Department set to improve War on Leaks programme

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Portfolio on Water and Sanitation has welcomed the Department of Water and Sanitation’s commitment to reconsider the model of the War on Leaks programme, following challenges experienced in the last year. 

This, the committee said in a statement, would ensure that optimum benefit is derived from the programme.

The committee has repeatedly raised concern about the effectiveness of the R2.6 billion programme, saying it has failed to make a tangible impact on non-revenue water that is being lost.

“Despite the programme running for the past three years, there is no concrete evidence that the R7 billion worth of water losses have been stymied,” the Department said in a statement.

The committee also expressed concern that some of the learners that were skilled through this programme have not been absorbed by municipalities across the country.

“It is unfathomable that the department spends R2.6 billion to skill young South Africans, yet municipalities are not taking advantage of this investment. This is worrying, especially in the context of a lack of skills at local government level,” said committee chairperson Mlungisi Johnson.

The committee said it welcomes assurance that all stipends have been paid to learners following complaints of non-payment in December.

Despite these concerns, the committee said it is comforted by the reassurance by Minister Gugile Nkwinti that work is underway with sister departments such as the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to find a workable model that is efficient, cost-effective and fit for purpose.

Meanwhile, the committee welcomes the announcement that the department’s construction unit will take over the bucket eradication programme. The programme has stalled over the years and the committee has raised concerns around non-completion of work. Despite this, the committee has called for the unit to ensure that black local businesses in the areas where they will be working are not adversely impacted and that the transfer of skills to locals takes place.

The committee has noted that both these programmes and reconfigurations are a work in progress and has requested periodic updates from the department to enable the committee to exercise its monitoring and oversight.

One of the main objectives of the programme was to train and develop 15 000 unemployed youth to become water agents, artisans and plumbers. 

“The trainees would then be placed in the respective municipalities from whence they came. The implementation of the programme would be upon the department, Rand Water (RW) and the Electricity and Water SETA (EWSETA),” the department said.

However, the department conceded at its appearance before Parliament, that a different approach is needed to bring the programme into operation. It said a large number of trainees are at the point of registration in their chosen trades, i.e. artisans and plumbers, while the water agents are already operating.

Seeing the project to the end

Responding to questions, Nkwinti told the committee that the department had discussed the project’s funding with the Director-General of the National Treasury and it had been agreed with the DG that the department cannot utilise money for vacant posts to fund the programme.

“We cannot also drop the programme before it is completed because this would lead to wasteful expenditure.

“We have agreed to have a joint memorandum to Cabinet, i.e. by the DWS and National treasury, to formalise spending on the programme and to regularise the programme in the 2019/20 Annual Performance Programme.

“I would also like to impress upon the members of the committee that some of the issues being raised here today do not have a bearing on the programme itself but that these are issues that are in the domain of the Water Service Authorities, specifically District and Local Municipalities. 

“We hope that the upcoming interactive session on Friday, 15 February, looking at the transformation of the water sector, will also shed light on the separation of powers and responsibilities regarding bulk supply and reticulation.” 

The department said the committee showed appreciation of the use of the DWS Construction Unit in the delivery of services, especially through delivery of good quality infrastructure. –