The City of Cape Town expressed concern about the financial woes of the national Department of Water and Sanitation.
The city council called for urgent action to avoid putting bulk water supply augmentation schemes at risk.

The department’s latest annual report, tabled in Parliament last week, showed lack of financial management, which led to wasteful expenditure of more than R1billion and irregular expenditure amounting to R4.9bn for the past financial year.

The department also incurred an overdraft of R1.4bn, slightly down from the previous year’s R2.1bn.

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu found effective steps were not taken to prevent irregular expenditure, as well as fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

Mayoral committee member for Water, Xanthea Limberg, said: “It’s very concerning to understand the scale at which there is poor planning and lack of capacity in the department.

“This places municipalities such as ours at risk with our water augmentation schemes. However, at this stage we don’t know if the department will be forced to cut back on projects.”

The department had drawn up a Western Cape Water Reconciliation Strategy to help boost water supply and one of the projects it committed to was the Voelvlei Augmentation Scheme, designed to divert water from the Berg River to boost water supply to municipalities in the catchment area, including Cape Town.

“We hope that National Treasury will intervene to help the department get its house in order. If it’s delayed, it’s far too risky as we don’t have alternatives. So we would need to be made aware in advance so we can get clarity and certainty,” said Limberg.

Although the water situation in Cape Town has improved dramatically following the severe three-year drought, officials have warned that it is not yet out of the woods.

The city council and the provincial government have made investments in water augmentation schemes, including building three desalination plants, in Monwabisi, Strandfontein and at theV&A Waterfront, producing about 8 million litres of water a day.

After years of delays, the department announced this week that it would go ahead with the Clanwilliam Dam project – raising the wall to create more capacity for water for farmers and municipalities.

The department’s spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, said the department would look at “reprioritising available resources to ensure that the core work continued”.

But he warned that the fiscus on its own would not be sufficient to ensure delivery of “all social needs”, including water and sanitation.

The portfolio committee on water is expected to grill the department on Thursday as it seeks clarity on how to improve financial management and boost its capacity to implement projects.

Chairperson of the committee Lulu Johnson said members had made it clear to the department that the situation would not be allowed to continue.

He said the committee was concerned the department, which had a budget of R15.5bn for the 2018/2019 financial year, would be able to use it effectively.