Public Protector tackles sewage “lake” in Kimberley
Public Protector Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane will in a fortnight receive a comprehensive report on the Northern Cape Provincial Government's plans to attend to a major sewage spillage crisis that has plagued the seat of the administration, Sol Plaatje Local Municipality.
During a meeting with Adv. Mkhwebane and Deputy Public Protector Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka at the Provincial Legislature in Kimberley on Friday, Premier Zamani Saul undertook to provide a detailed report outlining the measures his government has put in place to address the "sewage lake" that has formed 10km outside Kimberley along the R31 road, which connects the provincial capital with Barkly West.
Adv. Mkhwebane went to inspect the "lake" in the company of municipal officials shortly after her arrival in the city on Thursday ahead of the meeting with Premier Saul and Speaker of the Provincial Legislature, Hon. Newrene Klaaste. Other Members of the Executive Council and Heads of Department also attended the meeting. The "lake", which is the subject of an own-initiative investigation by the Public Protector South Africa (PPSA) provincial office, is said to be the result of an aging and collapsing bulk sewerage network deep in the bowels of the city.
According to Premier Saul, the network will require an estimated R5billion to overhaul. At least one life has reportedly been lost when drivers of a delivery van and a truck traveling in the area lost control of their vehicles and plunged in the massive cesspool in two separate road accidents. Adv. Mkhwebane pleaded with the Sol Plaatje Local Municipality community to take care of their bulk sewage infrastructure and avoid flushing foreign items such nappies down the drains.
Meanwhile, the Public Protector took the opportunity to bring to the attention of both Premier Saul and Hon. Klaaste the worrying propensity of organs of state within the provincial administration to ignore binding remedial action taken following investigations in which evidence of maladministration and improper conduct was established. More than a dozen investigations have suffered this fate. These include several cases of irregular appointment of staff in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District, Tsantsabane, Frances Baard District and Dawid Kruiper Local Municipalities, where proper recruitment and selection processes were not followed in violation of applicable policies.
Adv. Gcaleka reiterated the PPSA's availability to take the relevant portfolio committees in the legislature through the ignored reports, with a view to collaborating with Hon. Klaaste's office in holding the culprit departments and municipalities accountable. The PPSA provincial office in Kimberly is currently investigating 146 cases of which 114 are service delivery-related. The office has observed increasing cases of irregular staff appointments; irregular allocations of ERFs and issuing title deeds; and irregular awarding of COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment.
The meeting with Premier Saul, Hon. Klaaste, MECs and senior officials was preceded by an engagement with the Speaker of the Sol Plaatje Local Municipality Hon. Nomazizi Maputle and Municipal Manager Mr. Goolam Akhawaray on Thursday, where Adv. Mkhwebane raised concerns about poor cooperation and non-compliance with investigations and remedial action. This was followed by inspections in loco at Greenpoint township near the local airport, where residents live in squalor with sewage flooding the streets and flowing into backyards.
Apart from the sewage, locals complained about the municipality's failure to enforce by-laws in relation to sprawling pig farms adjacent to residences, which are in operation despite the area not having been zoned for livestock farming. Adv. Mkhwebane also paid the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital a surprise visit and interacted with both patients and management. The facility sees up to 150 patients daily.
Most of the patients skip the local clinics, leading to lengthy queues in the casualty ward. The absence of a district facility, which should attend to patients referred by the clinics and in turn refer to Robert Sobukwe Hospital has been identified as a factor that exacerbates the problem. The inefficiency of the Emergency Medical Service, with ambulances grounded by the lack of fuel, was identified as another issue paralysing the local public health care system.
Contractual problems between the government and a service provider appear to be at the heart of the issue. The PPSA will next week write to both the municipal and provincial health authorities for elaborate responses to all areas of concern. The feedback will be accompanied by plans to address the problems. The PPSA will then monitor the implementation of the plans.
Adv. Mkhwebane and Adv. Gcaleka were in the Northern Cape as part of their nationwide Stakeholder Roadshow during which the office interacts with parties interested in the PPSA’s work in fulfilment of the office’s constitutional mandate to investigate, report on and remedy any alleged or suspected improper conduct in all state affairs and to be accessible to all persons and communities.
The roadshow turns to the KwaZulu-Natal next week.