DWS to Zille: No damn cash for your dam

Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane

One of the country’s worst-run government departments – if not the worst – is broke, and is pulling the plug on a vital water project in the Western Cape.  This has been revealed by the Western Cape Provincial Government.

“The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has run out of money to proceed with the Clanwilliam Dam wall raising, despite R2 billion being allocated to the project in the national budget as far back as 2013/14,” the office of Premier Helen Zille claimed.

“The project was due to double the capacity of the dam to 340 million cubic metres. This vastly-increased storage capacity was expected to increase water security in the Cederberg and Matzikama areas, and enable the irrigation of thousands of additional hectares of agricultural land.

”Raising the dam wall would also address growing safety concerns due to structural problems in the ageing dam wall infrastructure.”

In an announcement delivered selectively through her Daily Maverick column, later followed by a news release, Premier Helen Zille had said DWS Minister Nomvula Mokonyane had informed the Province during a recent meeting that her Department did not have the money to proceed with the dam wall raising.

“It was all systems go, with the completion date scheduled for mid-2018. There was a lot of excitement in the area when the department’s internal construction unit – Construction South – commenced site establishment in Clanwilliam in June 2014,” said Premier Zille.

She said that the project had stalled since then, with the Water and Sanitation Department deciding to go out on tender for the construction, despite the DWS internal unit already being on-site in Clanwilliam.

“The department decided to go out on tender instead of using its in-house construction capacity. Speculation was rife, at the height of the Zupta vice-grip on power, that a politically connected consortium had the project in its sights.”

The Premier’s office added: “The tender was never awarded, and lapsed at the end of December 2017 due to DWS not having enough funds to appoint a successful bidder.”

Zille estimated that R100 million had been wasted so far, as DWS staff had been on-site in Clanwilliam since 2014.

”For almost four years, 53 departmental staff members have been twiddling their thumbs in Clanwilliam, waiting for construction to start. The cost for their stay – for the month of February 2017 alone – according to a reply to a parliamentary question, was R2.5-million. This means that over four years, more than R100-million was being wasted, while the regional economy declined due to a shortage of water,” she suggested.

The Premier’s office said the drought has placed an estimated 20% of local farmers under threat of going out of business in the Clanwilliam and Vredendal areas. The Tiger Brands factory in the area has closed, as farmers do not have money for cash crops like tomatoes and there is nothing to process.

“Much of this economic damage could have been averted if the dam wall raising-project that was promised had materialised. The scandal of the Clanwilliam dam wall project is unfortunately not an isolated case. Indeed, for every high-risk municipality in the Western Cape, there is a failed, delayed or abandoned DWS water supply project,” said Zille.

She also claimed that the drought had not yet been formally declared as a national disaster. A classification has so far taken place under the Disaster Act – which means that the grounds exist for a national disaster – but this needed to be formally declared by Minister Des van Rooyen.

“This request is, I understand, on the minister’s desk, but at the time of writing (her Daily Maverick column) he had not yet finalised the declaration. He is reportedly reluctant to do so because the department does not have resources to deal with the consequences. The fiscus has run out of money,” Zille said.

The DWS issued this statement on Tuesday:

Pretoria: The Department of Water and Sanitation is committed to finalise the project to raise the Clanwilliam Dam wall as planned.

The Clanwilliam Dam project could not be implemented as planned in the current financial year due to the budget cuts by National Treasury thus affecting all infrastructure projects across government over the MTEF period of which the Clanwilliam Dam is one of those.

Upon the NT budget cuts, the department then took a decision not to proceed with any of the projects where the department was going to commit the state whereas there were insufficient funds to implement those affected projects.

In the case of the Clanwilliam Dam project, it would have meant that the department should stop some of the projects at which the department was already on site at the moment.

This would have been more costly as the department would have had to pay for the standing time on those projects.

The Construction South team was not only appointed for the Clanwilliam project and they are currently being utilised in other projects and interventions being implemented in the southern cluster.

The department is still committed to finalise funding for Clanwilliam Dam; as a result the project forms part of the list of projects that have been earmarked as potential investing projects.

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