Q&A with department of water & sanitation's Sputnik Ratau on preventing the spread of Covid-19

President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on people to wash their hands to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But millions of people don't have access to clean water

22 March 2020 - 00:00 By Chris Barron
Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the department of human settlements, water and sanitation.
Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the department of human settlements, water and sanitation.
Image: Supplied

Is it fair to say the department has set the country up for maybe its worst catastrophe since apartheid?

How did we do that?

Do you agree that an essential weapon against the coronavirus is frequent hand washing?


How can people wash their hands if they don't have access to clean water?

We need to remember that our history dictates that we wouldn't have achieved universal access by now. That is the reality that we have to face.

Isn't the reality that fewer people have access now than 15 years ago?

The situation is obviously affected by ageing infrastructure and the lack of maintenance. But, based on what the president said, the question is, what happens?

Yes, indeed. The minister has directed that everybody must stop everything else they're doing and offer assistance to those people without access, based on the president's pronouncements. That is what we have been working on since Monday in order for us to be able to find those tankers and JoJo tanks that we need to take to those communities. It's something we realise has got to happen; it's more than an emergency.

Why have you allowed such an emergency to develop?

It's not a question of allowing. The reality is that we are still a developing country, and we do not have the kind of funding that would have allowed us.

According to the auditor-general, the department has lost billions in wasteful and irregular expenditure. Is this why you don't have the funding? Because it's been stolen?

Irregular expenditure doesn't mean money has been stolen. I know that's the first response but it could be that processes were not properly followed or there were mishaps along the way. But our recovery plan includes consequence management. We're saying we could have done better over the years, but the reality is that this is where we are, and we have to deal with the catastrophe that is on our hands now.

Do you have the capacity to carry out a recovery plan?

One of the things that came out when we were at Scopa [the standing committee on public accounts] was the issue of a permanent CFO. It's one of the things the director-general has been asked to look at in a very urgent manner. So the issue of capacity is true.

Would you agree that you've put the entire country at risk?

It's not a question of have we put the country at risk. It's the reality of where we are as a developing country. We are aware of the severity of the situation and this is why everyone is on their toes. We're looking at the procurement of the things we need, how many tanks we can get and in how much time.

Meanwhile, people are not washing their hands.

That is why the minister is very frustrated that we have not been able to put such on the ground since Monday.

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