Probe exposes EC water fiasco

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By Bongani Fuzile

Amatola Water Board is leaking skills, has dragged its heels for years over vital water-relief projects, some still not completed, and is bogged down in unnecessary labour battles.

Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: FILE

The board (AWB) is not fit to carry the hopes of the many institutions that depend on it for water reticulation, including struggling municipalities, according to a confidential report compiled by a special task team assembled by Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane.

The report has emerged at a time when the province is in the grip of a long drought, meaning municipalities are spending millions carting water to stricken areas.

The report, seen by the Dispatch, paints a bleak picture of the relationship between AWB and its clients, and lists some of the board’s problems as:

lLack of transparency;

lPoor reputation;

lAbsence of skilled staff; and

lDelays in project executions.

But the board says everything is under control and stakeholder engagements (talks) are taking place.

AWB spokeswoman Connie Buso-Niwa said the report had been presented to the board and employees of the institution, and that development of a strategic turnaround plan was underway.

“A stakeholder engagement process was undertaken and the organisation has instituted a number of interventions to address concerns,” she said.

Many of the people interviewed for the report – including mayors, officials and senior government employees – revealed that an exodus of skilled staff from AWB had left many projects at risk of collapsing.

Sarah Baartman mayor Khunjuzwa Kekana is quoted saying some projects executed by the board on behalf of municipalities had experienced frustrating delays.

“These challenges are as a result of lack of capacity in Amatola Water. Amatola should pull up its socks when it comes to service delivery,” said Kekana.

Ndlambe local municipality’s director of technical services, Noluthando Vithi, says she was disappointed by the board’s failure to complete projects in Ndlambe.

In 2012 AWB was given a project to supply bulk water infrastructure in Ndlambe to improve water services at the municipality.

In the report, Vithi voices her disappointment that five years have passed without completion of this project and others.

Some of the other projects were 80% complete and yet there was still no water reticulation, she says.

“Several meetings were held with the leadership of Amatola Water to try and fast-track the execution of the project, but with minimal success. The reasons for the delays ranged from weather conditions, supply chain challenges and poor planning,” Vithi told the task team.

Other entities that voiced dissatisfaction with the board were Amathole and Chris Hani district municipalities.

AWB operates across the entire Eastern Cape province. It performs primary and secondary activities as specified in sections 29 and 30 of the Water Services Act.

According to the report, the relationship between labour union Samwu and AWB was also in crisis, with wage negotiation delays and employees charged over unprotected strikes.

It was the Samwu stand-off which led Mokonyane to call for a probe.

In a further critical comment, the department’s Eastern Cape’s regional office head, Portia Makhanya, complains of lack of leadership at AWB.

She says: “Projects that are implemented by Amatola Water are a serious frustration to her [Makhanya] and the benefiting municipalities.”

Makhanya is responsible for ensuring that department-funded projects are implemented properly. “The reputation of Amatola Water in the province is very poor. There needs to be a serious intervention to assist Amatola to become functional,” she adds.

“[The] organisational culture must change and sufficient management capacity must be procured in order to improve the performance of Amatola Water.”

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