Department Strategic Plan and Budget: discussion

Water and Sanitation

15 March 2005
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Meeting report

HOUSING PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
16 March 2005
DEPARTMENT STRATEGIC PLAN AND BUDGET: DISCUSSION

Acting Chairperson: Ms S Maine (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department Strategic Plan 2005/6-2007/8 (Awaited)
Department Strategic Plan: PowerPoint presentation
Committee Programme (Awaited)

SUMMARY
The Committee discussed issues in the Department’s Strategic Plan. The discussion focused on issues such as harnessing other sources of water, problems of access especially for farmer dwellers and rural communities with the greatest need, water loss through leakages, alternatives for provision of water services, and whether the Intergovernmental Relations Bill would have any impact on municipal performance relating to water services.

MINUTES
The Chairperson, Ms C September, could not attend the meeting. Mr T Ramphele (ANC) proposed that Ms S Maine (ANC) chair the meeting and Members agreed.

The Department’s delegation consisted of Ms N Mohoboko, Director of Corporate Services; Ms B Schreiner, Senior Executive Manager: Policy and Regulation, and Mr T Brutus, Parliamentary Liaison Officer. They did not re-present their PowerPoint presentation of 9 March, and just responded to the Members’ questions.

Discussion
Ms N Mohoboko said the previous week’s discussion with the Director-General had focused on how to address issues raised in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) and the main functions of the Department for the next three years. Reference was also made to the structure of the budget, the respective functional areas with specific mention of the legislative mandate, priority areas and support services. Only two Members had asked questions owing to time constraints. It was agreed there was a need to come back to the discussion and to talk more around the implementation of the National Water Resource Strategy and catchment management services.

A Member asked if the exclusion of groundwater from the presentation was an oversight since its legislative mandate included the development and use of all water resources. He also wanted clarity on whether the budget amount had been arrived at before or after the transfer of posts and if the exchequer account would remain the same when the scheme was transferred to local government.

Mr T Ramphele (ANC) mentioned the President commissioning an investigation into an irrigation project in the Western Cape and asked if any assistance was being given to commercial farmers and what the strategy to make water affordable was. He also wanted clarity whether there were any advantages to be derived from the Intergovernmental Relations Bill and if it was likely to impact on the transfer to the local government sphere.

Ms B Schreiner said the issue of ground water was being investigated and how to harness it better for a sustainable use. A national study was being conducted to look at the international situation. In her opinion it was well covered. The budget amount included post transfers that had already happened and the exchequer account would decrease further when the scheme was transferred to local government. The strategy to deal with affordability of water for commercial and emerging farmers was a complex process. It had been recognised by the Treasury that currently the cost of water paid by farmers was low and not covering actual costs. She mentioned the National Agricultural Farmers Union conference that would discuss issues of farming and water. The Department subsidised the price of water for emerging farmers but not for commercial farmers.

Mr T Ramphele reiterated that the problem was not with the cost of water but with access, and asked if there was a strategy to assist with infrastructure development.

Ms B Schreiner responded that the Department had a policy to help develop infrastructure subsidies for emerging farmers. The Intergovernmental Relations Bill was about formalising relations among government spheres and would not change the constitutional relations that existed. Water services still remained complex and the Department was in the process of developing a regulatory strategy to determine its regulatory function and how it would be carried out to ensure the provision of water to all.

Mr S Simmons (NNP) commented that it was expected of Departments to draw up budgets to ensure that their activities were measurable. The Committee had an important oversight role to play in the transfer of the scheme to local government. This would be made more difficult unless a plan was submitted with timeframes, and a report given to the Committee on progress every three months.

Ms D Van der Walt (DA) expressed concern about water loss through leakage, and asked what could be done to ensure that the need grant was used in accordance with maintenance of infrastructure. She proposed a penalty for non-maintenance of infrastructure. She also proposed that the Committee be briefed on issues of desalination of seawater. Although desalination was expensive, there was a need to find out whether the technology existed.

Ms M Nkompe-Ngwenya (ANC) expressed concern about fluoridation in borehole water and its environmental and health risks for users. Particularly excessive exposure caused dental fluorosis in children. The Department’s argument that it was expensive to clean the fluoride had to be reviewed.

The Chairperson wanted clarity on how expensive it was to ‘clean’ fluoride from the water.

Ms B Schreiner said the Department had a business plan in which they reported progress on a quarterly basis against the SP and budget expenditure as well as targets. She said they could provide regular reports on their business plan. Leakages continued to remain a challenge. The Department had a support programme for local government. It was their mandate to help them understand how to account for non-revenue water. The challenge had been to get local government to understand and be able to measure water loss. She further said it was important to have a presentation on the cost of de-fluoridisation. They were in a process of developing water quality programme to help local government provide quality water across the country.

A Member reported that a country like Saudi Arabia had improved their technology and was able to desalinate water on a large scale. He could not comprehend that the Department was still using old technology, because normally as technology developed the methods became cheaper. He wanted to know if its technology had improved over the years. He also wanted to know whether portable desalination plants used by the military in South Africa could be adapted and used on a bigger scale, because he felt that that kind of technology had developed in leaps and bounds over the years. He further asked whether the Intergovernmental Relations Bill would help to achieve the objective of ensuring effective municipal performance. Had the Department made any input into the drafting of the bill? What was the plan to catch up on the sanitation lag? What was the strategy to alleviate poverty in communities through water services?

Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) asked whether there were any black farmers on the 800 hectares of land that had been made available for the building of canals. Was the Department aware of the water requirements in each of the nine provinces and did the budget address those requirements? Why was water not being made available to those with the greatest need especially to those in rural settlements? What was being done to retain trained personnel? What was the policy on infrastructure development for emerging farmers?

Mr M Masala (ANC) reported that a team had been put together by the Minister to assist local government, and asked if the Department was providing expertise to the team. When would the Flag Boshielo Dam be commissioned and were the plans to commission other dams?

Ms B Schreiner said technology had improved over the years and costs had decreased but not sufficiently to make desalination worthwhile in South Africa. For Saudi Arabia the value of desalinating water was determined by the scarcity of water and not having any other option. Above all, the country could afford it. It may become an option on a large scale in South Africa as demand for it increased and other alternatives became more limited. Portable desalination was being used on a small scale on the West Coast. However there was a need to upscale it to the point where water could be supplied to the city. It would be an extremely energy intensive industry and remained one of the options they would adopt at some stage but it was not yet cost effective.

She was not sure whether the Department had any input and how it would assist the performance of municipalities, but felt it would not make a huge difference in terms of their regulatory role. It would have to more than double delivery of new toilets in order to meet the target. One of their processes had been lobbying for greater financial support for the sanitation programme. The Minister of Finance had announced R1.2billion for the next three years that would go into the eradication of the bucket system.

The Department had support teams that worked with local government on water services development plans and how to meet targets. The provision of safe water and sanitation was a way of alleviating poverty. Most water services and sanitation projects were done through labour intensive methods, so jobs could be created. Historically support given to small emerging farmers had been in the form of provision of irrigation schemes but policy had been extended to provide small infrastructure support such as pipes and pumps in the interest of property development. It had been agreed that water would be made available for use on the 800 hectares land but there were no black farmers on the land yet. The process had not been finalised due to a number of problems, one of which was the huge cost of installing pipelines, which caused some delay. The process had been complicated by extensive land claims in the area, which needed to be resolved before the process could be completed.

The Department knew the water requirements of each province. The country had been divided into 19 territorial water areas and through engagement with local government determined the demand for water and availability in a particular area. In some areas it was not possible to make a match because of insufficient water. The Minister had already held a summit in Limpopo and would hold one in the Western Cape on 22 March and in other provinces during the course of the year to discuss issues around water and in particular the Provincial Growth and Development Strategies and water availability. They monitored water services at local government level to find out what requirements were not being served. It was complicated because data from local government and Statistics South Africa (STATSA) did not necessarily match.

The Department had a retention policy, however it still remained difficult to retain people when there were no more shortages. She reported that information from the South African Civil Engineers had shown that they were producing on annual basis half the engineers needed to retain on current growth. As part of the Department’s retention policy, interns were trained on an annual basis and served as a pool of skills for the sector. She was not sure whether the team of experts put together by the Minister for Project Consolidation aimed to provide support for municipalities; however they had been working closely with the Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG). The Flag Boshielo Dam would be commissioned around May 2009. The Water Resource Services Management division had a list of infrastructure developments, so it was possible that other dams would be built.

Mr M Siyabuna (IFP) expressed concern about lack of water services in rural areas, and asked what the Department was doing to ensure that those with the greatest need were provided with water resources.

Mr T Ramphele commented that the policy of the Department regarding provision of water services to farm dwellers seem to be in conflict with government policies.

Mr M Masala wanted clarity on the promotion of dam safety, and how the process was unfolding.

Ms M Nkompe-Ngwenya asked how the Department had ensured access to free basic water and sanitation and how they monitored and supported municipalities to achieve targets. She also wanted clarity on the role of water boards and their relationship with local government.

Ms B Schriener said provision of water services and sanitation had started in rural areas with the greatest need and the process was being taken over by local government. With the provision of water resources they had worked closely with provincial and local government to understand their needs and to identify the difficulties and provided them with support. The policy of water for farm dwellers continued to be a challenge and the practical alternative would be to revise the policy. They had ensured the safety of state dams through regular checks for cracks in the walls. It had also ensured safety of private dams through regulation. Owners had to comply with certain standards, mainly related to the status of dams. There was an Advisory Committee on dam safety that looked at broad issues. Their regional offices had monitored the provision of free basic water and the report would be made available to the Committee. Water boards did not provide a monitoring role. The Department monitored water boards that reported to the Minister because their business plans had to be approved by the Department. Local government was not accountable to the Department, and an institutional reform strategy was being developed to look at the role and relationship between water boards and local government.

Mr M Masala said the Department had to be commended for the promotion of water week.

Ms M Nkompe-Ngwenya expressed concern about local government not being accountable to the Department.

The Chairperson said there was a need for a presentation on institutional reform to accommodate all such concerns.

The meeting was adjourned.

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