Appropriation Bill: Department of Water and Sanitation briefing; with Minister and Deputy Minister

Standing Committee on Appropriations

10 May 2023
Chairperson: Mr S Buthelezi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Department of Water and Sanitation briefed the Standing Committee on the current state of water and sanitation in the country, and gave an update on the Appropriation Bill.

The Department said they were certain that they would be able to meet most of their targets. The biggest problem they were currently facing was the debt that the municipalities owed to the water boards, which stood at R16.7 billion in February. The Department would not be able to fill many of its 3 000 vacancies because they could not afford to, but they gave an assurance that the important posts had been filled and everyone in the Department would work harder to ensure that this staff shortage did not affect service delivery negatively.

Members raised questions about the criteria used to fill the Department's vacancies -- and how they decided which vacancies not to fill -- the impact of load-shedding on water supply, the expected completion time of the Giyani water project, the financial impact of privatisation on households, as well as the state of safe water supply currently in the country.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone and acknowledged the presence of the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Mr Senzo Mchunu, Deputy Minister Mr David Mahlobo, and the Director-General of the Department, Dr Sean Phillips.

The Department had come to brief the Committee on the current state of water and sanitation in the country and the Appropriation Bill.

Opening comments
Minister Mchunu thanked the Chairperson and the Committee for the opportunity afforded to the Department to come and give their presentation.
Deputy Minister Mahlobo commended the Chairperson for his leadership of the Committee. He said that the Department was fully stabilised now that all the relevant vacancies had been filled, and that competent people had filled them. The ministry was making interventions to address the water shortage issues. The Department was dedicated to ensuring that water was available, and all problems were fixed. 
They were focusing on the reconfiguration of their facilities, particularly the water boards, for them to perform their primary functions, such as bulk water supply. 

He mentioned the issues of Sedibeng water, which involved expanding the mandates of Magaliesburg and Bloem Water to cover the areas of the North West and the Northern Cape, and this programme was going well. In KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the two water boards would be coming together to form a single entity to ensure better capacity to take care of water supply problems. Technical and financial capacity was important to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). The Department hoped to have completed these plans before the sixth administration was over. 

The Deputy Minister said that the Umkhomazi water project was the biggest programme that would be introduced to assist KZN with its water supply problems. He acknowledged that the Northern Cape also had a problem with water supply, and the Department was also ensuring that this was being addressed. He maintained that the DWS was on track to provide leadership where there were problems, although there were still areas of improvement it needed to address. 

DWS 2023/24 service delivery priorities

Dr Phillips said the Committee had asked the Department to address in their presentation the status of broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) within the DWS, the filling of vacancies, and the progress on the Giyani water project.

He said that the Department's strategic priorities were to ensure that they accelerate the major projects to augment national bulk water resource infrastructure. There needed to be more investment in additional surface water infrastructure in the future, but unfortunately, there was no room in the fiscus to do this, so the DWS needed to raise a lot of money from the private sector. It was in the process of establishing the national water resource infrastructure agency, which would help them to raise funds.

To avoid water shortages, the country needed better water consumption because this country consumes a lot of water. The debt owed by municipalities was also a risk, resulting in water boards becoming bankrupt, so billing and revenue collection had to be improved. 

 Dr Phillips said the Department's strategic priorities were to avoid under-expenditure, strengthen financial and human resource controls, reduce irregular expenditure and improve external communications. 

There had been an improvement in the Department's level of under-expenditure, because it had decreased from R2 billion to R800 million. He believed that in the next financial year, the DWS would be able to reduce under-expenditure to zero.

Referring to reductions in the budget, he said personnel expenditure was decreasing to focus on spending on infrastructure and projects. The Department did not have money to fill new posts. He admitted there were staff shortages, but maintained that the financial situation did not allow the Department to fill the vacancies. All employees would have to work harder to make up for the shortfall. There would be 3 000 vacancies within the Department, but the top management positions had all been filled, except for one deputy director general position which was vacant because of a dismissal due to financial misconduct.

Mr Risimati Mathye, Deputy Director-General: Water Services Management, DWS, said the Giyani water project had started in 2009, and had been subjected to many issues, such as Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigations. One of the key issues was accelerating the project to reach finality. The bulk pipeline from Nandoni to Giyani had been accelerated, and the 55 villages were currently receiving water in an intermediate supply.

For details, see attached presentation document.


Mr E Marais (DA) referred to the need for water licences to be approved in 90 days, and asked the Department to provide an indication of the number of applications that were currently with the DWS. He understood there was a problem with the staff numbers, and wanted to know how the Department intended to reduce the number of applications. He asked if the new Bill would still be coming forward this year. He asked about the Clanwillian Dam, because he noticed that it had not been mentioned and his concern was that the dam was not being prioritised, and it could create jobs.

Mr H Mmemezi (ANC) said the Minister had done a good job from the time that he took up office. This was lifting the spirits of the Committee, especially because they knew the difficulties that the Department had faced in the past. He mentioned key projects such as Nandoni and the Giyani Dam, and said that the Committee also appreciated these projects. He commended the Department for speaking about their shortfalls, such as their expenditure. He asked to be provided with timelines concerning all the projects he had mentioned, because they had been in the works for a very long time, so the Committee would be at ease and convinced if they were provided with timelines. He appreciated the Department's in trying to assist the municipalities. He was worried about irregular expenditure, and wanted to see people from the small communities being allowed to participate in these projects. He acknowledged that there were legal impediments, and asked when the amendments to the Bill would be completed because he believed that they needed to happen quickly. 

Ms T Tobias (ANC) said the opportunity cost of regulating the PPCs would have a diminishing effect if no clear strategy was implemented. She was pleased about the augmentation of the Giyani pipeline, and asked what impact this would have financially. She asked if consideration had been given to water reticulation being converted to a partnership between the private sector and the government as part of black economic empowerment (BEE). She asked what the distribution policy was, and if any water stakeholders had challenged the Department.

Ms Tobias mentioned she was happy about the Umzimbuvu project. She asked the Minister to observe the Western Cape government, because the taps released brown water. The Vaal Dam’s management by Rand Water would be detrimental if the national government did not watch over it, because the opening of the sluice gates was detrimental to households and businesses on the riverbanks. She asked how many households would benefit from all the Department’s projects.

Mr O Mathafa (ANC) asked about filling the vacant posts, and what criteria were used when deciding which posts would not be filled. What impact would 3 000 vacancies have on service delivery, and what measures were the Department implementing to ensure that the impact was not too bad on the end user? He asked for the expected timeframe to complete the Giyani project. What was the impact of load-shedding on ensuring water circulation in the country? He mentioned Hammanskraal and said that it was a point of concern, and asked the Department to tell the Committee if there had been any interaction between the Department and the community to ensure that the water reticulation plant was fixed so that they could be provided with clean water, because this was a constitutional right. Referring to municipal debts to the water board, he asked to be provided with the amount and measures implemented by the boards to collect the money. 

Ms N Ntlangwini (EFF) asked how much debt was owed to the water boards, and about the support interventions the Department was putting in place to ensure that the water boards were not liquidated. She also asked about the impact of load shedding. What was the Department doing about the water allocation in the Nelson Mandela region? She asked about the vacancies in the Department and the criteria used in deciding which posts not to fill. She asked about the amount of money that the Department spent on consulting services. How would the Department ensure that households were not economically affected by privatisation?The Giyani project had been taking too long and she was concerned because their term of office was almost at an end, and she would like an indication of when the project would be completed. 

Mr X Qayiso (ANC) said it was important to acknowledge that the municipalities were in a tough situation and facing capacity challenges. He mentioned the Ficksburg spillage into the Caledon River, and asked the Department to address this. The municipalities that had the capacity must deal with issues of sanitation. He believed that sanitation was not adequately funded. He mentioned disaster management in the context of the KZN floods, and asked if the DWS was planning to deal with such disasters better in future.

Mr Z Mlenzana (ANC) said water was life and sanitation was dignity. He asked for an update on South Africa’s water relations with Lesotho, and how South Africa benefited from the water flowing between the two countries. He mentioned the three role players -- the Department, the water boards and the municipalities --and asked that the Department explain the roles of each of these entities and who did what when it came to bulk water supply and reticulation, and who would take the blame for under-spending. He asked who monitored who. He asked about the expropriation of water from private households, referring to people who owned land with dams on it, and asked how South Africa could exploit this. Did South Africa have projects that could be completed in the current financial year to ensure access to water shortly? How many of these projects exist? Was there enough money to implement these projects, and would they be able to provide water to an adequate number of households?

Mr Qayiso asked how many illegal dams there were in the country.

The Chairperson mentioned the problem of negative externalities that took place in dams, and asked if the polluters were paying, if it was a criminal offence to pollute, if there had been prosecutions, and what the outcomes were.

He asked about the conditional grants to municipalities, describing them as a perennial problem which needed to be addressed. What was the Department’s assessment of the health of water in South Africa? He referred to localisation, and asked if the pipes being used were locally manufactured to create more job opportunities within South Africa. Were local people benefiting from the projects happening within their communities? He mentioned Woodstock Dam, and mentioned how the water in Bergville was taken away from them and sent to Gauteng, and asked how the Department would be dealing with this issue. 

DWS's response

Dr Phillips said that the Department currently had 233 licence applications, and they were processing 70% of the licences within the 90-day limit. He added that the Department was training staff and hiring 100 additional staff to improve the speed of processing the licences to meet the goal of 100%. 

He said that the cost of the Inkomazi project was over R20 billion. The Department would submit a full list to the Committee after the meeting.

He responded on the Bill, saying that the Department hoped to submit it to Parliament by the end of July.

 Mr Leonardo Manus, Chief Director: Infrastructure Operations & Maintenance, DWS, answered the question concerning the Clanwillian Dam project. He said that the Department was signing contracts and placing orders with successful bidders to ensure that the project moved faster, and was aiming for a deadline of June. They were cognisant of impediments such as the Western Cape's rainy season when planning.  

Deputy Minister Mahlobo explained the problem with licences. He said there was a historical backlog in licence issuing, but this backlog had been removed and there were no outstanding licences. Most of the problems were in the Western Cape, which had been resolved. The Department was certain that the new system implemented to reduce the turnaround time would be successful, and licences would no longer impede progress.

Minister Mr Mchunu said that everyone was aware that municipalities were not performing as well as expected. There was an embarrassingly low performance, and this affected the quality of service delivery. There should be better and more roads leading into residential areas, and all the municipalities have done was redo the existing roads. Water was a sensitive area, and he acknowledged it as a constitutional right.

In response to the question about what the Department does, he said that they were responsible for resource management, bulk water supply and providing standards. The Department was making it a priority to deal with this to protect the rights of citizens. The Department intervenes and takes on tasks that a municipality cannot do alone, so they work with the municipalities. It would work closely with eThekwini to assist them with infrastructure and management issues, such as collecting money from municipalities.

DDG Mathye answered the questions relating to the Giyani project. He said there was water flowing in the pipes, which was completed on 6 March 2023. He maintained that the Department was on time, but admitted that this had been slowed down by consultation with traditional leaders.
He said that refurbishment was not the duty of the DWS. According to legislation, the Giyani plant belonged to Mopani, so the Department should not be associated with any blame related to the refurbishment. However, it provided Mopani with supervision and guidance, despite not having a duty to do so. Reticulation was also the municipality's duty, but the Department had assisted them by advising them on how to procure it. He said that 27 construction companies were on site for the reticulation. The project began in 2009/10, but the Department had been appointed only in 2021. This showed how much work they had achieved in the short time they had in office. He maintained that including the private sector in these water projects was a progressive move.

The Department would provide the Committee with further answers after it attended its symposium at the end of this month. 

Ms Zanele Msimang. Deputy Director: Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement responded to the question relating to brown water in Bellville, and said that a team had been sent to go and investigate what the problem was, and they would revert to the Minister when they got answers. She said that the Saldanha and Swartland municipalities owned the Withoogte bulk water plant, and these municipalities would be supported if they applied to the Department.

Mr Manus answered the question relating to the flooding of the Vaal Dam. He said two separate systems were operating in the Vaal area, and the gates were opened according to specific rules. There was a bad thunderstorm on 17 and 18 April, and the runoff water from this storm caused this flooding. This event was being looked at and learnt from. He maintained that it was not the Department’s fault, as there had been a uniform pattern of release. There were peak floods downstream, which emanated from the rainfall from the 17th. He added that the Department discouraged people from building their homes too close to the riverbanks.

Minister Mchunu agreed that there was no evidence of any error in operating the sluice gates. He invited members to demand the records of these sluice gates if they would like to be sure. He said that residents were informed when events such as the opening of sluice gates were going to happen. He maintained that this flooding was a first-time occurrence, and said that for 40 years, nothing of this nature had ever happened. He encourages people to observe the area where they should not be building their homes. 

The director general answered the question relating to the criteria. Dr Phillips said the criteria used to fill vacancies were, which key posts had to be filled, and the priorities would be the top management positions.

Minister Mchunu commented on the Giyani project’s completion, and said it could not be complete until most people got clean and reticulated water. Once this was done, the Committee would be informed. The Department also wanted this project to move quickly, adding that the contractors used were from the community.

Regarding the Hammanskraal project, the Department would be approaching the court to get an order that would force the City of Tshwane to participate. He said the city had not been cooperating and had not been addressing the needs of its residents. 

The Department had noted the spillage in the area of Ficksburg. The DWS would go to there and assess the problem so that they could intervene where required.

Dr Phillips said that as of February, R16.7 billion was the current debt owed to water boards by municipalities. As a result, water boards could not pay the Department, which needed the money to improve infrastructure. These numbers were increasing, which was worrying.
The Department had been assisting Nelson Mandela Bay with its planning, but the city had not used its grant.

He said the Department did use the services of consultants, and the total allocation for this was R162 million.

Dr Tseliso Ntili, Provincial Head: Department of Water and Sanitation, Free State, addressed the Thaba Nchu treatment plant matter, and said that the plant fell under the management of Mangaung. The Department had assessed the functionality of the plant a month ago. It was not in good condition, and this was being looked at. Mangaung had promised to provide the Department with feedback.

Minister Mchunu said that the people of Lesotho benefited greatly from the pipelines between Lesotho and South Africa. On 23 May, President Ramaphosa was invited to visit Lesotho and inspect the water plants and pipes there.

Dr Phillips said that the national government was responsible for bulk water, raw and untreated water. The Water Services Act No. 108 of 1997 states that water boards should provide support for municipalities. 

He said the Department acts upon illegal dams that they were aware of, and asks for them to be destroyed, but some may not have been identified. The Department was aware of 28 illegal dams with a safety risk and were not compliant, but they were working on stopping this.

He said 280 notices had been issued to compel polluters to stop polluting. Twelve water users had been addressed criminally, and three sentencing agreements had been reached. He added that two municipalities had pleaded guilty. 

The DG said that the failure to spend conditional grants was because of slow planning and procurement processes in municipalities, and this was affected by not having enough recourses.

Deputy Minister Mahlobo said that procurement issues arose because people did not start their procurement on time. Conflict of interest issues also affected procurement. He assured the Committee that the Department would deal with this so that society did not struggle.

Dr Phillips said that the country's water infrastructure condition was fair. He admitted that the concern was about the condition of municipal water and its infrastructure. The watch report for water and infrastructure would be released this month. He added that the Department would team up with the South African Board of Civil Engineers in assessing the water and infrastructure situation.

Minister Mchunu answered the question relating to localisation, and said that there were components of pipes that needed to be imported, but others were procured locally. He mentioned the problem with the Woodstock water supply to Gauteng and admitted that this was wrong, but said that the DWS did not want people to think that Gauteng was more important than other places. 

Deputy Minister Mahlobo added that he did not believe water would become unaffordable for citizens. He admitted that interventions were going to come at a cost, but maintained that no South African would remain without water without the Department trying to support their municipalities. 

The Chairperson thanked the Department for the responses and their presentation. He applauded the Department for making improvements and showing proof of this improvement.

The meeting was adjourned.

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