Working for Water: briefing; Annual Committee Report 2003: adoption

Water and Sanitation

28 January 2004
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Meeting report

WATER AFFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
29 January 2004
WORKING FOR WATER: BRIEFING; ANNUAL COMMITTEE REPORT 2003: ADOPTION

Documents handed out

Working for Water Programme briefing (Awaited)
Working for Water: Annual Report 2002/2003 (Awaited)
Water Affairs and Forestry Portfolio Committee Annual Report 2003

Chairperson: Mr J Van Wyk

SUMMARY
A management team from Working for Water (WfW) briefed the Committee on their optimisation and conservation of natural resources by reclaiming arable land for indigenous vegetation, rehabilitating wetlands (Working for Wetlands) and minimising fire risks (Working on Fire). Notwithstanding certain shortcomings, the Committee showed appreciation for the endeavours of WfW to realise their vision and mission.

The Committee Annual Report was adopted but would only be signed by the Chairperson after corrections had been effected.

MINUTES
Presentation of WfW Programme (Annual Report 2003)
Ms Laurie Less, the presenter, was assisted by Dr Guy Preston (National Co-ordinator) and Mr Nceba Ngobo and Ms Joyce Loza. Their social development role was prioritised because certain communities were dependent solely on WfW for an income; hence an extensive secondary partnership network and a formula that ensured proportional budget allocation among the provinces. Training programmes affiliated to SAQA and NQF, included the launch of a job creation project for 20 disabled persons in Mpumalanga, made possible through a R1m donation by the Finish Embassy.

Mr Ngobo said biocontrol research for the elimination of invasive alien vegetation (IAV) was ongoing. Research focussed on introducing the natural enemies of invasive plants to limit chemical and mechanical removal. R9m has been allocated for capacity-building purposes.

Ms Loza described the programme as dynamic because it has done so much for capacity building and transformation. They were currently reviewing their strategic planning to enable them to expand the programme and improve their outcomes.

Dr Preston acknowledged and expressed regret at the shortcomings at bureaucratic level, but assured Members that complaints were being attended to.

Discussion
Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked what safeguards would be in place against the "imported" natural enemies (also aliens) of IAVs; the reasons for the internal administrative holdups; the nature of WfW's consultative engagement with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism that might become the parent-department of both WFW and the new SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute); how WfW ensured legislation was complied with, and clarity on their follow-up activity.

Mr Ngobo said that before a biocontrol safeguard agent was released, it underwent vigorous scientific safety tests to ensure its effect was localised.

Dr Preston confirmed that it took about seven years before an agent was released. The real issue was not biocontrol, but prevention of invasive plants and animals entering the country.

Ms Loza explained that contractors should receive payments 14 days after the submission date of an invoice. However, during interactions with workers and audits conducted, they had discovered delays due to administrative inefficiencies.

Ms Less indicated that WfW was heavily undermanaged. External factors such as delays due to incomplete and incorrectly processed paperwork, and slow delivery of claims by project managers, were also contributory factors.

Dr Preston assured that administrative problem areas were being investigated and addressed. WfW was participating in the consultative process but for now, they would remain with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry to perform an important transdepartmental function.

To increase the efficacy of their work, WfW would continue to employ an in-/disincentive strategy that would encourage guilty parties to clear their properties of IAV. They did not work directly with the "green scorpions" but instead, went to guilty parties to render assistance (including financial assistance in certain cases), to clear their properties of IAV. WfW had taken people to court and was expecting an outcome soon regarding a complaint lodged by someone that refused to comply with legislation.

Ms Less explained that the area followed up was cumulative between 1995-2003. WfW was already in the process of handing over cleared land.

Mr E Sigwela (ANC) asked if control was exercised over contractors who angered the locals by not paying them in full and/or on time for their services. He was also perturbed that the wattle-invaded Stormsbergridge was not being properly reached by the programme. Lastly, what economic value could be derived from the wattle forest?

Ms Less said that contractors were encountered in a structured way through the Public Steering Committee (PSC). The eleven-member Committee came from different interest groups within communities. Part of the PSC's terms of reference were identifying the unemployed that could be trained to become contractors or become involved with other WfW projects. She acknowledged that there could have been problems with the payment of workers because, in one case, the books reflected the minimum payment of R35 per day, of which the contractor took back R7. Their monitoring and evaluation unit had the responsibility of ensuring that contractors were legitimate autonomous companies, but they had no direct control over a private contractor.

Dr Preston blamed the spreading of the wattle partly on seed pollution and neglect by the previous government who did not take proactive measures. WfW would do more to eradicate IAV if they had the capacity.

Dr Preston said that studies had been done to determine the possible benefits that could be derived from the Black Wattle. They had come to the conclusion that the cost of IAV-occupied land to poor people outweighed the benefits, thus making economic value negligible in this instance.

M Masala was not convinced that the programme was reaching and serving the locals. He also sensed exploitation by contractors and asked for the workflow diagramme to be simplified so that the lesser educated could also make sense of how the programme worked.

Ms Less reminded the members that budget constraints limited the size and number of projects. She was surprised that workers were being exploited by having to work unmanageable-sized areas because there were specific norms and standards and incentives set for contractors. The maximum area allocated to a contractor was fifteen hectares. Lastly, she responded that the workflow diagram was essentially a chart for in-house use.

Mr Van Wyk requested a better breakdown of the budget because he was interested in what percentage was allocated to personnel and how much actually reached people on the ground. He was also curious about the Work on Fire (WoF) activities.

Ms Less was confident that their own audits had shown more than 50% of the respective regional budgets were reaching the poor. She suggested that members considered the total package that consisted of direct wages, two days training per month at R200 per person with full pay and, protective clothing and herbicides issued free of charge.

Dr Preston said the WoF has made an extraordinary difference in the lives of people. He shared a lifesaving incident performed by a helicopter that lifted 22 people stranded on a cliff to safety in the face of an approaching fire. WoF would be launching in the Western Cape at Newlands at 10:30 am on 3 February 2004. Committee members would be formally invited to the occasion.

Mr Arendse also asked if WfW had a clear skilling path for unskilled workers.

Ms Less explained that there was no skilling path because legal issues were being contended with. The nature of the work was currently regarded as temporary and the workers were paid a minimum of R35 and a maximum of R108 per day. However, the training programme and the work experience gained by the participants had enabled many of them to become employable in the mainstream economy.

Adoption of the Water Affairs and Forestry Portfolio Committee: Annual Report 2003
Mr Arendse moved that the Annual Report be adopted. Ms R Ndzanga seconded the proposal and the Report was unanimously adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.

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