With Day Zero now estimated at fewer than 130 days, Grahamstown’s looming water crisis loomed large in the City Hall at the last council meeting. If Makana sticks to the budget it passed on 28 February, Grahamstown’s leaky pipes and inability to properly supply water to the eastern side of the city could finally become part of our history.
Called to approve the municipality’s 2017/18 Adjustment Budget, the refurbishment and expansion of existing water bulk supply infrastructure, replacement of old pipes and the secondment of a water engineer were tabled in last month’s full sitting of Council.
Adjustments have reduced the budgets over a range of expenditure including free basic services, repairs and maintenance, bulk purchases, audit fees and salary costs. The cuts result in savings of R32 million to be used towards paying outstanding debt, Mayor Nomhle Gaga said in her opening address.
Water featured significantly in budgets and discussion.
Treasury has approved a R22 million rollover for the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) and Makana has budgeted for refurbishment of the Waainek Bulk Water Supply (3 405 174.87) and the replacement of asbestos pipes in Grahamstown (R106 537.95).
From the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant the adjusted capital budget includes expanding the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works that serves eastern Grahamstown (R25 000 000.00) and water infrastructure (R10 000 000.00). R63 748 is budgeted separately for water management.
In addition, a special item was submitted to the full sitting of Council which was for a formal approach to the Department of Water and Sanitation for a water engineer for two years. This, acting MM Ted Pillay argued, was necessary to provide water and sanitation services for an ever increasing population, as well as conserve water in a water scarce area. Pillay said he had informed the MEC of Cogta and DWS in the province about Makana’s challenges.
“Currently the staff levels and capacity in the municipality in the Water and Sanitation division is inadequate to cope with the multiplicity of problems and challenges in the municipal area,” Pillay said.
Settlers Dam is below 19% of its capacity and the last 10% cannot be extracted. Pillay said at current demand, Day Zero was now estimated at 125 days.
“We are not seeing a reduction of water consumption by consumers,” Pillay said. “If anything people are disregarding the measures put in place.”
The drought continued and weather predictions showed no signs of sufficient rain in the catchment to restore water supplies in Makana’s dams.
The previous declaration of a state of drought has expired and Pillay said Makana would again formally gazette the state of drought in our municipal area.
Engaging the public
A critical supply water tariff was supposed to be introduced when Makana’s dams dropped below a combined average of 30%; this happened midway through 2017 and tariffs remained the same. Pillay said the sliding scale of tariffs which would hit high water users hard must be implemented with immediate effect.
An intensive communication strategy was needed to persuade residents and businesses to use water sparingly, Pillay said.
Other items that came up for discussion were the urgent upgrade of Makana’s roads – and money was reallocated for that.
R9 million from the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant has been allocated for the upgrade of the Belmont Valley Waste Water Treatment Works and R12m for the upgrading of the Mayfield sewage works.
R34m remains in the MIG budget for a multipurpose centre in Ward 7, and R14.5m for a gymnasium at the Indoor Sport Centre.
Ward 12 councillor Darryn Holm recorded his concern in the meeting that the budget for free basic services was being cut by R12m – “affecting the poorest of the poor”; repairs and maintenance by R14.2m and bulk purchases by R20m.
Speaker Yandiswa Vara announced the election of Ward 2 councillor Rami Xonxa as Provincial chairperson of the National Association of Municipal Public Accounts Committees (NAMPAC).
These committees play an important role in monitoring spending and flagging issues to the local council and the NAMPAC, Xonxa told Grocott’s Mail afterwards, aims to promote sound, accountable and transparent governance…
It should “improve the capacity of individual members of municipal public accounts committees to function more eftectively and promote a culture of ethics and integrity in the financial oversight of municipalities,” Xonxa said, quoting from NAMPAC documents.