Unblock funds for Emfuleni’s sewerage disaster
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet to ensure that full funding is made available for the SANDF’s emergency intervention in Emfuleni.
The military is repairing the sewerage system which was allowed to fall into ruin by the Emfuleni Local Municipality and resulted in raw sewage flowing in Emfuleni streets and into the Vaal River.
The SANDF engineers moved into Emfuleni the day after Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced in his mid-term Budget in October that they had been called on for help.
OUTA visited Emfuleni this week to see the progress. Soldiers are camping at treatment plants and pump stations, guarding facilities and making repairs. Tanks are being emptied, but sludge remains at the bottom due to lack of appropriate machinery.
OUTA believes the military’s intervention should be supported. It is the first concrete sign of hope in this crisis.
The SANDF says its team drew up a detailed technical assessment and plan with a projected cost of R873m and presented this to the National Treasury, the Department of Water and Sanitation, the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency, Emfuleni Local Municipality, Sedibeng District Municipality, Rand Water and the Gauteng Provincial Government.
However, The SANDF is still waiting for the funding for this year-long intervention.
Why the delay?
“Although OUTA welcomes the assistance from the SANDF, it seems the intervention was a knee jerk reaction by national Government,” says Michael Holenstein, OUTA’s manager for the Local Division.
“If the military was sent there, then the funding should have been arranged by now.”
Emfuleni’s sewage disaster is a human rights disaster, created by Emfuleni Local Municipality’s failure to provide basic service delivery.
The situation is so bad that the SA Human Rights Commission started investigating it; OUTA made a submission to this inquiry.
There can be no doubt that Emfuleni is a failure. This is a municipality which could not stop the destruction and looting of sewerage pumps, which risks Gauteng’s water supplies by dumping raw sewage in the Vaal, which cannot collect refuse and which is in such chaos that it’s no longer clear who holds the position of mayor.
The SANDF’s Major General Thembelani Xundu made the military’s requirements clear: certainty on funding in line with Minister Mboweni’s mid-term Budget announcement; access to heavy machinery such as a vacuum combination truck and trailer; and support from all stakeholders.
OUTA believes that Government should fund the SANDF to buy the heavy machinery and finish the job. While the possibility of hiring a contractor with the appropriate machinery was raised, we share the military’s concern about the use of front companies which up the costs by outsourcing. The military says such equipment would be useful to it in the future, and we believe it makes economic sense to improve Defence capabilities.
The lack of clarity on funding raises concern about putting internal Government politicking ahead of action.
The military’s plan went to a range of key departments and entities. Between them, they should find solutions, possibly with multiple funding sources. Here are some suggestions:
• Put the heavy equipment into the military’s capital budget;
• Consider moving funds from the Department of Water and Sanitation budget: this department should have taken action to prevent the system collapse and claims to have spent R646m in the last five years upgrading the Sebokeng sewerage works that the military is now trying to fix – what was this spent on?
• Funds for paying SANDF reservists could come from the community works programmes;
• MISA reported a surplus of R83m for 2018: perhaps it could contribute that;
• National CoGTA’s annual report for 2018 indicates the department finished the year with a surplus of R2.104bn, the fourth year in a row with a surplus. It’s near the end of the 2018/19 financial year, so what does CoGTA have unspent for this year?
• If all else fails, Government should declare an official disaster; this is meant to be a last resort when no other funding is possible and would provide access to disaster management funds.
“Emfuleni and Sedibeng municipalities must not be allowed to oversee this intervention, as both have failed to manage the existing systems,” says Holenstein.
“We call on the Cabinet to work with National Treasury to arrange the funds, and to use this to improve SANDF resources. Keep the private contractors out, the risks of fronting, looting and backhanders are just too high.
“Emfuleni is an emergency. The SANDF reacted immediately when called on, and we’d like to see Government backing up that action with the promised funds. We look forward to seeing the solutions in the State of the Nation Address and Budget 2019."