Spotlight on endless water woes

Spotlight on endless water woes

Parliament must create laws that fast-track public-private partnerships. The DA’s newly elected provincial leader Andrew Whitfield said this during an oversight visit to Ndlambe Municipality’s crucial, but currently idle, 2-megalitre reverse osmosis (RO) plant on Friday, March 10. He was accompanied by provincial chairperson Yusuf Cassim, Shadow Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Kevin Mileham and Ndlambe’s DA caucus.

The DA’s provincial leadership conducted water oversight visits in Ndlambe last week. From left, ward 6 councillor, Edward Walker, PR councillors Thunyela Mbekela, caucus leader Skura Venene, PR councillor Phil Yedwa Kani, DA provincial leader Andrew Whitfield, ward 10 councillor Nadine Haynes, PR councillor Watuse Johannes, DA EC chairperson Yusuf Cassim and Kevin Mileham, Shadow Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy. Picture: FAITH QINGA

Like other small towns (and metros) across the Eastern Cape, Port Alfred has experienced severe and prolonged water outages. The RO plant in Centenary Park has not been operational since September. In their briefing, Mileham, who is the former Frontier Constituency leader, and Ward 10 councillor Nadine Haynes, described the current water supply situation in Port Alfred:

  • A 3ML waste water treatment plant that should have supplemented river water to total a 5ML supply was not operational and was unlikely to be so any time soon;
  • All five pumps at the pump station at Waters Meeting Reserve (“the weir”) were not operational. This facility is supposed to pump water from the Kowie River into the Sarel Hayward reservoir, serving Port Alfred water user. “Pump station 1 has two pumps on the surface and two submersible pumps together with another pump that they inserted to pump directly to the Sarel Hayward Dam. But all five of them are not operational at the moment,” Haynes said. ”The submersible pumps kept tripping because of power outages and that was going to cost just over a million to fix. The Infrastructure Director was busy negotiating with COGTA for funding to fix them.”
  • The municipality had brought in a process engineer to assess the water situation, find out what former RO operator QFS’s brief was, and make recommendations to the municipality. Towards the end of 2022, the municipality terminated the contract of QFS through a council resolution. Currently, there is a process underway to hand over the plant to the municipality.
  • The only secure source of water in town, apart from river water extracted and stored in Sarel Hayward reservoir, was the newer, smaller RO plant at the end of Wharf Street which he said is producing 1ML daily while the town uses between 5 mega litres to 6 mega litres a day out of season. He said that water is not enough to service all the residents.

Whitfield said the town’s water situation is a running theme in the province. 

“This is not a new crisis for Port Alfred. There are small towns across the Eastern Cape, not just Port Alfred, that fall within the jurisdiction of Amatola Water which is a body that is employed to specifically deal with the issue of water provision but the mitigating things that they put in place are not working,” he said. 

“Surely the municipality should be recognising that the municipality, as the custodian of the community and the residents, which is contracting to Amatola Water to oversee and manage certain projects, that they have an obligation to break ties with those entities in order to seek public-private partnerships at a local level where the municipality can partner with the private sector and civil society… because the current system and current model is not working,” said Whitfield. 

Whitfield said the DA’s interest was to develop a model that gets water infrastructure working in a way that services the people. In order to bring accountability closer to the people, Whitfield suggested that government should look into public-private partnerships.

“The state is collapsing and it’s unable to provide basic services, project management, supply chain, dysfunction in the execution of projects that actually are responsible for providing basic rights to citizens. As the state collapses in various shapes and forms over the next few years, you’re going to see a rise in this. This is something that we need to be dealing with in parliament to create more friendly and enabling legislation for the quicker establishment of these public-private partnerships because Treasury does have provision for it but it can take a while and ideologically, the current government is not as open-minded to the concept of public-private partnerships the attitude is to hold on and centralise,” he said.

Whitfield said there should be a devolution of functions of the state at various levels to the closest possible capable and most accountable level of government. 

“Certainly, the most accountable level of government would be the local authority, provided it has the capacity and capability to perform the function and if it doesn’t then it should have the right to choose to enter into a public-private partnership to oversee and manage certain projects like these. Our small towns and metros cannot become the victims of national government’s failures or their wilful failure in order to create opportunity to it,” he said. 

The DA’s chairperson, Yusuf Cassim said a lot can be learnt in towns such as Jeffreys Bay where the market forces are driving a model that works where farms are self-generating electricity at a reduced price than Eskom. “I visited the windfarms outside of Jeffery’s Bay. They generate electricity at a fraction of a cost that Eskom does so there are benefits to actually bringing the cost of services down for municipalities and then ultimately the residents,” said Cassim. 

The DA caucus also visited High Street, which is one of the six packaged areas in ward 6 and ward 10 of the Quick Wins Sanitation Project to lay the infrastructure to link residential homes to the main sewerage pipeline. The municipality received the grant for the first phase of the Quick Wins project from national government to use before the end of the 2022/2023 financial year.

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