RIGHT OF REPLY

Day Zero: It has become fashionable to blame me for everything – De Lille

By Patricia De Lille 25 April 2018

File Photo: Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille hosts a media briefing on the city’s Water Resilience Plan on 17 August 2017. Photo: Leila Dougan

If there was one person in the City of Cape Town’s water response team who had the greatest sense of urgency, it was me.

This right of reply is in response to the Daily Maverick article: “Whatever happened to Day Zero” by Adam Yates, published on 12 April 2018.

I reject with the contempt it deserves the Deputy Mayor, Ian Neilson’s comments blaming me for the delayed response to the water crisis and for causing unnecessary panic about Day Zero.

Firstly, when communicating on the water crisis, my message over and over since early in 2016 was that we would not allow a well-run city to run out of water.

I used the term “we” as this unprecedented drought crisis was not caused by one person and managing it is not one person’s job. The teams in the city were guided by the 25-year plan which was adopted way back in 2007 and many Council decisions and restrictions that we have been implementing since January 2016.

The deputy mayor is correct in saying the city always had a long-term water plan. It was under my leadership that we did scenario planning and produced a new plan for the city called the New Normal based on the fact that because of climate change, Cape Town is a water scarce region and we could not no longer only rely on rain water to supply our water needs.

I assumed a greater role in communicating on the water crisis and constantly assured the public that the city’s team would work tirelessly to ensure that Cape Town does not run out of water while each person must do more to save water. Resolve Communication was appointed to help with the communication strategy on the advice of the party leadership.

I said numerous times that we can only save water while there is still water to be saved.

We had a two-pronged strategy and we communicated on a daily basis the progress of bringing on additional water from non-potable sources which includes treated waste water, desalination and aquifers and calling on people to reduce demand.

We also intensified pressure management and in fact the city’s water savings measures have been in place for more than 18 years. In 2015, the City of Cape Town won an award at COP21 in Paris for our water conservation measures.

It was under my leadership that the collective daily consumption went from 1.1-billion litres of water per day before January 2016 to around 600-million at the beginning of 2018.

It is always easy to point figures and speak about “would’ve, could’ve” but the deputy mayor was there when we started working together daily to step up our efforts and mobilise residents to save more water.

What the deputy mayor and the media must remember is when we announced Day Zero, we made it clear that this was not the day when the city ran out of water completely.

Day Zero would come when our dam levels reached 13.5% capacity and the city would be forced to turn off most taps and limit water supply to ensure that we do not run out of water entirely.

Now at this point, since it is has become fashionable to blame me for everything, let me shed light on what has happened since I was removed from the water response team.

The City of Cape Town’s water augmentation plan is a critical aspect of this city’s management and directly affects the city’s sustainability and financial viability.

The recent tabling of the draft budget from the various city directorates has revealed some worrying patterns in budgeting and spending undertaken since my removal from the oversight of the augmentation plan.

As at 8 January 2018, when I still had oversight and was convening regular meetings on the progress and scope of the water augmentation projects, the budget for these measures stood at R1.3-billion. After my removal, the budget was inflated to R6.3-billion by 1 February 2018.

This is a R5-billion increase in proposed spending within just days of my removal from this programme – an amount almost equal to the city’s entire capital budget, for which I am not permitted oversight.

From my recent review of the draft budget and current state of spending thereof, it is clear that this now grossly inflated budget will not be spent within this financial year. I am also highly sceptical of why such a grossly inflated budget was required, or if needed on what basis such increases were warranted at all.

It seems clear that a vast portion of this new budget will not be spent in this financial year.

It is not clear why such excessive increases on this budget were warranted in the first place.

I have now requested the Acting City Manager, the Chief Financial Officer and the Executive Director for Water and Sanitation to come up with a proposal to reduce the 26.9% proposed water tariff increase and use some of the unspent money of this financial year to cover the financial losses for next year.

Furthermore, the February announcements of additional desalination plants – in direct contravention of the guidance received through National Treasury – have perhaps fuelled these gross increases. However, without oversight, I cannot determine this.

These huge budget increases were provided just weeks before announcing that Day Zero was no longer a risk for 2018.

This announcement and decision was taken in March prior to any significant rainfall. The only significant factor distinguishing water availability from the previous year was the successful curtailment of agricultural releases – curtailment that city officials had been pressing the National and Provincial government to implement for some months prior.

Finally, it is unacceptable that I was not approached for comment on this story which asserts a number of untruths as facts on a very sensitive topic. In fact, a few months ago I took an editor and journalists from this publication into my confidence to explain our range of measures to reduce to demand and how we were doing everything we could to ensure that we do not run out of water.

The lies in the article by Adam Yates about me being to blame and not having acted sooner are reckless and misleading. If there was one person in water response team with the greatest sense of urgency, it was me and I will not stand to blamed for something I am not responsible for. DM

Patricia De Lille is mayor of the City Of Cape Town

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