Dept stalling as waterless municipality waits for R147m pipe

Cape Town - MPs were left furious after the department of water and sanitation could on Friday still not guarantee that it would deliver a much-needed pipeline to the waterless municipality of Kgetlengrivier.

The North West municipality has been suffering from a two-and-a-half year drought due to poor infrastructure. The region's Swartruggens dam is due to run out of water again in 100 days.

The department appeared before the water and sanitation portfolio committee for the second time in five months. It could still not approve the Magalies Water Board's plan of action due to protracted funding issues.

"My understanding is that the department is still looking into where it can source funding for this particular intervention," said deputy director general Anil Singh on Wednesday.

"The protocol is that before we can advise the minister to sign a directive, in instructing Magalies to be an implementing agent, we have to have a clear indication from where that funding is going to come."

They were looking for a long-term solution, but could propose some "quick wins" while the CFOs looked for the money.

'Merry-go-round'

The Magalies Water Board however said there was a R2.9bn surplus that could be released, and that it was appointed to do preliminary work last year.

It found that a 32.5km pipe could be built for R147.5m that would supply three of the struggling towns in the area.

They just needed Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane to sign off on the plans.

The province meanwhile said it had no money for the project at the moment, beyond the R2.5m it had already spent on having water delivered in tankers.

The municipality was waiting on assistance from the national department.

'What is the real problem?'

DA MP Leonard Basson said there was mudslinging between Magalies, the national department, and the province. It was unacceptable that the province was not assisting.

"We are running out of time. We have 100 days. We cannot accept this while people on the ground don't have water."

ANC MP Thomas Makondo said he was disappointed by everybody who spoke. He said Magalies had a plan and was ready to start.

He said the department was playing hide and seek, and must make it clear if it wanted to help the municipality.

Chairperson Lulu Johnson asked what the problem was, given that they had repeatedly been dealing with the same, emergency issue.

'Arrogance'

Acting committee chairperson Hlomane Chauke, who was from Swartruggens and had a "personal interest" in the department's failure, took Singh to task.

He forced Singh to phone the department’s director general to give Parliament an answer immediately.

After a break, Singh explained that the department would take back the project, and that Magalies would suspend its work. The department's construction crew would take over building the pipe.

The news did not go down well. ANC MP Derick Mnguni said the department had undermined Parliament.

Basson said it was unacceptable for the department to decide at the eleventh hour that it would do the project itself.

The Magalies Water Board had been appointed, had already been contracted to do work, and was ready, he said. It would open up the department to yet more fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

'Money in the boot'

Chauke said the department was using Parliament as a football.

"It's very arrogant what the department is doing.”

It seemed officials did not care and that service providers were "riding away with money in the boot of their cars".

Johnson said the committee repeatedly told the department it was best-placed to handle the situation all along. The merry-go-round was unacceptable.

The committee agreed to call Mokonyane to Parliament next week.