The Select Committee met with the Department of Water and Sanitation, to receive a briefing on the directive that had been given to an implementing agent, Mhlathuze Water, regarding the supply of water in the uMkhanyakude District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
The Minister of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) said there had been a lot of problems in uMkhanyakude regarding the failure to supply water to the communities over the years. The Department had tried to intervene in the matter in 2014, but the then-mayor of the region had rejected the intervention without providing substantial reasons. The Department had recently decided to intervene in terms of Section 63, coupled with Section 139, and had held meetings with the study group of local government in KZN, the Amakhosi (House of Traditional Leaders) and the Minister of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), to present the proposed intervention, with which the stakeholders were happy.
The DWS reported that the uMkhanyakude District Municipality had an unspent municipal infrastructure grant and a water services infrastructure grant amounting to R83 million due to a backlog. This had led to 29% of the community having no access to water, while 41% had a dysfunctional water infrastructure. The municipality had no call centre, and it could take up to three months before it received information about the unavailability of water in its communities. The issues with the water infrastructure in uMkhanyakude had persisted since 2014, and now advice had been given to the Minister to give a directive to Mhlathuze Water, under Section 63 of the Water Services Act, Act 108 of 1997, as an implementing agent, to intervene in addressing the challenges.
The Committee asked what the financial implications of the directive were, and what the role of COGTA would be in the implementation of the directive. It was concerned that there was an intervention going on in the municipality, and whilst the problem in administration was systemic, an intervention would be of value only if the institutional value of the municipality was first restored. There was only so much that the DWS could do, so the municipality had to take ownership of its problems. Would the municipality now practise good governance -- and why had it allowed bad governance to take place?
The Chairperson said the meeting was the first for the Committee since the start of the year. It would be engaging with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) in respect of the directive given to Mhlathuze Water regarding the supply of water in the uMkhanyakude District Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal.
Minister’s Opening Remarks
Mr Senzo Mchunu, Minister of Water and Sanitation, said there had been a lot of problems in uMkhanyakude regarding failure to supply water to the communities over years, despite the availability of one of the largest dams in the country, the Jozini Dam. In Hlabisa, Jozini, uMhlabuyalingana and Mtubatuba, the communities were complaining about access to water. The Jozini Dam had the capacity to supply water to the communities and businesses in the area. The DWS had tried to intervene in the matter in 2014, but the then Mayor of the region had rejected the intervention without providing substantial reasons.
The Department had recently decided to intervene in terms of Section 63 coupled with Section 139. It had had an engagement with the uMkhanyakude District’s Municipal Manager, who failed to reflect the challenges the district had concerning water reticulation. The Department had eight meetings with the municipality, giving briefings and recommendations about the situation, answering the questions on what had to be done and how it had to be done. A letter was written to the Minister of COGTA and the Premier of the province, which had led to an agreement that there was a need to move forward with the intervention. The DWS had met with the study group of local government in KZN, the Amakhosi (the House of Traditional Leaders) and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), to present the proposed intervention, and they had been happy with it.
Department of Water and Sanitation: Presentation
Mr Motebele Moshodi, Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG): Infrastructure, DWS, said that the Minister had had a working session in October 2021 to assess the state of water in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) through engagements with Water Service Authorities (WSAs) and the province, amongst others. The uMkhanyakude District Municipality had made a presentation on the state of water, and in the main had admitted that:
61% of the population still received water via community standpipes, and a lot more did not have access to water.
The municipality did not have a call centre and could take up to three months before receiving information on the unavailability of water.
The municipality’s water balance was not reconciled because it did not have water meters everywhere, and there were not enough readers in places where water meters were installed.
The municipality’s operations budget requirement was persistently at a deficit.
The DWS had made further findings upon investigating and assessing the matter, notably that water supply projects had been halted without cause and the commissioned drought relief boreholes were not functional. The municipality had an unspent municipal infrastructure grant (MIG) and a water services infrastructure grant (WSIG) of R83 million, due to backlog, leading to a significant percentage of people receiving no service. The Department had attempted to intervene in 2014/15, but the process had been stalled due to parties not agreeing. As a result, 29% of the people from uMkhanyakude had no access to water and 41% had a dysfunctional water infrastructure.
Advice had been given to the Minister to give a directive to Mhlathuze Water, under Section 63 of the Water Services Act, Act 108 of 1997, as an implementing agent, to intervene in addressing the challenges on the performance of the water and sanitation function, including providing financial, managerial and technical advice to the uMkhanyakude District Municipality, as a water services authority. The directive was initially expected to be funded from the under-performing Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant (RBIG) and the WSIG allocations under the management of the DWS for refurbishment and capital expenditure. Upon a joint appraisal of the business plans by stakeholders, the proposal would be to use a mix of RBIG, WSIG, MIG and Revenue to fund the intervention. The intervention would be carried out over a period of five years, with the expected handover date to the municipality being June 2027.
The Chairperson said it was clear that the directive had been given so that the people in the municipality could get access to water and sanitation, which was important and non-negotiable.
He gave the platform to the Members to engage with the presentation.
Ms M Bartlett (ANC, Northern Cape) said it was crucial for the municipality to have a call centre established. She asked for clarity regarding illegal water connections and on the unspent budget (MIG and WSIG) amounting to R83 million. She asked for clarity on the June 2027 timeframe, which the Department had rushed through and had not explained properly.
Ms N Nkosi (ANC, Mpumalanga) recalled that the presentation ‘findings’ had indicated that there was no water metering in the Jozini area, and she asked how the community was being billed for water there. She noted that the municipality had been put under administration, and asked if there had been any visible progress since the placement of the administration. Had the municipality addressed its issues regarding the lack of political oversight?
Ms C Visser (DA, North West) said she was concerned that there was an intervention going on in the municipality and whilst the problem in administration was systemic, an intervention would be of value only if the institutional value of the municipality was first restored. There was only so much that the DWS could do, so the municipality had to take ownership of its problems. Would the municipality now practice good governance, and why had it allowed bad governance to take place?
Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) asked what the financial implications of the directive were. What would be the role of COGTA in the implementation of the directive? What was the capacity of the water board to implement the directive? Would the Select Committee be provided with quarterly progress reports?
The Chairperson commented that the presentation had indicated that the problems of the municipality had emerged in 2015, and by 2018 it had become clear that the municipality was vulnerable and had no water master plan to ensure that water was supplied to its communities. The presentation had not indicated what the DWS had done to support the municipality since the emergence of the problems. What had the Department done to strengthen the capacity of the municipality to supply water and to monitor the situation closely so as to ensure that the problems that were identified since 2015 were resolved?
From experience, the Select Committee had noted that interventions such as the one proposed by the Department had not yielded positive results in the past. He advised the Department to ensure that it deployed the right people who had the requisite skills capacity in order to produce visible long-term results. The Department had to allocate sufficient resources for the intervention and ensure that it worked very closely with COGTA and, if possible, sector departments had to assist the DWS to ensure that the intervention yielded positive results.
Ms Dikeledi Magadzi, Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, said the Committee should indicate to the Department how frequently the Committee would require progress reports. There had been several disagreements on how the project should be executed since 2015 until the Minister had decided on Section 63, which had now led to an agreement among all the stakeholders. In the coming five years, the Department would be able to work on the infrastructure, do capacity building and -- for the lack of a better word -- 'babysit’ the municipality so that by the time the Department handed the project over to the municipality, all systems would be functional.
Mr Moshodi, answering on the call centre, said the issue had been admitted by the district as part of the challenges it was facing, even before the Department had realised the need to intervene. Answering the percentage of people that had no water service, he said the district had 29% of people who had no access to water, and 41% had dysfunctional infrastructure.
Responding to the unspent MIG funds, he said at the time the assessment was made, there was R83 million that the municipality had not spent, and there was a letter from Treasury indicating that the money would be offset because it was not being spent. The reasons for the money not being spent were due to a number of critical water projects being stopped by the administrator. The Department had withheld an additional R17 million because the municipality had not submitted business plans for the Water Services Infrastructure Grant.
Referring to the attempted 2015 intervention, he said that in 2014 the Department had attempted to intervene in capital projects where the municipality was not performing. The municipality had responded that it was within its legal rights to refuse the intervention by the Department. Around 2018, when the municipality was extremely vulnerable, the DWS had had the capacity to help it in terms of offering grants, but the municipality had not been compliant with the conditions of the grants. The province had already intervened, but the situation was worsening.
On water metering, he said it was not possible to bill anybody without a metering system, and that had created a culture of non-payment even among those people who were able to pay for services. Metering was a condition of the norms and standards.
Answering the June 2027 timeframe, he said the Department had to give the municipality enough time to acquaint itself with the management of the water system. The DWS would leave the project in the municipality’s hands only when there was a clear indication from the assessments that the municipality would be able to do the work on its own.
Regarding the financial implications of the intervention, there were various aspects to the intervention, all of which required business plans. The phase the intervention was in at the moment was one of creating engagements and collecting information. Only when the business plans were ready, would there be an indication of the financial implications of the intervention.
Answering the capacity of the implementing agent, he said Mhlathuze Water was an implementing agent, meaning that it was the legal entity through which the intervention would be implemented. The entity had its mandate and daily work, but the appointment and coordination of both financial and technical resources would be through them.
Responding to the lack of political leadership, he said that an executive authority was required in order to be able to hold officials accountable, and a high turnover of the executive authority would affect the continuity and the planning. Since October 2021, the Department had dealt with one mayor, and now there was another mayor; and that high turnover was leading the municipality to be ineffective to some extent.
The Chairperson said the Committee would be going on an oversight visit to KZN, and it was important that it found time to visit the municipality and interact with some of the stakeholders. The Committee had to play a proactive oversight role over this particular matter regularly until it was satisfied that the objectives of the intervention had been realised. It was going to consistently engage with the Department and monitor the work with respect to the intervention. The Committee expected regular reports from the Department and would scrutinise them to check their alignment with the plan of action that had been tabled.
The Committee had to support the DWS as it endeavoured to provide water and sanitation to the communities.
The meeting was adjourned.
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