The Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings held a virtual meeting to consider a petition submitted by the DA's representative in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), calling on it to investigate the state of water infrastructure and the inadequate performance by officials in the Nkosazana Zuma Local Municipality and the Harry Gwala District Municipality.
The petitioner highlighted that the issue had been served in 2019 and had long been dealt with. However, he stressed that there was something wrong with the system in that it had taken that long for him to have the opportunity to make a submission.
Members agreed that the occurrence was an embarrassment, and that they would investigate why the petition had taken so long to get to the Committee. The Committee also decided to raise the issue with the NCOP to come up with solutions to prevent a recurrence of such a delay.
Briefing on petition of Nkosazana Zuma Local Municipality and Harry Gwala District Municipality
Mr T Brauteseth (DA, KwaZulu-Natal), KZN delegate in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), told the Committee that he had been approached by several residents in the Nkosazana Zuma Local Municipality, who had asked him to assist them with bringing a petition to the NCOP in 2019.
The municipality had experienced continued water supply challenges for approximately 40 days. During one of the inspections to find the cause of the problem, a local resident, Rick James, accompanied an official around the area. Mr James had pointed out to the official that a particular valve was making strange noises, which could have been the reason for the water problems. The official had ignored the suggestion made by Mr James, only to discover later that it was the valve that had been the problem all along.
A lot of resources had since been wasted on looking for other problem areas. He highlighted that he had served the petition on 13 November 2019. He had also written to the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who responded immediately. During the next morning, she had assured him that Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) officials would come to assist further on the matter. He had been happy with the immediate attention by the Minister.
However, there was something wrong with the system. The petition was submitted in 2019 but was dealt with three years later. Mr Brauteseth appreciated the opportunity to raise this matter, but it was noteworthy that it had taken three years to be afforded such an opportunity. The problem had already been sorted out in late 2019 and early 2020 yet the meeting had been convened [today] to discuss a problem that had been long dealt with. He highlighted that he served on the Joint Standing Committee for the Financial Management of Parliament, and he would raise the issue with the Secretary of Parliament so that they could streamline the systems so that petitions would get to the Committee at an appropriate time.
Regarding problems facing municipalities, he suggested that COGTA had to conduct a skills audit to let people with the necessary skills volunteer their services in municipalities to fix problems that needed an expert opinion. They had to move away from the perception of a master-servant relationship, because residents were willing to assist the municipality for free. He highlighted that the municipality had since developed a technical team with residents to assist with water problems. He suggested that COGTA issue a directive that the municipalities had to engage with all skilled residents who could lend their time to the municipality.
KZN COGTA Response
Mr Thando Tubane, Head of Department (HOD), KZN COGTA, said that they had been asked to respond to a challenge which had already been dealt with. He was unsure if their response would be relevant, given that the issue had already been dealt with. He asked for guidance from the Chairperson.
He agreed with Mr Brauteseth's suggestion to bring together community members with capacities so that they could offer their expertise. With the new model of working championed by COGTA, they could exploit this space and ensure that they gave room and space to the citizens that felt they had a contribution to make.
The Chairperson said that they noted the petitioner's submission, even though the issue had been dealt with. The Committee wanted to verify all the submissions.
Harry Gwala Municipality response
Acting Municipal Manager of the Harry Gwala municipality (name not confirmed) asked for guidance on how on respond to the matter since it was an issue that had been dealt with.
The Chairperson asked if she could clarify on whether the matter had been fully resolved.
The acting MM responded that the challenge had been dealt with and they had since started working with the community on water-related issues. The Department had a specific war room for water-related issues, and it would be launched in all local municipalities.
Mr S Zandamela (EFF, Mpumalanga) concurred, stating that the reason they were in the Committee was to assist communities when all other avenues had been exhausted. Though the problem had been resolved, there was a need for the Committee to do an urgent oversight and not just rely on word of mouth.
Ms C Visser (DA, North West) agreed that when communities served a petition, it was not considered public participation, but a constitutional right to get Parliament to assist them. The Committee had to do something. She spoke to giving ownership to the people of the municipality while promoting cooperative governance. She added that there was a need to debate the issue of petitions in Parliament.
Mr E Mthethwa (ANC, KZN) said they were happy that the matter had been resolved. He suggested that they go to the area to see how the matter had been resolved so that no problem would come back to them in the future. They also had to find a way to get issues to the committees as soon as possible. He was disappointed to be dealing with the issue at this stage. As a Committee, they needed to introspect their responsibility as public representatives when people were crying aloud for assistance. He also suggested that they go to see the situation on the ground.
Mr I Sileku (DA, Western Cape) said that as a Member of Parliament, he was very embarrassed that a petition that had been accepted on 13 November 2019 was being dealt with today.
Mr C Dodovu (ANC, North West) said that it was good that the municipality had dealt with the matter. It is concerning that a letter had been brought to Committee, since they were a measure of last resort. This spoke to how long it took to address the community's problems. However, the Committee had to be cautious, since it did not have all the necessary facts. The Committee had to investigate the issue without pointing fingers. He agreed with the suggestion to visit the municipality to verify if the matter had been dealt with.
Mr Brauteseth said the comments and the support heartened him. He suggested that the Chairperson of the House should give instructions that as soon as a petition was submitted, it had to be communicated to the Committee immediately by email so it would be on the Committee's radar. There was a need to develop a reporting mechanism from the House to the Committee to ensure that the petitions were attended to within an appropriate period. He agreed with the suggestions that the Committee had to report on the issue to the House so that there were meeting minutes and recommendations made by the Committee. He suggested setting up technical teams across South Africa would also be useful. He said some municipal officials considered the suggestions being received in the right spirit, but some considered it bullying. It was important for officials to take the suggestions in the right spirit.
The Chairperson said it was embarrassing that the matter had taken so long to get to the Committee. The Committee had to investigate what caused the delay. It had to ensure it attended to all the petitions and assisted the communities. She would ask the Committee secretariat to bring all the petitions that had been received.
She said the Committee was going to visit the municipality. The Committee would compile a report to submit to the Chairperson of the NCOP so they could come up with a way forward.
The meeting was adjourned.
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