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Mchunu sets aside billions for water projects but thirsty residents still face long wait

The water shortages in Limpopo have been blamed largely on corruption and mismanagement in water boards and municipalities. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media

Millions of people living in water starved rural communities in Limpopo that were hoping for good news from this year’s budget vote speech by the department of water and sanitation are set to endure another long wait to receive the precious resource.

Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu told Parliament that the recently launched launched R24 billion Olifants River Water Resources Development Project which will be implemented as a Public Private Collaboration with mining companies, to fast-track water delivery to communities and mines in the Sekhukhune and Mokgalakwena municipalities in Limpopo by 2028.

Mchunu said government and the mining companies will each fund approximately 50% of the project, which will be implemented by the transformed Lebalelo Water Users Association.

He said the project is at approval stage with some of the work packages at pre-construction stage and construction is anticipated to begin late this year (2022).

Millions of residents, most of the in rural areas across Limpopo are facing daily chronic water shortages. Residents endure daily hardship of travelling long distances in search of water, using wheelbarrows and an assortment of containers .

In September last year, Mchunu and his deputy David Mahlobo, undertook a three-day visit to the province to meet with municipal officials, management of water boards and community structures in a bid to address the water crisis.

During the same visit Limpopo Premier Chupu Mathabatha said the province was at 84% in 2014 for water provision but had regressed to 74% in 2019.

The shortages have been blamed largely on corruption and mismanagement in water boards and municipalities. Some of the cases including water boards have been referred to the Special Investigation Unit.

This week Mchunu told Parliament that “the first step in Government you take to stop corruption is to fill up vacant posts, with qualified, competent and suitable individuals. To this end, the Director General position was filled from 1 January this year, the Chief Financial Officer position from 11 February 2022, and two other DDG positions were approved by Cabinet this past Wednesday. One DDG position remains occupied by an official who is on suspension on financial misconduct charges with the disciplinary process nearing completion.”

“We are collaborating fully with the Special Investigating Unit on several investigations which are either being planned or are under way, and we are implementing all the recommendations relating to consequence management from completed SIU investigations,” he said.

Mchunu added that cases of unauthorised and irregular expenditure where investigations have been concluded and recommendations implemented have been submitted to National Treasury for condonation and the department is working on finalising the remaining cases of irregular expenditure. He said in addition, the department has requested the Chief Financial Officer to prepare an action plan towards the department achieving a clean audit.

Some of the major projects announced by Mchunu in the budget speech include a R10 billion project to build a major pipeline from the Xhariep Dam to augment water supply in Mangaung. The project which is set to be in the feasibility stage is planned to be completed by 2028.

Mchunu said 14% of the budget of phase 2 of the R36 billion Lesotho Highlands Water Project has been spent. Mchunu said the project is due to start delivering water to Gauteng in November 2027.

“The project is funded through finance raised by the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority and is being implemented jointly by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa, through the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission and the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority,” he said.

Other projects include the raising of the dam wall at Hazelmere Dam to ensure long term water supply to Ethekwini, of which 96% is complete.

“The project is due to be completed in the third quarter of 2022 at a cost of approximately R800 million. The uMkhomazi Water Project is also aimed at delivering long term additional water to the Ethekwini region at a cost of R23 billion by 2028. The project is at prefunding stage, with funding to be raised by the TCTA, and construction is expected to start in 2025.”

Mchunu further added that the R 1.2 billion Thembisile-Loskop bulk water supply project in Mpumalanga which is aimed at addressing water supply challenges in the Thembisile Hani Local Municipality will provide 23 Mℓ of water to communities in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. “The project is at procurement stage and will be implemented over a three-year period from May 2022 to April 2025.”

Mchunu said the Department and the Water Trading Entity have been allocated a combined budget of R111.256 billion over the medium-term expenditure framework.

“This consists of allocations of R34.976 billion, R37.331 billion and R38.958 billion in the 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25 financial years respectively. The Department’s budget consists of two components: the Main Account and the Water Trading Entity. On the main account, the Department has been allocated R59.6 billion over the medium-term expenditure framework. This consists of allocations of R18.5 billion, R20.1 billion and R20.9 billion in 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25 respectively.”

“The main account budget includes conditional infrastructure grants for municipal water services totalling  R37.439  billion  over  the  MTEF.  This  includes  R19  billion  for  the  Regional  Bulk Infrastructure Grant and R14 billion for the Water Services Infrastructure Grant. The RBIG grant will be spent on 113 different projects across the country, and the WSIG grant will be allocated to more than 200 projects across the country.”

However he raised concern about the declining governance in local government. “It is an anomaly that municipal water services continue to decline while we make these very substantial grant allocations. Mark my words –we are going to stop this going forward – through necessary intervention guaranteed to deliver water!”

“At the end of the recent financial year, the Water Trading Entity was owed R24.57 billion by the customers that it sells water to. Municipalities and water boards account for 65% of this debt. Municipalities owed the water boards R13. 94 billion, due to non-payment by their water users. This in turn resulted in the water boards owing the Department R7.6 billion. Direct municipal debt to the Department amounted to R8 billion.

“It is critical that Government as a whole, addresses the problem of poor revenue management and debts in the water sector. If this problem is not addressed, we will not see a sustainable improvement in water and sanitation services.” –

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