Progress and Challenges to Transformation of Irrigation Boards: Department briefing

Water and Sanitation

06 September 2006
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

06 September 2006

Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
DWAF Progress Report to the Portfolio Committee PowerPoint Presentation
WUAs: Establishments / Transformations: Finalised


The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry presented progress of transforming irrigation boards through the creation of Water User Associations and Catchment Management Agencies. Transformation was supposed to have been completed six months following the signing of the National Water Act in 1998, but it remains incomplete. The Department named various internal and external challenges responsible for the slow progress. These included lack of capacity, policy interpretation problems, lack of government support for transforming boards and a lack of alignment in vision between all the stakeholders concerned. The Department assured the Committee that the process was being fast tracked.

The Committee expressed its frustration at being told the same things during each progress report without clear problem identification and possible solutions. They wanted to know how the legislation could be changed to assist the Department to implement the Act. They also made it clear that it was not appropriate to have some processes operating according to the 1956 Act. Both the Committee and the Department felt that transformation was long overdue and that any changes that need to be made to fast track the process must be effected.


The Chairperson started the meeting with administrative issues. She asked whether all Members felt that the programme for the fourth term was workable.

Mr M W Sibuyana (IFP) commented that he did not have many problems with the minutes but he felt that Fridays were not good for many people and as a result a quorum was seldom formed.

The Chairperson made it clear that the Committee could not change the rules of Parliament and that if Mr Sibuyana wanted to effect such a change he would have to approach his party.

Mr Sibuyana clarified that Fridays were not a problem for him personally but that he felt that meetings on Fridays did not do the Committee’s mandate justice as there was not always a quorum.

The Chairperson asked Mr Sibuyana to refrain from continuing and repeated, with frustration, her inability to change the rules of Parliament.

Ms D Van der Walt (DA) interjected, asking if the following day’s meeting would be discussed.

The Chairperson confirmed that it would be discussed and continued to ask whether the Members had any problems with the minutes.

Mr I D Mogase (ANC) said that he accepted them.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) commented that he had only received the minutes that morning and that he had noted some small technical errors and some parts which did not make sense. He also said that to make constructive comment, the Members need to receive them at least a day before discussing them.

The Chairperson made it clear that the minutes are printed out on a weekly basis for the Members and that the copy received before the meeting was merely a reminder, and as such she felt that his complaint was without foundation.

Ms M S Manana (ANC) suggested that the Members look over the minutes during the meeting and accept them at the end of the meeting.

The Chairperson expressed that this was not possible as the quorum is usually lost before the end of meetings because Members leave early.

Ms Van der Walt said that she accepts the meetings of the 16th and 23rd of August and that since these were the only meetings she attended; they were the only ones she can accept.

The Chairperson stated that the minutes were accepted and that it was now off the agenda. She went on to mention the Arbor Day celebrations for which Parliament had given permission. She noted that she was unable to attend for the whole day but would be there as much as possible.

Ms Van der Walt said that she too was not available to attend.

Mr Moonsamy also submitted his regrets at not being able to attend.

The Chairperson explained that the Speaker would plant a tree in the morning providing Mr Khan (Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) Director General Western Cape) had found a suitable tree. She thanked the Department for their patience and welcomed a visiting ACDP Member.

The Chairperson asked the Department to introduce their delegation.

The officials introduced themselves as:
Ms E Bofilatos (Deputy Director, Catchment Management, DWAF)
Mr R Khan (DWAF Director General, Western Cape)
Mr W Enright (DWAF Regional Director, Western Cape)
Mr Weston (Assistant Director, Catchment Management, DWAF)

DWAF presentation

Ms Bofilatos outlined the Department’s progress in transforming Irrigation Boards into Water User Associations (WUAs) and the creation of Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs) as well as the external and internal challenges that have hampered progress. She highlighted that transformation was supposed to have been completed six months after the creation of the new National Water Act in 1998, but that it was still not complete. Furthermore, the Irrigation Boards are still operating according to the 1956 Act. She pointed to the importance of a good relationship between the Departments of Agriculture, Land Affairs and Provincial and Local Government in order for transformation to be fast tracked. She further noted that progress has been hampered because the government neglected to provide adequate support in the form of seed funding and back-up support but that they have now realised that this is essential for progress. She assured the Committee that the Department is fast-tracking the entire process and changing policies where they have proven inadequate. She provided statistics on the number of Irrigation Boards that have been transformed and an estimation of the time it takes for a CMA to be created - approximately three years. She also suggested that one of the reasons that transformation is so slow is that people who do not have access to water are not interested in belonging to an association aimed at managing water.

Mr Weston added that success relies on information from the ground in order for policies to be applicable and appropriate.

Ms Bofilatos concluded that 200 departmental officials would be transferred to DWAF regional offices with about 20 officials per regional office.


Mr Moonsamy expressed his concern about the legal framework in which the Department is operating, as they are still using the Act from 1956. He asked if this is why there has been no progress. He also asked for clarification on why Water User Associations do not comply unless they have government loans. The previous government had created many water boards in order to make jobs for their friends and he asked whether so many boards are actually necessary, whether it is for the creation of jobs and requested a breakdown of the demographics in the boards. He also asked what specific difficulties are being experienced with Local Government.

Mr J D Arendse (ANC) stated firstly that the presentation is not new and that he had hoped to hear clearly what the problems are which are hampering progress and exactly how the Department is dealing with them. He mentioned that it does not seem like they are progressing. He wanted to know how the Department ensures that Historically Disadvantaged Individuals will receive water once the Water User Associations have been created. He further requested an explanation of what transformation is in this context, and for clarity on how the estimated three-year time frame is calculated.

Ms T Lishivha (ANC) asked how local rural communities will be involved in Catchment Management Associations and asked which Local Governments have been problematic.

Ms S Maine (ANC) asked why the old Act has not been changed and when they will stop hearing about problems of capacity. She expressed her concern with the three-year time frame, saying that they could be out of Parliament by then. She wanted to know when something would happen and whether communicating with other Departments could speed up the process.

Ms P Bhengu (ANC) asked how the Department was assisting in rural areas where there is no irrigation infrastructure for agriculture.

The Chairperson asked for how long the 1956 Act would continue, as the 1998 Act is not being implemented. She expressed her agreement with Mr Arendse that they were hearing the same thing again as in the previous year and asked why they must wait for the Soccer World Cup in 2010 when the Act was signed in 1998.

Ms Bofilatos replied that the problem with the old Act is in the Water User Association chapter as the Irrigation Boards will exist until they are transformed. She clarified that the Irrigation Boards were formed on a voluntary basis, not by the Department, but that they are now being made an extension of the Department to ensure their involvement. She asserted that the Department and Irrigation Board visions are not aligned and that she was not repeating the same information from the previous year.

The Chairperson made it clear that there has been a new dispensation since 1994 when water rights were placed in the Bill of Rights. She said that ‘water for all’ was enshrined in the Constitution and she wondered why there was difficulty achieving this. She asked whether the officials in the Department worked together and how the Committee could help them to implement the Act.

Mr Khan replied that the Department worked together in policy development, interpretation and implementation. He said that the 1956 Act has been ripe for change but that the Ministers of the previous government had been hesitant. He added that the 1998 Act aimed to change Irrigation Boards to WUAs and open the boards to other people, thus making it a socio-economic issue. He pointed out that they wanted to include municipalities and not just farmers, but also emerging farmers. He felt strongly that ‘farm workers’ are really farmers without land and that they needed to be represented on the boards. He acknowledged that transformation had been very slow, and that it should have been completed six months after the promulgation of the 1998 Act. He also suggested that they could not know whether transformation had taken place unless they were present at meetings on the ground to see how decisions were taken. He clarified that the creation of CMAs took three years but that the establishment of WUAs would be quicker, as they are small and multi-sectoral, essentially a microcosm of the CMAs.

Ms Bofilatos clarified that only the election process operated under the old Act, and that all other functions operated under the 1998 Act. She added that by the following year, all boards would be transformed.

The Chairperson reminded her that she was under oath in Parliament.

In response to Mr Moonsamy’s original question, Ms Bofilatos explained that the associations had to be Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) compliant and that there were so many boards because they were formed on a voluntary basis, but part of transformation was to reduce the number through amalgamation. She said that the Department was focused on trying to make sure the demographics of the associations were transformed, but that this had to be balanced with ensuring that people got water. She said that the problems experienced with Local Government was in understanding the role of CMAs, but that they were involved in meetings to work through this problem.

Mr Weston added that the problem with the original six-month target was that it was not clear on what transformation meant and entailed. He felt that they now want full transformation and that an administrative transformation should have been effected originally so that race and gender transformation could now be demanded from the associations.

Mr Khan said that they had presumed that there would have been transformation of the Irrigation Board leaders, but that this had not happened and the leaders were stuck in old mindsets and demanded solutions from government. He said it was unfortunate that government was taking the leading role.

Mr P Ditshetelo (UCDP) asked whether there were any lessons to be learnt from established Irrigation Boards on how to speed up the process. He also asked what criteria are used to establish CMAs and whether the Department had considered that some areas will feel that there is favoritism shown to other areas. He further put the question to the Department of whether they had tried to find the cause for the reluctance of farmers to transform.

The Chairperson interjected suggesting that the Department should not reply that they simply ‘don’t want to change’.

Mr Sibuyana said that he thinks the Department is afraid of admitting failure because of imposition. He said that before transformation could be effected, they needed capacity building so that transformation could take root. He suggested that the existing system made success impossible and that thorough consultation should have taken place prior to the legislation being enacted because the Department now lacks the necessary tools.

Ms Manana dismissed this saying that they could not debate it and she is sure adequate consultation did take place. She added that the present problem was internal challenges as it appears there is chaos in the Department. She asked how the national and regional level could not be aligned as the national level should be giving direction.

Mr B Zulu (ANC) mentioned the importance of co-operating with Local Government and asked the Department to clarify what they meant when they said all water users need land to use water. He asked why drought impacted on viability as there is lot of rainfall in South Africa all year round but that they needed to create small storage vessels to protect it. He went on to say that there are no white farmers without water storage and that there are no dams in rural areas. He also asked who the people are who do not want to join water boards because they do not have water.

Ms M L Nkompe-Ngwenya (ANC) apologised for being late and said that she wondered if the Department needed more capacity to assist municipalities instead of being purely monitors, and asked how this would be done. She commented that farmers’ reluctance is because of the past and that she doubts there is insufficient money.

Mr Arendse wanted to know if the 200 officials who would be transferred would retain their employment conditions and whether this was being monitored. He based his concerns on the large number of retrenchments in the forestry sector after transformation, and that this was unacceptable in an era where job creation should be paramount. He further asked whether the 19 water management areas would cover the entire country or whether some areas would be without; if so, where would these be? He asked the Department what help they needed from the Committee in terms of the legislation and any necessary changes.

Ms Maine said that there might be no point in interacting with other Committees if the issues were not clear. Furthermore, she mentioned that the Committee might need feedback from the Department before next year.

The Chairperson concluded that the Department must bear in mind that in provinces like the North West, Members have seen that some people have no water yet next door there is a big dam. She asked if transformation was happening where it is was supposed to. She mentioned reports of vandalism of water infrastructure and expressed her disapproval of this, but said that it indicates people’s desperation and that environmentalists drag their feet when it is a matter of great urgency. She impressed upon the Department that black people still shared water with animals and as long is that is the case, there is no way the Department can think they are doing well.

She mentioned the upcoming workshop on the 27th of October and said that if the 1998 Act is not delivering then they must discuss changes at the workshop. She said that she wanted the workshop to be an opportunity for building and further that the Committee has concerns about what impact the change in land reform policy from ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ would have on water management. She asked whether they could “piggy-back” on these changes. She told the Department that the Water Board’s Director General had explained that DWAF follows Australian and Zimbabwean examples and asked why there is success elsewhere and not in South Africa. She also said that capacity problems would be discussed in the following meeting in addition to discussions about new intergovernmental frameworks to assist the Department.

Mr Weston said they would answer questions from the beginning of the meeting that had been neglected. He felt that there was progress in CMA creation and that he was glad to hear exactly what details the Committee wanted. He also said that he thinks the head-region problem was improving. He went on to say that the three-year time frame is so long because it takes time for consultation and to capacitate people in addition to beaurocratic delays. He said that CMAs would solve capacity problems and that the problem with Local Government is in understanding where management stops and service delivery begins.

Ms Bofilatos added that an irrigation document had been sent out the previous day that contained the figures that the Committee had requested and that the time frame was a guideline only based on the capacity of each office. If someone wanted to fast track the process, the Department should support them.

Mr Weston confirmed this with an example from the Northern Cape and Limpopo Province.

Ms Bofilatos further added that aligning the different Departments would solve the problem with farmers’ attitudes.

Mr Enright added that there was no funding for additional dams but it was done when possible and that a ‘user pays’ policy applied. He said that he felt that the dam building era was over and that it would be better to make better use of the existing ones. He said that from previous processes, they had learned that it takes a few years to reap the rewards from transformation and they required help with regulations for farmers and communication with Local Government.

Mr Khan said that in terms of capacity and knowledge management, the Act had been the most progressive but that the Department lacks specialised skills. He noted that he was joining the Premier’s Co-ordination Forum where they would discuss issues of land and agriculture. He agreed that the system was a problem and apologised for the lack of strategic information.

The meeting was adjourned.



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