An activist’s prayer

The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the DA’s Shadow Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, Tarnia Baker MP, during the Budget Vote on Water and Sanitation.
“We cannot merely pray to you, O God,
To root out prejudice,
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all people
If we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to You O God, to end despair,
For You have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope
If we would only use our power justly.”
Powerful words by the world-renowned Rabbi Jack Riemer.
It is in this spirit that I stand before you today and call on all South Africans to ensure that we hold those on whom we bestow power accountable.
It is no coincidence that so many religions use water as a symbol of cleansing and purity.
In South Africa we lose more than R7 billion worth of water a year – water literally flowing down the drain because of ageing infrastructure and water theft.
That is why Mayor Solly Msimanga of Tshwane has allocated R13 million for the restoration of water infrastructure.
I suggest to you, Honourable Chair, that the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has no idea just how valuable a resource water actually is, especially considering that South Africa is a water scarce country.
In 2003, the Strategic Framework for Water Services was approved by Cabinet with the target for the complete eradication of the bucket system of sanitation set for 2006, and a budget of R1.2 billion was allocated for the Free State alone.
Fast forward to 2017 and the goal has still not been met. It is ludicrous to think that the minister now stands before the National Treasury, begging bowl in hand, looking for a further R1.5 billion!
Minister, let us stop talking about concluding the long overdue Bucket Eradication Programme and just do it.
I urge you, Minister, to take a take firm stance against the scourge of corruption in our country and no longer allow companies to mine in one of our protected water catchment areas, like Mabola in Mpumalanga, particularly when names like “Gupta” appear on the Board of Directors and Zuma appears on the board of the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) partner company.
Just do the right thing, Minister, and revoke that Water Use License granted to Atha Africa.
I will commend the Minister for one thing she has actually done and that is to advertise for the replacement of the Umhlatuze Water Board and its Chairperson, Miss Dudu Myeni.
Unfortunately, this was only after the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled in December 2016 that the Minister had acted unlawfully by extending the contract of the Chair and Board, which expired in February 2015.
Basically, this means that the Minister broke the law.
It is for this reason that we have written to the Public Protector and asked her to investigate the Minister’s actions and hold her accountable for the court costs, including the appeal which she lodged, as well as the R1.4 million paid to Miss Myeni during her unlawful occupation of the position of Chairperson from February 2015 to date.
Another thing you can actually do, Minister, is to hold our municipalities accountable for the R3.6 billion owed to the various Waterboards.
This debt severely impacts on the provision of essential water services these Boards can deliver.
However, not all is doom and gloom, as there are some municipalities which do govern well, like the DA run Midvaal municipality which does not owe Rand Water anything, or Eskom for that matter. Well done Mayor Baloyi.
It is generally accepted that in life there are some things which are beyond our control, like the weather. However, we can control our state of preparedness to deal with natural disasters when they do occur. In South Africa, provision is made for monetary and other forms of assistance, on the declaration of a disaster, so as to minimise its effects.
But when the Minister first refused to admit that there was a drought crisis and later resisted declaring a national disaster, she robbed the people of South Africa of the support and assistance they could receive and added to the suffering of millions, leaving hundreds of towns to just dry up.
The drought intervention measures by the Department were so haphazard, the cost of which cannot be accurately counted or accounted for. It is for this reason we have written to the Auditor-General asking for an investigation into this drought expenditure, and I’m happy to report that this investigation is also underway.
Fellow South Africans, I understand that the ravages of the apartheid era cannot be reversed overnight, I appreciate the fact that millions more South Africans now have access to water, a right previously denied to them, but as a result of the high unemployment rate in our country, the number of people actively contributing to the national fiscus is limited.
As a result, we have to ensure that we get excellent value for money from every cent spent on service delivery. So, when the DWS overspends its budget by R18 million and yet only achieves 43% of its targets, we should be seriously concerned.
The Portfolio Committee spent many hours interrogating the Department’s budget. The more we probed, the bleaker it looked.
The final conclusion, Chairperson, is that the finances of the national Department of Water and Sanitation are deeper, darker and messier than any of its abandoned pit latrines, and just like the Bucket Eradication Programme, can only be rescued by a competent DA-led government.
I thank you.