Budget Hearings: Water Services

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE, WATER AFFAIRS & FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
8 February 1999
BUDGET HEARINGS: WATER SERVICES


Documents handed out:
Briefing Summary
Table of Projects Selected for Implementation in 99/00
List of All Projects Implemented in the 98/99 Financial Year

SUMMARY
The Department briefed the committee on its Water Services Programme. The programme is responsible for the delivery of water to people's homes and villages. As the long-term view is to have local governments in charge of service provision, a large part of the budget is being spent on increasing the Local Governments capacity to deliver. The Parliamentarians had numerous questions, many of which related to delivery problems in their areas. The meeting was extended for an additional 1.5 hours to allow for further questions.

MINUTES
Minister Asmal briefly spoke to the committee on some of the issues within the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, and noted that progress was being made.

The Chairperson, Ms Love (African National Congress), invited the Department to proceed with their presentation.

The Director General, Mr Muller, indicated that the presentation would be done by a variety of people throughout the morning. Dr Mokeyane would proceed with the main briefing.

Dr Mokeyane proceeded to go through the Water Services briefing, selecting key points from the briefing document.

Mr Van Zyl from the Water Services Planning directorate, introduced the committee to the reference system database the Department had developed to identify areas of key concern. The database consisted of a comprehensive geographical database, which would allow users to find information on a national, provincial or local level.

The Chair asked the committee members for questions.

Ms Mabuza (African National Congress) thanked the Department for good work, but noted that much of it was only on paper. The water tap within 200 meters goal of the department was not happening. In her area people were still walking 2-4km to fetch water. She stated that the Arabi dam was a white elephant. People without water wanted yard connections, noting that in many houses in South Africa there were 6-8 taps per house. On sanitation, she noted that there was a need for clarity from the department on their strategy, as it had not been given much attention. Further, in the Northern Province the department always stated that they did not have enough transport, and that this was a cause for their inability to get to areas to check on issues. Finally, Ms Mabuza asked the Department if they had a strategy for dealing with illegal connections. She had grown up carrying water on her head, and was not prepared to do it any longer. She would therefore collect water illegally. People were ready to pay for water; the education and training had been done.

Mr Ligege (African National Congress) commented that in the Northern Province there was a budgetary roll over, so why was there the problem of not enough transport.

Ms Ntuli (African National Congress) referring to the list of projects asked how they were being monitored. How many people had been trained, and registered with training? The department used the term sustainable flow, and she asked for clarity on what this meant?

Mr Mentz (Inkhata Freedom Party) stated that the final challenge was to have tap water and sanitation for everyone in the country. How far away from reaching this goal was the department, and can this be expressed in terms of percentages for rural, urban and provincial breakdowns.

Ms Ngwenya (African National Congress) thanked the department for their work. She made particular reference to Mr Matukane from the Northern Province who was at the meeting, commenting that he was almost a field worker in that he made efforts to get to places to see what was happening. The documents handed out made reference to about 4000 on site toilets that had been installed. Ms Ngwenya asked for clarity on the type of toilet, as pit latrines were sensitive issues due to the pollution of ground water. She asked how the transitional rural councils were being empowered to implement the work that was needed to be done.

Mr Ganinda (African National Congress) stated that he pitied the department, as water supply was a very sensitive issue. But politicians have a job to do, trying to cater for the needs of people. He therefore wanted to know how supply systems were monitored, from the reservoir down to the pipes and taps. In relation to on the ground monitoring, he asked who the local managers were accountable to. Who was inspecting to see that these managers were doing their work? Many times equipment was used as a reason for failure. Mr Ganinda stated that he did not know these things, but was someone checking that this was the real problem, rather than people just not doing their job. And was there money for equipment maintenance in the budget. Finally, Mr Ganinda asked the department whether an information system could not be used to notify people when there were water problems. The nature of the problem, the length of time it will take to fix, and relevant contact people should be given to people for when there is no water. He noted that local managers could spoil the work done by the department. Guidelines should be issued to get information to people on water supply problems.

Mr Duna (African National Congress) asked for more information on the Amatola District Council reference in the briefing document.

Ms Love added a few questions. Firstly, she asked on whether the database could be utilised independently of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, for example by other departments. Secondly, with reference to the two lists of projects, she asked whether someone wanting information on a project could look at the list and see if the project was not finished. If a project was not in the lists, was it off the table. And if it was no longer on the table, had the department gone back to the communities and let people know why. Thirdly, Ms Love asked the department for information on the implementation and interpretation of various issues in Section 19 of the Water Services Act.

The Director General from the department allocated the questions to various members of the Departments team to answer.

Mr Matukane from the Northern Province answered on the Arabi scheme, saying that it was conceived in the time of drought. Due to budget restraints, some of the pipes had to be stopped some distance away from the villages, and he was aware of long walking distances. In some of the areas there were old systems that the department was bringing on to line. These would cost around R50 million to provide reticulation. On the issue of transport in the Province, Mr Matukane noted that the Northern Province was the area where most of the homelands were, and had very little infrastructure. The logistics of getting to places was difficult. The department was currently regionalising projects, and the situation would hopefully improve.

A member of the delegation replied on sanitation. The sanitation programme was currently engaged in about 220 programs. The programmes did not focus only on toilet issues, but on a general environmental health. The first phase of any programme was training and mobilising of communities. The bulk of the projects were still at this stage. The toilets were part of the second phase. In many of the areas Ventilated Improved Pitt toilets were used, and the department would not invest in less than this type of toilet. The projects involved trying to involve the communities in informed choices. A groundwater sanitation protocol had been issued to project agents, which served as both a technical and communication protocol.

Mr Helgart Muller, from the Services Directorate, answered the question relating to local managers. The accountability of officers was very important. Policy was that schemes should be transferred to either water boards or Transitional Local Councils. The capacity was not necessarily there yet. The Department had a turnaround scheme to turnaround schemes that were not working. On the leaking pipes, Mr Muller stated that the contractor and agents should have cost recovery and performance indicators in the agreements. Part of the capacity enhancement training the Department was giving to local governments was in improving negotiating contracts.

On the training side, the Department was being careful not to duplicate training that was being given to local government from other departments, such as constitutional development.

On the issue of the long term challenge, Mr Van Zyl noted that the total challenge as of 1994 was to be able to provide water to 15 million people who needed it, 12 Million of which were in rural areas. The province with the biggest problem was the Northern Province. At present, 3.1 million people had since been provided with water, with further 9 million still needing water. The department estimated it would take 8-20 years to supply this backlog, not taking into account population growth.

On the issue of Water Boards and Nelspruit, Dr Mokeyane noted that the practice was for Local Authorities to consider all willing and able providers, as indicated in Section 19.2 of the Water Services Act. In Nelspruit, no such service providers were around at the time. In terms of section 19.4 a and b, there had been a request for written comment by Nelspruit on the issue. A contract could only go ahead once the department was satisfied with this section in the Act. On section 19.5, the matters to be prescribed are being regulated. The department was drafting tariff regulation, and was acutely aware of section 19.5 in terms of concessions and contracts, with specific regard to obligation of quality, pressure, safety, health, continuation and performance monitoring.

On the Amatola question, the Director General noted that on the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry responsibility, there was a need to negotiate with the Amatola District Council as they needed to decide who the service provider would be. If the operator had not done the work, then there needed to be an agreement with the local government. As the Local government was ultimately the consumer and end user, others in the deal should be contractually accountable to them.

The meeting adjourned for 5 minutes, after which it was extended for an additional hour and a half for further questions. The rest of the meeting was not minuted.

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