New Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu wants officials in her corruption-riddled department to go through a vetting process to show that they are “clean”.
This is part of the minister’s plan to turn around the bankrupt department that became dysfunctional in many respects when Nomvula Mokonyane was minister.
Mokonyane, an ally of former president Jacob Zuma, has been implicated several times in the Zondo inquiry into State Capture.
Sisulu said at a briefing on Tuesday 16 July that she was still trying to get to grips with the extent of the corruption problem and the amount of money that had been lost in the department.
“I am still trying to understand the depth of this and to close those holes. But the figures are shocking, and I feel very sorry for the staff who had to sit and explain all this to Treasury, because I don’t think they understand the full extent of this.”
But she believes she can turn the department around, and one of the first steps was to deal with corruption. She was waiting for Treasury approval so the investigation into corruption and irregularities could be “fast-forwarded”.
“I want to start this investigation immediately.”
This would include investigating Water Boards, and if any irregularities or corruption was found “we will act decisively – more decisively with Water Boards because they are the front line of what we do”.
When she took over the ministry, Sisulu spent two weeks with officials and with former minister Gugile Nkwinti to try to get to the bottom of what she would have to deal with in the department, which had many problems that were “out there in the public domain”.
Nkwinti, who took over the department from Mokonyane in early 2018, told parliamentarians at the time that he had inherited a department that was “in a mess”. Many projects, such as the raising of the Clanwilliam Dam, have simply come to a halt.
One of the steps Sisulu has said she will take is to “unblock all blocked projects”.
Sisulu’s budget is R16-billion. Her department is owed R14-billion by municipalities for water and services.
Part of her clean-sweep plan is to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to water pollution. The department is to establish an anti-pollution task team to tackle this problem that would rely on modern technology where pollution could be monitored remotely, not only by inspectors on the ground.
A major problem was that many municipalities had neither the skills nor the money to do the job required of them.
This led to pollution from municipal sewerage works that discharged untreated or inadequately treated sewage effluent into rivers.
Sisulu’s department would identify the rivers that were the worst affected, “because without clean rivers we cannot have clean water”.
Sisulu said she hoped to find a way to deal with this lack of capacity at the municipal level through the inter-ministerial committee.
Another problem was that much of the departmental infrastructure was ageing and overburdened.
The department’s infrastructure had been designed for “13% of the population and is now expected to stretch to 100%” without there having been sufficient investment in new infrastructure.
Many of the sewerage pipes around the country had become corroded from the sewage effluent and had burst in many places. In many informal settlements, sewage was flowing in the streets.
“The worst case is if it flows into the rivers and into dams. We need to find a way of identifying and replacing this.”
Sisulu believes her turn-around plan, yet to be made public, will enable the department to get back on track. She said the remedial steps had been laid out with time frames.
“Even the Opposition agreed that we have to do this together.”
The department’s internal construction unit would be re-established and she would “unblock all blocked projects”.
All dams would now be classified as key national points to afford them maximum protection. This would not stop dams being used for recreation.
“I am cognisant that we don’t have a very good reputation in the public domain and I will make sure we work very hard to eliminate that image,” Sisulu said.
Water Affairs used to produce a Green Drop report that documented municipalities’ performance in managing sewerage works. The last full Green Drop report was in 2011. A summary report produced in 2013 showed that half of SA’s sewerage works got a score of 50% or lower, while 30% were in a critical state.
More recent figures quoted in the media were that 56% of municipal sewerage works were in a poor or critical condition and 11% were completely dysfunctional. DM