PRESS RELEASE: South African Water Caucus Response to Minister of Water and Sanitation’s budget speech, 25 May 2016
On 11 May 2016, the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Minister Mokonyane, delivered a speech to Parliament announcing the proposed budget for water and sanitation in the 2016/17 financial year. Following her speech and debate on her proposed budget, a budget roughly 3.2% smaller than the budget for the 2015/16, was approved by a majority of the members of Parliament in attendance.
The South African Water Caucus (SAWC), a national network of community based and non-governmental organisations, is concerned about the budget cut for water and sanitation at a time when South Africa is experiencing a crippling drought and the water and sanitation infrastructure country-wide is in a bad state of repair. We feel that a greater budget is necessary for drought mitigation, urgent interventions in municipalities facing water and sanitation problems and the appointment of staff to enforce water laws in South Africa.
The Minister listed some achievements of the government over the past two decades relating particularly to the broadening of access to water and the provision of sanitation services. The SAWC recognises those achievements and welcomes the Minister’s pledge to ensure that these achievements are built on in the current financial year.
However, the Minister failed to specify any of the challenges faced by the Department of Water and Sanitation (hereafter ‘the Department’) in performing its mandate. We believe that being forthright about the Department’s challenges during a budget speech will not only assist to justify the allocation of funds to the Department’s various programmes, it will also create a platform for constructive engagement with civil society.
The SAWC supports the Minister’s statement that “the value of public participation and social mobilisation lies in accountability and transparency between government and the public…” and that “government cannot find solutions to the challenges of the communities on its own, but working together with communities we can succeed to improve delivery of services.” The “nothing about us without us” approach is welcomed.
Despite some progress made to ensure better government accountability and transparency in the water sector, there is still much to be done to improve the working relationship between government and the public, especially key civil society role players, such as the South African Water Caucus and the various provincial water caucuses.
The Minister’s budget speech focused very much on the infrastructure needed to deal with water scarcity, with very little attention given to protection of the water resource itself, or to the role and impact on people. It is acknowledged that the Department has established 77 water and sanitation forums across the country. In our experience, these forums have not been very effective, as they are easily captured by local elites. We call upon the Minister to support and recognize other forums that promote public participation in water governance, such as catchment management forums. There has been significant progress in some areas in setting up of local catchment management forums, and the Minister should not underestimate their potential for ensuring public custodianship of water, and thereby deepening our democracy.
It is still extremely difficult to access key documents, such as water use licenses and water use license applications. We call upon the Minister to take steps to ensure that such documents are automatically available upon request by members of the public to the holders of water use licenses, applicants for water use licenses or the Department. We furthermore demand better dissemination and accessibility of information pertaining to water and sanitation.
The Department could do more to facilitate public participation in the water sector. Funds must be made available to secure the attendance of relevant interested and affected parties at important stakeholder meetings and other forms of engagement involving water and sanitation, including, but not limited to, water and sanitation forum meetings, catchment management forum meetings, department events, events hosted by municipalities around water and sanitation and public participation pertaining to water use license applications and other administrative action taken by the Department.
We note that R2 billion of the budget for the previous financial year remained unspent at the end of that financial year. Those funds could have been used to facilitate better public participation.
Proposed drought mitigation measures
The SAWC notes with concern that the one of the medium- to long-term solutions for future drought mitigation is the construction and operation of desalination plants. Given that desalination requires large amounts of energy thereby contributing to climate change, it should only be considered as a last resort. Preference should be given to measures to protect existing water resources through, for instance better management of important catchment areas, the maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure, water conservation initiatives that advance social justice, and rain water harvesting. Furthermore, desalination plants that were constructed in the past, such as the desalination plants built in Plettenburg Bay, Mossel Bay and Sedgefield during the Southern Cape drought in 2009, are no longer operational. Government should avoid sunk costs associated with infrastructure investment, especially when there are other options available.
The project undertaken by the Department to support resource poor farmers by giving them access to rain water harvesting facilities is welcomed. We call on the Department to roll out rain water harvesting programmes more widely, in collaboration with food-growers and civil society organisations.
Water and sanitation hotline
During the debate following the Minister’s budget speech, the Deputy Minister called upon the public to make use of the Department’s water and sanitation hotline to report all problems relating to water and sanitation. While we welcome the initiative taken by the Department to set up the hotline, in our experience, the hotline has not been functioning effectively. The SAWC proposes that the hotline operators give the complainant better and more regular feedback on progress made to resolve problems.
Big infrastructure projects
The delays in completing and the escalating costs of key water and sanitation infrastructure projects in South Africa is of great concern to the SAWC. Better planning around infrastructure projects will ensure timeous completion of projects and avoid escalating costs of projects. The planning process should involve choosing essential and sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure projects over projects that are unsustainable, such as the construction of the Mzimvubu dam. The SAWC reiterates that better management of water catchment areas, for instance, will ensure the availability of more water, obviating the need for more dams.
Blue and Green Drop Certification
The Deputy Minister mentioned in her speech that the quality of drinking water and the management of waste water has improved significantly, and that most municipalities are now participants in Blue and Green Drop assessments. The SAWC calls for a revitalizing of the Blue and Green Drop processes, and improvements in reporting – the results of the Blue Drop and Green drop reports have not been made available to the public since 2014. The SAWC also calls for the proper allocation of funding for fixing our wastewater treatment works. The Minister has overlooked the critical link between human health and wastewater management, at a time when diarrheal disease is the third biggest killer in South Africa, and the leading cause of death for children under 5.
Water and gender
The SAWC supports the Minister’s statement that there should be more employment opportunities for women in the water sector. We however call on the Minister to ensure that women are also given opportunities to participate fully in water governance and that women have equitable access to water and sanitation services, as it is women who face the greatest risks when these services are absent or inaccessible.
Staff and designations
The SAWC is concerned that key posts in the Department have not yet been filled. We call on the Minister to fill those posts as a matter of urgency. We also urge the Minister to designate environmental management inspectors in the Department to enforce the laws regulating water management in South Africa.
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