The Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, presented her department’s budget vote to the Natonal Council of Provinces (NCOP). In her address, she mentioned the huge backlog that her department is currently faced with amid growing budget cuts due to Covid-19 and our ailing economy.  

Front and centre of her debate was her attempt to clarify the fact that her department is now directly involved in dispensing water. But, she said, it is a trustee of our country’s water resources. And charged with the task of protecting, conserving and controlling it to ensure it is distributed equitably and in a sustainable manner.

She said the task of dispensing water to citizens is a responsibility of municipalities. She said: “We want the citizens to know that as such, that is why the direct responsibility for the delivery of social services of our people lies with the local government sphere.”

She urged the citizens to pay for water so that municipalities can be in a position to deliver services. To uphold its mandate, she said the department has introduced institutional reforms to uproot cases of irregularities, mismanagements and corruption in its system. “We are ready to report our progress to the Standing Committee On Public Accounts (Scopa) in this regard.”  

When it comes to corruption, she maintained, “we acted with unprecedented decisiveness and we have taken matters related to it to the courts. Some of which await prosecution”.

She told the NCOP that they are restructuring the department to be in line with the Water and Sanitation Master Plan. This to make it more effective in responding to people’s needs. She said many water boards have had clean audit outcomes in the last financial year.

Part of the institutional reforms is to come up with sound water infrastructure development packages that will create a fertile ground for the private sector and other departments to invest in it to boost the municipal water infrastructure capability in the future.

Turning her attention to human settlements, she was quick to admit that “we did not have an exciting year on this front. The growth of informality is shocking. As a result we have earmarked R10 billion in this finaical year to upgrade informal settlements. Well over 679 informal settlements will be upgraded”.

But that is not enough given the demand, she conceded. Hence, there is now a call for government to release land to allow people to build their own houses. “Land has been released through the Presidency to us to give people land to build their own homes.” 

Coupled with that, she added: “We have established the Zenzeleni Initiative and Building Vouchers to assist people with finaical schemes to build their own homes. To bring about an inclusive economy, the department intends to establish building material suppliers that will be led by unemployed graduates. And the department is currently developing guidelines to provide 40% of its procurement to women’s enterprises, in line with the President’s announcement during the State of the Nation Address.”

According to the Chairperson of the Select Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Mr China Dodovu, who also spoke during the debate, over the last 27 years the government has implemented various Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation’s policies and strategies in order to reduce the historical backlogs. He said as a committee they are of the view that the department’s budget vote seeks to continue with this journey of eradicating informal settlements, to provide clean water and to address the sanitation backlogs.

In his debate he argued that the committee is concerned about the increase of consultants’ fees and advisory fees from R27 million in the 2020-2021 finaical year to R65 million in 2021-2022 financial year.

Also, the committee is urging the department to provide it with “time frames of all its planned research as contained in its annual performance plans and performance indicators. And to provide quarterly reports on progress and challenges regarding the achievement of its 2020-2021 performance plans”.

And he proclaimed that the committee will utilise the department’s annual performance plans to conduct “proactive oversight visits to provinces to monitor the completion of human settlements programmes”.

He urged the department to give special attention to incomplete water projects and to ensure that the water boards have personnel with competent and requisite skills to champion its water and sanitation mandate.

To emphasise the significance of competent personnel for the success of government’s programmes, he asked: “We must ask ourselves what kind of leadership we need in public entities that can take our country forward?”

Mr Mbulelo Sileku registered his disappointment with the department’s performance in the last finaical year. The ideals of the National Housing Strategy and Plan heralded by the late Joe Slovo in 1994 to build houses for our people “is sadly fading in every passing year. The Minister came with a grand plan in the last financial year, but with little commitment”.

Recently, I asked the Minister, in writing, how many provinces are likely not to spend their housing budgets this financial year? The reply was that seven provinces would not spend their combined R552.6 million on housing.

“We recently celebrated the anniversary of our Constitution, as a country we can’t celebrate when our people’s constitutional right to live in dignity has been violated by these provinces,” he said.

In relation to good governance, Mr Sileku urged the department to address the Auditor-General’s adverse findings against it. “The Auditor-General’s findings beg for an intervention to force the department to deliver on its mandate,” he said.

He said it has since transpired that the department’s leadership has not monitored performance and its information indicators. “This is a graphic illustration of the lack of capacity and skills in the department. Instead of addressing its capacity problems, the department has increased its budgetary allocation of consultants. We cannot tolerate a situation in which provinces don’t spend their allocated budgets to realise the housing of our people,” he maintained.

Ms Brenda Mathevula criticised the poor performance of internal controls of the entities of the department, which she said have no controls to arrest the increase in debt.

“Despite the turnaround plans and strategies, we now know that much of the department’s entities are unsustainable, they rely on government for funding,” she said.

“Water and sanitation are not just basic services, but are meant to uphold human dignity. But there are still rural areas without proper water and sanitation infrastructure. Even your Master Plan on Water and Sanitation does not mention a single rural area, and that is unacceptable to say the least,” she protested.

By Abel Mputing

 4 June 2021