Auditor-General lays bare slew of problems plaguing water projects

30 November 2016 - 19:52 By Sipho Mabena

The Department of Water and Sanitation‚ the custodian of the country's water resources‚ is grappling with a slew of problems‚ including shortage of critical skills‚ ageing workforce‚ lack of proper planning and infrastructure maintenance. The last time the department conducted a skills audit was 15 years ago‚ its engineering candidates are leaving because they were unable to attain the required competencies to register with industry statutory bodies (Engineering Council of SA) and the use of unskilled labour is resulting in injuries due to lack of proper training in the use of equipment. These are some of the buckets of critical challenges identified by the Auditor-General‚ Kimi Makwetu‚ in his report on the performance audit on water infrastructure released in Pretoria on Wednesday. "An analysis of the age of staff employed as scientists and engineers with high level skills at the department showed that 86 employees would reach the retirement age of 65 within the next 10 years. The department did not have a workplace plan to replenish these high level skills‚" the A-G noted. He also pointed out a critical shortage of management skills‚ with five out of eight heads of units posts at the National Water Resources Infrastructure branch vacant‚ with the department hiring Cuban engineers‚ who found it impossible to communicate with local staff."The difficulty in communication with a foreign engineer delays the transfer of knowledge to local people. The department appointed translators‚ which eased communication‚" he said.The report also found that the department did not have many registered engineering professionals to mentor‚ train and sign off the engineering candidates in accordance with ECSA requirements.The performance audit‚ conducted two years ago‚ is an independent scrutiny‚ evaluating measures taken to ensure that resources were procured economically and used efficiently and effectively.The report at a glance:Poor performing contractors by the department resulted in extended contract periods and increased costs‚ Late payment of contractors‚ resulting in project delays and‚ in more severe cases where contractors have to wait more than 60 days to be paid‚ liquidation of contractors‚ Poor project planning‚ in some cases‚ resulting in ground water quality testing not conducted before water is released to communities‚ Late application for water use and sludge disposal licences‚ resulting in illegal disposal of sludge and waste material into the environment‚ hazardous waste material dumped on open space posing health risk‚ Use of unconventional methods such as the unsustainable use of diesel instead of electricity to power machinery to treat and pump water at a huge cost‚ and - Use of inappropriate technologies that resulted in system failures.The Auditor-General said the department made the eradication basic water supply backlogs a national priority and identified 24 district municipalities in seven provinces‚ excluding Gauteng and Western Cape‚ with the highest demand.He said for audit purposes‚ his office selected nine basic water supply backlog projects amounting to R3.85 billion in five provinces.Makwetu said the report sought to determine whether the water infrastructure programme was implemented effectively.“The department has not been able to eradicate the backlog in households without running water‚” he said.In addition‚ Makwetu noted‚ in the six provinces audited‚ he could not assess aspects activities due to lack of documentation.“The municipalities experienced shortfalls in funding‚ leading to late payments to contractors and the extension of project delivery dates. They also failed to roll out reticulation as planned‚ leaving poor households without water‚” he lamented.-TMG Digital/The Times

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