance of the municipality.
In the JB Marks local municipality, the Department took note of some old clay sewer pipes in the area causing discomfort in the communities. The Department is investigating some of the grant funding projects which could have been accommodated through the Water Services Infrastructure Grant, and the Department could make funds available to assist the Municipality in the space because it understood the significance of the discomfort experienced.
There was a delay regarding testing the pipes, because even though the project was in its advanced stages, as a pipeline project 98% would not be confidently reported unless the pipelines were tested to understand which work needs to be done to ensure all the leakages were fixed.
This was what the construction unit was concerned with to ensure the pretesting was completed. The course of delay was also partly due to the confirmation of the budget by the District Municipality. There was a scheduled Back To Basics project which meant funding was being administered through the Municipality. The slow movement of the project was now being dealt with, since the budget was confirmed and construction started moving. What was unacceptable was the work at Blue-move, where a 200-work meter had to be addressed with the construction unit itself. The Department had to go labour intensive because of terrain conditions, and could not get machines in there. The Department was also given instructions saying the plant and labour was to be sourced from elsewhere to assist with the fast tracking.
Ms Mohapi said the war on leaks produced about 1 865 artisans. There were some who had not completed because of delays caused by the closing down of the colleges, which happened because of the Covid 19 pandemic. The numbers of the learners trying to do the trade test had to be limited, so there was a slow finishing.
The Department also had about 4 671 water agents who completed. Other than the training, the Department engaged with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure regarding water agents. The Department was willing to take Public Works under the wing of one of its projects, called the Catchment Urban Programme.
It wanted to implement this while the District Development Models in the various provinces would be doing work such as re-identification, assisting the municipalities in meter reading and other work which it could do, under the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The Department covered a lot of ground and was in discussions with National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC). Businesses were interested in taking up some of the learners. It was working in partnership with the Department to clean the database because these youngsters kept changing their details, making it very hard to keep track of them and to make contact with them.
The learners who would be put on the database to be visible for job opportunities. On the government side there was a task team which was formulated between the Department of Water and Sanitation, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA), and South African Local Government Association (SALGA). The task team was looking into deploying the artisans to the various municipalities.
The municipalities would consider the remaining months. It came to realise the structures within the municipalities were not accommodating. It did not have enough vacancies to adopt these learners. it also lobbied Treasury to try to work around these budgetary challenges. It was able to make significant impact. The Department continued to report on the matter in the joint meeting between the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, as well as COPTA. There was a lot of ground being covered with the assistance of SALGA. It started those difficult discussions with the various municipalities and the province.
Mr Sigwaza replied regarding strengthening regulations, compliance, and enforcement in the sector. It improved on governance institutions in the sector and on the oversight of institutions. It strengthened the board appointment processes and introduced transparency in the way the Board was appointed. The issue of tabling the annual reports and the quarterly reports to the Minister was dealt with. Issues around transparency in the preparation of tariffs were dealt with. It also ensured the tariffs were cost effective and cost reflective. It was working in the establishment on an economic regulator in the sector. It was going to oversee the issue of board role and water services, a component of regulation.
Water use license was also an issue it was busy with. It streamlined the way water use licenses were going to be used. It was complying with the new timeline, which changed from 300 to 60 day, as stated by the President. It was building capacity at a local level, using the catchment management agencies and its regions.
It added about 50 contract staff workers who were going to support the processes at the local level, so it was easy to access assistance when people applied for the licences. The Department was also stringent on the conditions of water use licences issued. It was monitoring this, and it was monitoring the regions and the catchment management agencies. It was also finalising the pricing strategy which was going to be overseen, and would outline how water was going to be priced for the entire water value chain, including for the municipalities and the agricultural sector.
There were key changes and reforms which were on the way, and the Catchment Management Agencies (CMA) were being established. A Minister had approved this. It proceeded with targeting the Western Cape. It was building a single CMA which was going to cover the entire area. There were going to be environmental management inspectors who were going to monitor compliance, pollution, and ensure there was successful prosecution when taking the polluters to court. The issue of validation and verification was progressing. It related to knowing how much water was being utilised, who was using it, and if it was a legal process. The Acting DG had approved focusing on the Olifants Water Management area, and where the CMAs were operating. It had also started the process of doing the wall-to-wall validation and verification of water use.
The Chairperson said, based on the APP, the Committee was going to look at the programme of Parliament for the year, and incorporate all the key areas of work raised. It was going to ensure, as it interacts over the year, it interacts specifically on the issues raised. It wanted to ensure the Department succeeds in the implementation of its Performance Plan, and the Budget. It did not want under-expenditure and over-expenditure, which created an unnecessary burden to the Department. It needed to stick to its budget in the event it needed to do any virements which could be done at the appropriate time when the Midterm Expenditure Framework was done by the Minister of Finance. It was going to adopt the APP in Parliament in the following week or two. It would have been able to give a green light to spend the budget and still hold it accountable regarding its activities.
He said he hoped he was representing the entire Committee in showing gratitude for the presentation. He understood the Department’s efforts in the limitations of the Covid 19 pandemic, and within the constraints of its budget. As a Committee, it was going to strengthen its oversight and would make sure it held the Department accountable for its work. He thanked all Members and the departments. The Department understood its work better.
The DM thanked the Committee for all the support and the guidance. The DM said he and the Minister were ready to try to work with the various partners, and to make the situation much better for the citizens, because the citizens did not deserve any less. It was going to take the issues as guided, and would continually report to the Committee, from time to time.
At this point, Minister Sisulu joined the meeting. She said the Acting DG was being very modest, and she was very proud of the strides made in the last nine months in Water. The Department found its footing, and the DG had a very good hand at the steering wheel. The Department was aligning and restructuring, and was going to bring the structure to the Committee. Its audit outcomes had also been very good and it was the first time in many years its boards had unqualified audit outcomes.
The Department would bring these matters to the Committee so the Committee could see the work the Committee did in monitoring, was bearing fruit. She thanked the Chairperson for spending his Saturdays ensuring the Department’s boards had the right calibre of persons, because if it did not, it would have a lot of problems. It had a lot of problems with the culture and the perception people had about boards, but the Department was hoping to change this.
Next time the Department would get straight A’s. She thanked the Committee for the support. Every time the Department came to the NCOP it felt like it had come people who asked how it as a Committee could help. This was different to other places, where the Department felt as though it were being seen as the enemy.
The Chairperson said in the past two years, the Committee saw a turnaround in the Department, and many things improved. This was one of the worst Department’s, ensconced with negativity. He wanted the Department to brag a bit and to share those things, saying how it found a particular situation, how it changed it, how it had an unqualified report, sorting out contingency liabilities, and all the issues. This was what it needed to talk about, so once it had this situation. It would be geared up to ensure it provides water, which was life and sanitation, which was dignity.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister for providing leadership with the Deputy Ministers. The Chairperson excused the Department, and the Committee proceeded to consider the reports. It had to consider the Department’s report in the following week, to present it to Parliament.
Report of the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Water, Sanitation and Human Settlements on the 2021/22annual Performance Plans and Budget Allocations of the Departments of Cooperative Governance, Traditional Affairs and the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent
The report was adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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