Gauteng faces an ongoing water crisis until at least 2025 because phase two of the Lesotho Highlands Water project did not start on time in 2015 due to the escalating inefficiency of the department of water and sanitation (DWS).
University of the Free State professor and water expert Dr Anthony Turton said: “It’s a paralysed organisation with very poor leadership and no direction. We know it’s receiving all kinds of qualified audits, and we know the current minister is firmly in [President Jacob] Zuma’s camp.”
Although the ongoing drought appeared to be lessening in Gauteng at least, Turton noted the province would be water constrained until at least 2025 because of the failure of phase two of the Lesotho Highlands Water project to start on time in 2015.
“The second phase of the Lesotho water project had to be commenced by 2015 so the first water could flow by 2020. That project was hijacked and I know the former public protector [Thuli Madonsela] was looking into it; I don’t know if the current public protector is.”
Turton alleged the Highlands Water project was hijacked and “captured” by Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.
“Gauteng provides 65% of the national economy and holds 45% of the population. Even if we don’t have a drought, even if it’s perfectly plain sailing between now and 2025, Gauteng will remain water constrained,” he added.
Concerns are also growing over the department’s ability to maintain an adequate water supply to large parts of the rest of the country. DA shadow minister of water Leon Basson said the DWS was technically bankrupt.
“The department currently owes suppliers, contractors and the Reserve Bank more than R5 billion in this financial year. It also has a shortfall of R2 billion and R1.5 billion owing to the water boards.”
Another senior department official, director-general Dan Mashitisho, is facing suspension – barely six months after his appointment by Mokonyane. He has been given a notice of intention to suspend, subject to him providing reasons why he should not be, the department said yesterday.
Mokonyane’s spokesperson, Mlimandlela Ndamase, would not comment on the reasons for the pending suspension yesterday.
Basson, who sits on the water and sanitation parliamentary portfolio committee, said: “Mashitisho had no experience in the water sector and in the last three months it became clear DWS has been led under Mokonyane and the DG into financial difficulty.”
In May, Mokonyane told the committee that contractors to the regional bulk infrastructure grant projects were owed R1.463 billion. She noted the Sedibeng Water Board owed the Water Trading Entity (WTE) R1.7 billion, which itself was owed R2.8 billion by municipalities.
Mokonyane told parliament in May the WTE would reduce its overdraft by R200 million by the end of June 2017 and by R548 million by the end of March 2018.
“The WTE is technically bankrupt … and it cannot collect the money it is owed,” Basson said.