Neglect is countrywide

2009-06-19 00:00

PRETORIA — While municipal boycotts are on the increase countrywide because of malfunctioning sewerage works, potholes and the general collapse of infrastructure, municipalities are hopelessly underspending on repairs and maintenance.

This is evident from a report by the National Treasury which discloses that municipalities spent only 4,1% of their total budget on repairs and maintenance in the nine months to March 31.

This, says the Treasury, is “a slight improvement” compared to the 0,5% spent in the corresponding period in the previous financial year, but it is still inadequate.

Dawie Botha, chief executive of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), agrees that this percentage is woefully small.

In 2006, SAICE’s scorecard on the state of SA’s infrastructure pointed out that the situation was dire.

“I think the situation has since deteriorated further,” says Botha.

In the Eastern Cape, he said, a large municipality like Buffalo City (East London) does not have even one professional engineer in its service. In Mthatha, 19 of the 22 pumping stations are out of order and sewage is flowing freely into the rivers.

While technical personnel are doing their best, he points out that the skills of professional engineers are essential for effective maintenance.

“Maintenance work is an art, a science, which cannot be done haphazardly,” he declares.

“You have to understand the lifetime of every piece of infrastructure, that the tar on streets dries and disintegrates if water remains on the surface as a result of blocked stormwater systems. And concrete crumbles if improper substances like wastewater flows over it.

“Decisionmakers do not realise it, but you can’t just fix something that breaks. You have to keep your hands on infrastructure. It’s like an animal you have to care for day by day.”

Most municipalities are applying water-quality requirements haphazardly, according to the 2006 scorecard, too much water is being lost and there are too few trained personnel. The management of sewerage works, according to the scorecard, leaves much to be desired and there has been too much dumping and leakage, together with on-site sanitation problems.

Municipalities’ ability to maintain sewerage works is questionable and SAICE has also pointed out a shortage of skilled staff in this area.

Earlier this year, the Water Affairs Department told Sake24 that it has set aside R200 million to restore municipal sewerage works because of the crises at municipal level.

Infrastructure for electricity distribution, according to the scorecard, is found to be ageing and overloaded in many areas.


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