Gift of the Givers pulls out of dry Makhanda, says other companies to be paid for its work

Charity organisation Gift of the Givers has withdrawn its help from the Makhanda, saying the government will pay private companies to continue some of the work it had done in the area.

Gift of the Givers CEO Imtiaz Sooliman said that while the organisation maintained an amicable relationship with the municipality, the government edged it out of millions of rand spent during the height of the water crisis.

READ Wanted: R30m to save Makhanda from disaster

The last straw for Gift of the Givers was on Freedom Day when the Department of Water and Sanitation asked it to remove its trucks "as there was no water crisis in Makhanda".

"Ironically, the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, mentioned in his speech that there can be no freedom if there is no water in Makhanda," said Sooliman.

He said that, according to the department, only companies from Makhanda could be paid for the drought intervention.

He said a private consultancy would be paid R1.2m for work related to boreholes, even though Gift of the Givers did consultancy work and drew up plans to save the city and sited the boreholes.

Sooliman said another company would be paid R7m for boreholes it drilled and a third company would be paid R1.9m for electrical work to connect boreholes that it drilled in Waainek.

"This is R10m of taxpayers' money handed out freely by the government to people as remuneration for work that Gift of the Givers did. Our hearts are with the people of Makhanda, the elderly, the women and children and everyone who waited so patiently for water but as a matter of principle, we cannot continue."

A call for help

According to Sooliman, the municipality requested the organisation's help in early February.

"[They] said in five days, everything will be back on line in terms of water supply. Gift of the Givers intervened on February 12 and explained to the municipality the extent of the problem was far greater than anyone envisaged."

He said they drew up a rescue plan and commenced the process of "saving the city" immediately.

"We advised the municipality that the cost to solve the problem will be in the region of R23m and that this will require government funding. They said the area has been declared a disaster in the Government Gazette and they will receive emergency funding with which they will remunerate Gift of the Givers."

Sooliman said the municipality was "honest" and was not sure how much it would receive and when it would receive it.

"We said it's fine, their word was good enough for us. We were told that at a council meeting in March it was a unanimous decision that Gift of the Givers will be funded the moment the funds arrive."

The charity group then brought in a specialist hydrologist, Dr Gideon Groenewald, to site and drill boreholes in area "where the geology is very difficult and finding water a big challenge".

"He was successful in three hours with the first borehole."

They then drilled 15 boreholes, tested the water, brought in a special filtration system, delivered bottled water, water by truck and "did everything possible to assist the community as that was the priority".

Sooliman said that during that process the organisation had "not received a single cent from any government institution".

"The costs were rising daily. Thus far, the intervention has cost us R15m."

He said the organisation attended more than 50 hours of meetings and that in the 13 weeks since the crisis began, had been called in on every occasion to quell unrest related to the provision of water.

"[This], all while government was still having meetings, preparing business plans, filling in forms and God knows what, a typical case of Nero fiddles whilst Rome burns."

No contractor appointed

Issuing a statement on behalf of the municipality, Anele Mjekula thanked Gift of the Givers for the support and said discussions were ongoing to clear up "misunderstandings".

"[The organisation's] drilled boreholes assisted with carting water and supplied large amounts of bottled water. The support provided during a difficult period was and still is highly appreciated by council."

She said the municipality was looking into the connection of boreholes to the water system and had appointed a consultant for an underground water study and registering the boreholes.

"No contractor has been appointed by the municipality for the drilling of boreholes and is engaging in supply chain management processes to equip and connect boreholes that have been drilled to date. Discussions are ongoing with [organisation] with the hope of clearing up any misunderstandings."

Department of Water and Sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said that any agreement around work done with Gift of the Givers was between the organisation and the municipality.

"We have no jurisdiction over that agreement. I do not know who promised who what. From our point of view, ours was to transfer the drought relief funding to the municipality to use for that function.

"As to who the municipality appoints under what conditions, is something that the municipality would do under their own supply chain processes and guided by the Municipal Finance [Management] Act. We don't get anywhere near that."

He said that in a situation where there is need, "all help found is appreciated".

"The technicalities of who provides what service at how much, and how the procurement happens, is not our responsibility."

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