Programme Director, Honourable Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP
Honourable Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation
Honourable Members of Provincial Executive Councils
Honourable House Chairpersons
Honourable Chief Whip
Honourable Permanent and Special Delegates
Ladies and gentlemen
Programme Director, thank you for the opportunity to make the opening and welcome remarks this morning. Today this NCOP briefing session is to receive progress made on measures to provide water and sanitation and to address the challenges related to human settlements, as part of a broader government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As we all know, water, sanitation and hygiene are an essential part of preventing and protecting human health during contagious disease outbreaks including the currently devastating coronavirus pandemic. One of the ways of reducing infections is by ensuring that we wash our hands frequently and that we disinfect surfaces that we commonly or routinely touch. Water is thus an important medium for saving lives.
However, whilst we acknowledge the significance of water in mitigating public health disasters, our water sector faces many and major challenges. These include climate change, lack of rainfall and water scarcity, water pollution, ageing and inadequate infrastructure to mention a few. So water remains a scarce resource to many communities, especially in informal settlements, in some of our rural areas that do not have proper infrastructure and areas under the perennial spell of drought. Many would agree that we still need sustainable solutions for the provision of water to a significant number of our schools.
Our Constitution entrenches the right of everyone to have access to sufficient water. It obliges the state to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right. This constitutional injunction extends to access to housing which is made somewhat difficult by the ever-increasing challenges.
National, provincial and local spheres of government share a point of intersection in the provision of human settlements, water and sanitation. This places the NCOP, which brings these three spheres of government under one roof, in a strategic position to help promote coordination and cooperation among them. We are thus at the centre of overseeing the observance and adherence to the constitutional principles of co-operative government and intergovernmental relations by all the spheres.
Programme director, the Covid-19 pandemic has visited us at a time when as a country we are in the midst of a fiscal quandary. Last month the Minister of Finance, the Honourable Tito Mboweni, painted a gloomy picture of a global economy that has been battered by Covid-19. In this context South Africa’s real Gross Domestic Product is expected to plummet by 7.2 per cent this year, primarily due to restrictions on economic activity to contain the spread of the virus. Through the provision of new funding measures and the reprioritisation of funds already in the system, government has taken the necessary steps to try and mitigate the impact of the pandemic. At stake are the public resources that must be disbursed with due regard to the purpose for which they are intended. Our Constitution directs that such resources must be used efficiently, economically and effectively.
In this past week, we were reminded by the Auditor General, Mr Kimi Makwetu, of the importance of this obligation when he released a report on the audit outcomes for local government for the period 2018-19. Among other things, the report reflects disturbing findings about:
- Poor quality of submitted financial statements and performance reports;
- Concerning financial health of municipalities which requires urgent attention;
- Rise in fruitless and wasteful expenditure;
- High level of non-compliance with key governance laws (the report notes that 91 per cent of municipalities did not comply with legislation); and
- Regression in compliance with supply chain management legislation.
We have become accustomed to this story. While commending those municipalities that continue to shine the light of good governance, we as the NCOP deplore the continued deterioration in the management of public finances in this sphere of government. The need for wall-to-wall vigilance by all roleplayers and stakeholders has never been greater.
In this regard, allow me to applaud the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Water and Sanitation and Human Settlements, for immediately following up on the five municipalities that were identified as the top contributors to irregular expenditure last year.
I must thank the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, the Honourable Lindiwe Sisulu, for her commitment to fight fraud and corruption in the sector at the beginning of the 6th Parliament last year. We do feel her footsteps. We wish her, and the department she leads, success in defeating the biggest threats to our democracy. Fraud and corruption blight the huge and game-changing achievements that have been made in the provision of integrated sustainable human settlements.
We will as this House, through the scrutiny of the implementation of laws, the application of the budget and the strict observance of statues and the Constitution, continue to contribute to overall efforts to improve the quality of life of all South African citizens. We will continue to promote accountability, responsiveness and openness in the delivery of public goods and services as required by our Constitution.
With these few comments, it is now my pleasure to welcome all of you to this important interactive briefing session.