Department Strategic Plan and Budget 2005/06: briefing

Water and Sanitation

07 March 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
8 March 2005
DEPARTMENT STRATEGIC PLAN AND BUDGET 2005/06: BRIEFING

Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department Strategic Plan 2005/6-2007/8
Department Strategic Plan: PowerPoint presentation

SUMMARY
The Committee was briefed by The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) on key focus areas and priorities in its Strategic Plan and budget for the next three years. They also provided answers to some questions raised by the Committee in a meeting held recently in Gordon’s Bay, including how to align the objectives of the Strategic Plan and the President’s State of the Nations Address.

Members also asked for clarity on issues of capacity, plans to assist emerging farmers, and what was being done to add value to forestry. Owing to time constraints, the Department and the Committee agreed to meet the following week to continue their discussion.

MINUTES
The Chairperson asked for clarity on the plan of activities for Water Week. Mr Muller, Director-General: DWAF responded that this would be a national campaign. The Department, in partnership with other stakeholders, would hold a number of presentations in the Western Cape on 22 March on water preservation and conservation.

Department briefing
Mr M Muller briefed the Committee on the Strategic Plan, its importance and how it was structured. The Department was organised into five branches of policy and regulation that looked at three functional areas administration, water resource management (WRM), and water services activity. The regional branches dealt with operational aspects; New Water Resource Management Infrastructure (NWRMI) for urban areas; and two other branches of corporate services and financial management. Its main activities were WRM and water services activity, with forestry accounting for about a quarter. Its exchequer account had decreased from the previous year because it no longer had a capital programme for water services, which had been transferred to local government. The decrease could also be explained by a R2 million expenditure on the trading account, which was not shown in the budget.
Priority areas included:
- addressing sanitation and water supply backlogs;
- following the instructions of Cabinet to establish a National Water Resource Infrastructure Branch;
- accelerating the amendment of Water Services Act to ensure harmonisation of regulations passed since 1997,
- ensuring that schemes and institutions providing water services were managed effectively and efficiently until the Department handed over to local government,
- ensuring that forestry contributed to rural development, and
- achieving unqualified financial statements as well as develop proper financial systems for new functions.

Mr Muller further said that corporate service supported the functional activities of the Department. Achieving high quality equity employment targets had been the greatest challenge.

Ms N Mohoboko (DWAF) highlighted some key issues raised by the Committee in an earlier meeting (see document). She said that various departments had provided input to SONA, and funds were made available based on proposals made in the Strategic Plan and budget. Some key issues in the SONA that had been given priority and had been intensified were sanitation, Eastern Cape deforestation, implementation of a water resource strategy, local government support, capacity building, and economic infrastructure development. This particular year the focus was on monitoring achievement of particular objectives such as infrastructure development, utilisation of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMME) in order to distribute employment broadly, as well as develop charters for forestry. Further, the Presidency was working at aligning the Provincial Government Development Strategy and Integrated Development Plans (IDP) together with the National Development Programme (NDP) in which DWAF was a participant. Issues of capacity building were being addressed at both the Department level and outside. The provision of safe water and sanitation to all households, irrigation development, and forestry would contribute to the development of the second economy. Restructuring had informed its Strategic Plan. There was an oversupply of staff in forestry and water services. The structure was going to change when local government took over the scheme.

Mr Muller reported that not all posts had been filled except for key ones with the consent of the relevant local government. The number of approved posts did not reflect its needs. There was no clear information in the Strategic Plan about changes in staff numbers, because the framework did not reflect staff and trainees over time. The SP and Annual Report complied with the framework and guidelines given. Specific information was not included. Ms Mohoboko reported that budgets were transferred with staff within government but not to other entities. Its Employment Equity progress is only reported in the annual report. There had been various activities in terms of disseminating information. Information had been distributed to municipalities in terms of policy, the financial model and implementation. There had been partnerships with Unilever to deliver messages in rural areas. In partnership with the Department of Health, a pamphlet had been produced in 11 languages. In terms of communities that had not implemented free basic water, communication had been concentrated in ageing municipalities.

Discussion
The Chairperson said that there had to be reporting on key focus areas during the introduction of the SP to allow the Committee time to evaluate the Department. She asked how to align the obligations of the Department with that of the Committee.

A Member expressed concern about unfilled posts, and asked how local government envisaged dealing with the problem of capacity, and how they would make up for the shortfall.

Ms D Van der Walt (DA) said that forestry was perceived as a better opportunity to bring relief to the poor, and felt the Department ought to have given fixed proposals instead of broad ones. What was being done regarding drought relief in terms of planning and building of dams? Was there a way of checking statistics and realising them? What had been the spectrum?

Mr T Ramphele (ANC) acknowledged that users of water funded infrastructure development. However, recent trends had shown that commercial farmers made bad business decisions. What are the implications for small emerging farmers if commercial farmers were not able to afford water to farm? What had been the long-term strategy to assist such commercial users? What had been done to add value to small and emerging farmers in forest areas? He was of the opinion national targets for the provision of water in agricultural areas was inadequate, and access to free basic water in rural areas was not being addressed adequately. To effectively provide for water, there was a need for the construction of reservoirs to increase capacity, as well as sewage systems in informal settlements. As a sector leader it had to address these concerns adequately. He wanted clarity on its involvement in the transfer of staff to private entities and whether there was a way of monitoring to ensure that people were not being retrenched immediately after the transfer. He also asked for a response about complaints in areas of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal where there had been ‘casualisation’ of previously disadvantaged staff.

Mr Muller said it was critical to link the Department’s reporting on the Strategic Plan process to the budget in order to help Members address issues. It was bureaucratic presenting a plan and in two month the budget, and then in six months the annual report. It would be useful to report on a particular year’s plan, its budget allocated for it and the output during the time of the annual report, since that would be when outputs had to be reported. This would help the Committee to address key themes in the plan, budget and output at the same time. Building local government capacity had been a major government programme across Departments and DWAF worked within that context.

Professor D Ciddy (DWAF) reported that in many areas, the most lucrative crop that could be grown on suitable land could produce on average about R2000 per hectare per year. However care had to be taken not to damage the environment and health of rivers. The potential was there for considerable downstream value adding. The contribution made when forestry had been handed over to the private sector had been that outsourcing of procurement to contractors had been one way of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE). Such contractors had to abide by DWAF’s labour regulations, and they had to compel the companies to pay a reasonable amount for their services. These issues had come up as a broad base BEE forestry sector endowment, and continued towards a forestry charter or sub-sector charter.

Mr Muller said its National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) had indicated opportunities for using water, and in some part of the country there were opportunities for irrigation, for instance along the Orange River. At the local level there were areas where agricultural development had to be restricted and restrained because of limited water. Thirdly at the beginning of the year, information had to be given on rainfall forecast, levels of the dams, how much water should be used, what crops, and how much had to be cultivated. The Department worked on different levels but most importantly to get people doing the right thing, and also was working closely with the Department of Agriculture who shared the problem on a much wider scale. A major challenge was water wastage due to damaged canals. The Department had insisted that water should be reserved for small farmers, and paid a proportion of the cost to make sure that happened. Land had to be made available for the use of water, and there had been some 800 hectares set aside for this purpose. In terms of policy, emerging farmers were going to be subsidised on those farmlands to help them develop farming enterprise. They were not going to pay full tariffs for at least five years. The Department had realised that emerging farmers needed tremendous assistance to survive. Moreover, the Department of Agriculture had commenced various financial, business and strategic support programmes for emerging farmers. Assistance had also been given to commercial farmers. However, the Department had objected to the expectation of commercial farmers that it would fix their canals. They wanted people who used water for economic purposes to be responsible. About 500 farmers in new farming areas received financial support every year. He was of the opinion there were not millions of farming opportunities but probably tens of thousands, and only a small proportion where irrigation needed particular assistance. Rural areas could only access free basic water if they had a water supply. They engaged with municipalities who were not applying free basic water. In terms of infrastructure, they assisted them to plan service provision, gave support to water services planning and the financial side of operations. National and provincial government approved projects and DWAF provided assistance to ensure that local government followed policy.

Ms Mohoboko reported that with regards to the transfer of staff there was a programme called After Care that ensured compliance, monitoring and evaluation. For the first twenty-four months, the organisation could not lay off staff. Professor Ciddy said the Department’s labour regulations protected its workers longer than the Labour Relations Act. He mentioned that the Department was not equipped to deal with external labour matters, and called on the Committee to help achieve the co-ordination needed to protect workers in the private sector.

The Chairperson asked whether the Department intended to look at legislation next week.

Mr Muller reported that there was a Forestry Amendment Bill that was going to be tabled soon, and the Water Services Amendment Bill that he hoped would be introduced during the second session of Parliament. There would also be a small amendment to the National Water Act.

The Chairperson asked the Department to give the Committee a second opportunity to discuss the SP next week. The Department agreed.

The meeting was adjourned.

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