Premier Requests Urgent Resolution on National Government Funding for Water
Premier Helen Zille has written to Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane calling for an urgent resolution to national government’s role in funding bulk water supply interventions in Cape Town.
The letter follows the Minister’s visit to Cape Town on the weekend, during which it was revealed that bulk water supply funding would not be forthcoming from national government, and that the Berg-River Voëlvlei scheme to augment Cape Town’s water supply would only come online by 2021.
National government has the mandate for bulk water supply, Local government is responsible for reticulation, and Provinces have oversight, support, monitoring and disaster management powers.
In the letter, the Premier calls for a joint task team representing national, provincial and local government, working together under the executive leadership of the national Minister, Premier and Deputy-Mayor of the City of Cape Town. Minister Mokonyane has in the interim agreed to a meeting with the Premier next week.
“At the outset I wish to confirm my agreement with you that all three spheres of government should refrain from politicising, or further politicising, the crisis. No purpose is served by pointing fingers and attributing blame, politically or otherwise. We share a constitutional duty to safeguard our citizens’ fundamental rights, which must inform any action that we take,” says Premier Zille in the letter.
In making this request, the Premier outlined seven “fundamental principles” that should underpin short and long-term plans to augment Cape Town’s water supply:
- The provision of bulk water infrastructure and supply is a competency of the national government, i.e. the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) under the national Minister’s executive leadership (DWS).
- The responsibility of the DWS to provide bulk water infrastructure and supply includes an obligation to do so in times of severe drought and emergency situations.
- Should the DWS decline to accept responsibility for augmentation of bulk water (whether in the short- or long-term), it would constitute an unlawful abdication of responsibility.
- The City has embarked on several augmentation projects to add bulk water to the water supply system in order to avoid Day Zero. The DWS should at least contribute to these projects financially as they were conceptualised, designed and are being implemented to augment bulk water supply, which is the mandate of the DWS.
- The Provincial Government is currently giving consideration to a number of initiatives aimed at maintaining service delivery in the face of the crisis and the probability that Cape Town might run out of water. Many of these initiatives are aimed at augmenting bulk water supply to schools, hospitals and other health facilities, and the like. This is not the mandate of the Western Cape Government. It is the mandate of the DWS, which means that it must make provision in the national appropriation process for sufficient funds to ensure that it complies with its constitutional mandate, which cannot be assumed by the Western Cape Government, especially not in the current fiscal climate of repeated budget cuts that are placing untenable pressure on provincial mandates and services, particularly around health and education.
- From both a strategic and disaster management perspective, the Premier is in agreement that driving down demand is the most important measure we can take (and are taking) to avoid Day Zero. However, demand can only be driven down to a point before it starts impacting on, amongst others, health, food and job security. Should we receive below average rainfall this year, there is a likelihood that, even if we manage to avoid Day Zero before winter, we could be in a much worse situation in the summer of 2018/19. The DWS’s future augmentation projects based on current plans will not offer any relief in the short-term.
- The DWS and the City must engage to negotiate a permanent solution to the inadequacy of the water supply system for Cape Town over the medium to long term, mindful of the DWS and City mandates and the principles of cooperative government.
The office of the Premier looks forward to a constructive meeting with the Minister in this regard. It remains of fundamental importance for the public to use less than 50 litres of water per person per day. This is the most crucial short-term action that we all can take in order to avoid Day Zero.