No funding for multi-million water plan

2013-01-22 15:41

Mpumalanga government’s second multi-million rand plan in the last five years to end a water crisis engulfing the province is yet to be funded.

Premier David Mabuza decided to take away the responsibility of bulk water infrastructure projects from struggling municipalities and assign it to the Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency (Mega) – a parastatal that has a core function of revitalising the business environment.

Mega’s projects in eight municipalities will cost about R864 million.

But the parastatal’s chief executive officer Advocate Boice Mkhize admitted that there was no budget yet.

“The projects will be funded through a combination of grant funding from government and bridging finance from other potential funders,” Mkhize said.

Mega – a financially-struggling institution – also does not have the technical expertise in the water infrastructure field, which raises a concern that this ambitious project may achieve nothing – like the R200-million Water For All Flagship that was launched four years ago.

Nevertheless, Mabuza believes Mega will ensure that at least 90% of Mpumalanga’s residents have water by 2014. He took this decision last year following a string of community service delivery protests about water scarcity.

Mkhize said Mega would focus on “critical areas” such as Albert Luthuli municipality (Carolina), Bushbuckridge, Mbombela (Nelspruit), Dr JS Moroka (Siyabuswa), Mkhondo (Piet Retief), Emalahleni (Witbank), Nkomazi (Malalane) and Thembisile Hani.

The other municipalities and the department of water affairs would continue to implement their own water projects, he said.

“It is therefore envisaged that [the premier’s] target will be met,” said Mkhize.

A former Mega board member said the parastatal has been unable to implement its own core projects because of budgetary constraints over the past few years and has only been able to pay salaries.

“They don’t have a mandate according to law to do this not to mention the expertise and capacity. I think money will be taken from municipalities’ infrastructure grants and allocated to Mega for this function. The worry is that this could be another way of enriching certain people,” he said.

Mkhize refuted the claims. “Mega has wealth and experience in project management and implementation processes. To complement this experience, Mega will source expertise in the water engineering area to facilitate implementation of this project.”

Ermelo and nearby Wesselton township are the latest areas to experience acute water shortages after two dams ran dry.

The town has dilapidated water infrastructure that leaks large volumes of clean water and faces a threat from mining activities in the Vaal River catchment, which it is believed has reduced inflow to the dams.

Msukaligwa municipality has been blamed for failing to devise a plan that would consider and prepare for the area’s population and business growth.

Carolina went without water for more than six months last year because its water was polluted by chemicals resulting from mining activities. Many other towns in Mpumalanga’s coal-mining Highveld region are, according to environmentalists, facing the same fate.

Meanwhile, the Special Investigations Unit is investigating irregularities in the Water for All Flagship Project, which was also intended to construct bulk water supply infrastructure and end the crisis by 2010.

The project was launched in 2009 when Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla was Mpumalanga premier.

A source from the Mpumalanga corporative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) department said when Cogta head David Mahlobo picked up irregularities and referred the matter to the SIU about R400 million had already been wasted through overpayments and work that was not delivered by contractors.

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