Sisulu fast-tracks R898bn water 'master plan'
Publish date: 03 December 2019
Issue Number: 634
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Reaction was mostly positive to a R898bn ‘master plan’ revealed by Water Minister Lindiwe Sisulu last week to deal with the impact of drought and provide water security for SA. According to a TimesLIVE report, the 23-point national water and sanitation master plan, she said, would open doors for research and the creation of technologies to help find other water supplies. Speaking at the launch in Pretoria, Sisulu said the plan would cost about R898bn over the next 10 years. As some officials had allegedly defrauded her department of large sums of money meant for water projects, Sisulu admitted that her Ministry was not in the National Treasury's good books but said they hoped to secure funding of about R565bn from the Treasury over the next decade. The remaining R333bn the department hoped to raise through investments and via the private sector. Sisulu expressed confidence that the plan, which at this point focused on water and not sanitation, would be beneficial for areas such as Hammanskraal and parts of the Eastern Cape which have endured serious water challenges. She said among their plans was to implement technology with Rand Water that would help predict dry spells before they happened. The technology they were looking into also involved extracting water from sources other than boreholes and dams. Public Works is working alongside Sisulu’s department on the project. ‘The new normal has become drought,’ said Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille. ‘We can only save water while we still have water,’ she added.
Under previous Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s administration, billions of rand were misspent, numerous water projects left incomplete, and water monitoring programmes discontinued, yet irregular expenditure soared to R6.4bn in the 2017/18 financial year. An analysis on the Daily Maverick site quotes the master plan which said: ‘There is a need to review the legislative and constitutional responsibility of the provincial administration where a provincial Department of Water and Sanitation will take on the political and accountability function of the network as prescribed by the national Minister.’ Part of the department’s plan is to delegate the management of some of its activities to new, specialised state agencies in order to build capacity, the analysis notes. This will also involve changing water boards into ‘regional utilities’ that can provide water when municipalities fail to do so, the analysis states. Furthermore, the ‘Blue, Green and No-drop’ reports which were discontinued by Mokonyane’s leadership in 2017, despite being good indicators of municipal management of wastewater treatment plants, will be made available from 1 April 2020. Sisulu added that the department is promoting a culture of ethical leadership that involves bringing officials found wanting to book. The department investigated 136 cases of misdemeanours and said 36 officials were found guilty and action was taken against them. ‘We are also sending a message to the private sector. The private sector needs to stop luring my people with unethical rewards,’ said Sisulu. However, the reality is that the budget is limited and continues to shrink, and the department anticipates a R333bn funding gap over the next 10 years. Additionally, the department is sitting with a R59bn refurbishment backlog, the analysis warns. 'Stakeholder engagement is needed, especially regarding the extra financial gaps which exist to make it fully achievable,’ the analysis quotes Sisulu as saying.
Sisulu announced that the department has cut down the time spent on processing Water Use Licence Applications. According to an SA News report, Sisulu said: ‘The turn-around time is now a dramatic 49 days, based on all documents being submitted and subject to all other processes followed.’ Sisulu said the issuing of Water Licences have been one of the challenges because of the time it takes to process them. ‘If it takes us three years to issue a water licence, how are we going to lure investors to believe that we are serious about turning the economy around? We are confident that we are able to address all of this by delivering a Water Use Licence within 49 days,’ Sisulu said. She said the department would be showing an advert depicting its new way of issuing Water User Licences. ‘This has the added advantage of removing the corruption long associated with the issuing of licences, something which has been corroding the public service,’ Sisulu said.
The Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation welcomed the collaboration between the Water and Sanitation and Public Works and Infrastructure Departments in the roll out of the Water and Sanitation Master Plan. According to an SA News report, chair of the Portfolio Committee, Machwene Semenya, said Parliament’s previous committees on water and sanitation had called for the existence of a clear plan to guide the various spheres of government on how to use water in a responsible way. Semenya said the collaboration would assist in dealing with the many other challenges within the water sector, including dilapidated and inadequate reticulation infrastructure. She said the committee looked at the plan in a broader context as a tool that would be used as a catalyst in the use of water for both social and economic development purposes. ‘The pillars of the plan include plans to eliminate wastages and loss of water due to corruption and mismanagement. The plan ensures that there is a capable leadership within the department and capacitation of leadership at local municipality level,’ Semenya said. She also welcomed the announcement that the process of acquiring licences to use water will now be executed within 50 days. 'We are hopeful that this announcement will help unlock the many economic opportunities available within the country which will contribute to job creation,’ she said.
Not all reaction has been favourable, however. AfriForum said in a statement on the Politicsweb site that it believes that Sisulu should ‘first and foremost tackle the mismanagement problems inside the department and create a culture of accountability before implementing the water master plan they announced last week’. ‘Although AfriForum welcomes the announcement that restructuring will be done in the department, the civil rights organisation is concerned that it won’t take place on merit and that potential corrupt officials will continue to be in charge,’ the statement reads. ‘According to Sisulu, the master plan will cost approximately R900bn. The latest report by the Auditor-General, however, indicates that the department had lost close to R1.7bn as a result of irregular and wasteful expenditure on water infrastructure projects. The department is failing in its duty to maintain water infrastructure and is not tackling problems leading to massive water wastage, such as water leakages and pollution,’ the statement quotes Lambert de Klerk, head of environmental affairs at AfriForum, as saying. De Klerk added that if the department truly considered water as a critical resource, it should act seriously and decisively against municipalities that were disregarding this resource.
If we don't act now, we may not have water anywhere. That was the message from President Cyril Ramaphosa in his weekly newsletter to the nation this week. A City Press report notes that although Ramaphosa painted a bleak picture of the country’s water supply, he also outlined the measures that the state was putting in place to try avoid a situation where water would not be available. He highlighted the decade-long drought that had put ‘immense pressure on our water systems and has had a devastating impact on agriculture and communities, especially in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga’. Dam levels were currently on average about 58%, compared with 69% for the same time last year, he said. ‘SA is a severely water-stressed country. We do not have mighty rivers that flow all season, like in other parts of Africa and the world,’ he said. ‘Unless we take drastic measures to conserve water sources and promote efficient use, water insecurity will become the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing this country. Our current energy challenges will seem small by comparison,’ Ramaphosa said. ‘Water security isn’t just integral to ensuring the well-being of our people, it is critical to our economy, and to our goal to accelerate industrialisation and expand mining and agriculture. Mismanagement of water resources and corruption in the water sector has in no small part contributed to the situation we currently face,’ he warned.