Chair: Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation
We were pleased to see reports that your committee had been to the James Kleynhans Water Treatment (JKWTW) works on 25 January 2022 for an oversight visit but were disappointed to only find out about this when we saw it reported in the media. There is a long history of failed projects to update this water plant. We could have introduced you to residents and community experts who could have enlightened you on the litany of failures, which we outline here, going back to 2010.
First, some context. The original water supply for Makhanda (then Grahamstown) focused on the west side, the historically white part of the city and the main supply for the west up to 2019, when its level sank too low to be useful, was Settler’s Dam, with a smaller backup dam, Howieson’s Poort, both of which feed the Waainek Water Treatment Works (WWTW).
Here follows a chronology of projects related to JKWTW:
· Stemele Bosch Africa was reported to have been awarded projects to upgrade James Kleynhans capacity in 2010; projects total R50-million though it is not clear how much of this was awarded or spent
· Bosch Holdings in 2013 was contracted for R86.3-million to improve capacity, yet the problems reported before that project was still in evidence in 2018
· Further projects totalling R98–million are reported in 2014 (of which R97-million was for JKWTW)
· Amatola Water’s 2016/17 report outlines a plan to spend R144,054,531 on JKWTW upgrades of which R101. 85-million was for phases 1 and 2 of a 3-phase project, the latter of which was due to complete in December 2017, well in advance of the collapse of water supply at the Waainek plant in 2019
· In January 2019, at a meeting in Makhanda City Hall, Rhodes University threatened to send their students home if there was no sustained plan to deliver at least 10 Mlitre/day; 3 years later, we do not have this level of water delivery, with frequent outages of a day or more at a time, and some areas without water for weeks. At this meeting, we were promised that the JKWTW upgrades would be fast-tracked, with no explanation as to why the previous project had failed
· We do not have complete numbers on the current JKWTW project, but R191.2-million is the original projected cost.
· In January 2022, Bosch Holdings reports that phase 2 (doubling the capacity) will complete in February 2022; given that the plant does not appear to be able to supply its existing rated capacity reliably, we are not holding our breath, particular as Bosch Projects, a subsidiary of Bosch Holdings, (and Stemele is part of the same big happy family), undertook design and implementation of the previous failed project
Numbers we have unearthed going back to 2010 total to nearly R600-million rand for which we see no tangible result – in fact, we are going backwards with water on and off days, occasional periods where everyone receives water, some areas without water for weeks at a stretch and yet other times when the situation is too chaotic to characterise.
After SCOPA gave the Makana Municipal Manager hell in May 2021, nothing further happened. It’s all very well for a parliamentary oversight committee to accuse an Accounting Officer of incompetence, but it is just words if it stops there.
It is time to end the talk. We need to see action: consequences for failure. And the place to start is with a forensic audit of the tender award and management process going back to 2010. Issues to investigate start with:
1. Why were companies within the same group always able to win the major projects, despite a terrible track record of completion?
2. What investigation, if any, of causes of failure followed failed projects?
3. Is anyone within Amatola Water, Makana Municipality or tender award committees the recipient of unexplained wealth?
4. What systems and measures were put in place to learn from past failures and avoid repetition?
5. Are any measures being taken to track down and prosecute criminal wrongdoing? Hundreds of millions of rand have gone astray: this is not a trivial loss of state resources.
We are only touching on the fringes of the problem. JKWTW is the biggest, most glaring example of fruitless and wasteful expenditure but the entire water grid and treatment infrastructure also bear investigation. Here are three examples:
1. Jameson Dam, which does not deliver a drop of water to Makhanda residents, has been the target of nearly R16-million rand in refurbishments in recent years and has unlawfully been converted to a cattle farm
2. WWTW is running below capacity; we are informed that an attempt at refurbishing its filter beds left it with only two out of six functional
3. The Makana water team seems incapable of repairing major leaks without causing further leaks.
As newly-elected councillors, we were eager to do our own oversight visits to water infrastructure but were blocked from doing so by management; why would they do this if they have nothing to hide?
Please acknowledge receipt of this letter and let us know the follow-up action to be taken. We urge you to include us and civil society in a follow-up visit as soon as practicably possible; if you only talk to those with a long track record of failure, you will not get an accurate picture.
We will copy our letter to the leaders of the major opposition parties in parliament.
Cllr Lungile Mxube (MCF Chair and Makana infrastructure portfolio committee member)
Contact for follow-up: 083 643 6405