Givers leave Makhanda ‘on principle’

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By SUE MACLENNAN and KATHRYN CLEARY

The Department of Water and Sanitation will be paying three companies R10 million for work already carried out by Gift of the Givers. This claim by founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman comes hot on the heels of their shock announcement earlier Wednesday 15 May that the humanitarian relief organisation would be leaving Makhanda (Grahamstown), along with the Jojo tanks, filtration systems and water tankers they brought in to relieve the municipality’s water crisis.

Makana says it hopes to clear up any misunderstandings with Gift of the Givers and Dr Sooliman emphasises that there has been no disagreement with the municipality; however  his statement makes it clear that it will take a lot more than a discussion to resolve what appears to be extraordinary treatment at the hands of the Department of Water and Sanitation.

An abrupt message from Giver’s Project Manager Ali Sablay shortly before midday on Wednesday 15 May had residents and officials lining up outside Municipal Manager Moppo Mene’s door, confused and alarmed. The message stated that the Gift of Givers would be leaving Makhanda (Grahamstown) with immediate effect, following a lack of promised compensation for their drought relief efforts.

“It has been brought to our notice that a new company will be appointed to deal with the water crisis in Makhanda,” Sablay said.

“We’ve done our best to serve the residents of the people in Makhanda and the surroundings for the past 13 weeks at a cost of just over R15 million with no compensation from any quarter,” states the message.  “Our staff haven’t been home in that period of time. It has been a huge sacrifice.

“We now leave it to the new company to provide water tankers, drill boreholes, test the water, bring in filtration systems and deliver water to all areas as they will be paid to do that. We will be withdrawing our JoJo tanks and filtration systems as the new company will receive payment to provide this. It has been great working with the residents of Makhanda and we wish you the best for the future.”

The message concluded with a statement noting that teams would be leaving Makhanda Wednesday 15 May.

Gift of the Givers deliver waster to residents in Vukani. Photo: Lindani Donyeli

Critical

The Gift of the Givers arrived in Makana Municipality on 12 February at a critical time, when poor maintenance had rendered the main eastern water treatment works inoperational, and drought had left dams on the west critically low. Some residents were without water in their taps for close to two weeks.

Gift of the Givers delivered clean drinking water to local and rural communities daily, drilled 15 boreholes, tested the water quality of the boreholes, and installed Jojo tanks in communal areas as well as schools.

Provincial Department of Water and Sanitation head Portia Makhanya confirmed to Grocott’s Mail in an interview last month that Gift of the Givers had drilled 15 boreholes across Makana Municipality, supplying two megalitres of water a day.

When they arrived in Makhanda, Gift of the Givers said they would remain as long as they were needed, and so the announcement on Wednesday 15 May of their sudden departure has caused confusion.

Municipal Manager Moppo Mene expressed surprise at the organisation’s withdrawal from Makana. Speaking to Grocott’s Mail soon after the news, he said he believed it was a misunderstanding that had led to the move. He said he’d held discussions with Dr Sooliman, as well as Ali Sablay, and hoped to resume these talks.

Mene emphasised the crucial role the organisation had played at the height of Makhanda’s water crisis, and said, “We should find a solution to this. We cannot allow a situation whereby we part ways in this fashion with such a good Samaritan who came to help us at the most critical period.

“The work that has been done by Gift of the Givers has been immense. If it were not for Gift of the Givers we would have been down as a municipality. They came at our moment of need.”

Mene said no contractor had been appointed to carry out water engineering work in Makana; instead, Makana had appointed engineers Gibb Consulting for an Underground Water Study. He said as part of the information gathering, he’d met with Dr Sooliman and requested information about the boreholes’ co-ordinates, yield, quality and what filtration system was being used. This was in order to help assess the sustainablility of the underground water.

“These discussions were still in the process when we got the news that the Gift of the Givers are leaving,” Mene said. “Very good work was done by Gift of the Givers and unfortunately I could not understand exactly what has happened.”

Resolve

Mene said he had approached Sablay to meet again and resolve matters. He said regarding compensating Gift of the Givers for the work they had already carried out, it was a question of ensuring supply chain management compliance, in terms of the Public Finance Management Act. This was made more complicated by the fact that they are a non-profit organisation (NPO). In addition, according to discussions in the last Council meeting, the drought relief funding had to be gazetted as changing from one designation to another before Makana could directly access it.

However, it appears that the organisation’s dispute is not with Makana, but the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).

In his statement, Dr Sooliman outlines the history of their interventions in Makana, at the municipality’s request, starting 12 February. Makana had predicted the water supply would return to residents after five days. Gift of the Givers, however, warned that the scale of the problem was much bigger, drew up a R23 million rescue plan and got stuck into carrying it out. They undertook the emergency relief work on the basis, they said, of promised support in the form of government funding. So far, Dr Sooliman said, the intervention had cost them R15 milllion.

In his statement, Dr Sooliman speaks of his frustration at having to jump through the hoops of government bureaucracy, while a serious humanitarian crisis was unfolding in Makhanda.

Gift of the Givers were told, during the national Freedom Day celebrations at Miki Yili Stadium, that they must remove their trucks,  because there was no water crisis in Makhanda.

Gift of the Givers trucks parked at Miki Yili Stadium in Makhanda during the national Freedom Day event. They were allegedly told to move. Afterwards Gift of the Givers handed out 120 000 litres of water to residents. Photo: Sue Maclennan

Last straw

But the last straw, Dr Sooliman said, was being informed by DWS about the breakdown of payments to three other companies, to do essential drought-relief work already completed by the Gift of the Givers.

“This week we received the most incredible feedback from DWS,” Dr Sooliman said.

“They said… a private consultancy will be paid R1.2 million for work related to boreholes (we did the consultancy work, drew up a plan to save the city and sited the boreholes), another company will be paid R7 million for boreholes (which we drilled) and a third company will be paid R1.9 million for electrical work to connect boreholes which we drilled at Waainek (and which we have not be compensated for) to the treatment plant.

Pulling no punches, Dr Sooliman says, “This is R10 million of taxpayers money handed out freely by the government to people as remuneration for work that Gift of the Givers did. Our hearts are with the people of Makhanda, the elderly, the women and children and everyone who waited so patiently for water but as a matter of principle we cannot continue.”

Disaster

The Makana Council resolved in January 2019 to have the municipality declared a disaster area; however, the Sarah Baartman District had already submitted an application for the district to receive disaster status – and the funding that comes with it.

Grocott’s Mail interviewed DWS provincial head Portia Makhanya on the eve of Freedom Day about the drought-relief funding, and how it would be used.

“Government has always planned for groundwater development, but dealing with the public purse, you have to go through Treasury approvals and other Public Finance Management Act.PFMA regulations.

“The plan is there, the money has now been released and is with the municipality. We now need to finalise those groundwater connections.

“The boreholes drilled by Gift of the Givers – such as the one at Ntsika – is currently the backup system should anything go wrong. People do have access.”

Makhanya said the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works was back to maximum delivery of 13 ML a day.

While she said no township areas were at that time without water, Gift of the Givers had earlier told Grocott’s Mail they were filling two 7000-litre water tankers twice a day and delivering water to people without supply in outlying areas.

The Department of Water and Sanitation has since responded. In a media release issued on 16 May 2019, national spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the suggestion that DWS had reneged on commitments made to Gift of the Givers and Makana Municipality was not true.

Ratau said the Department had allocated R22 million to Makana in drought funding according to its mandate and the Public Finance Management Act..

“The manner in which that money is spent is the responsibility of the concerned municipality and the department does not dictate or interfere with how that money is spent and which service providers are used,” Ratau said.

“The Department fully appreciates the amount of work done by the Gift of the Givers in the area and believes that the drilling of boreholes will go a long way in assisting government’s efforts to avert shortage of water for the community of Makhanda.”

Sarah Baartman District Municipal Manager Ted Pillay with Department of Water and Sanitation Provincial Head Portia Makhanya outside the Makana City Hall on the eve of Freedom Day 2019. Photo: Sue Maclennan

Misunderstanding

In a statement issued yesterday, Makana Municipality acknowledged the “much-needed support” from the Gift of the Givers. “The support provided by GoG during a difficult period was and still is highly appreciated by Council.

“Presently the Council is looking into the connection of boreholes and connecting them to the Makana water system,” a statement from the Makana Commuications Office said. “Makana has appointed Gibb Consulting for an Underground Water Study and no contractor has been appointed as the municipality is engaging in the Supply Chain Management processes to equip and connect boreholes that have been drilled to date. Discussions are ongoing with GoG with the hopes of clearing up any misunderstandings.”

  • Article updated at 9am on 17 May 2019 to include current DWS response.

DWS assures support for Makana

FULL STATEMENTS OF ALI SABLAY AND DR IMTIAZ SOOLIMAN

11am on Wednesday 15 May

Dear All. It has been brought to our notice that a new company will be appointed to deal with the water crisis in Makhanda. Gift of the Givers has not been compensated for any of the costs that were promised to us. We’ve done our best to serve the residents of the people in Makhanda and the surroundings for the past 13 weeks at a cost of just over R15 million with no compensation from any quarter. Our staff haven’t been home in that period of time. It has been a huge sacrifice. We thank the residents of Makhanda for the magnificent and generous manner in which we were received. We now leave it to the new company to provide water tankers, drill boreholes, test the water, bring in filtration systems and deliver water to all areas as they will be paid to do that. We will be withdrawing our JoJo tanks and filtration systems as the new company will receive payment to provide this. It has been great working with the residents of Makhanda and we wish you the best for the future.

7.45pm on Wednesday 15 May 2019

Gift of the Givers Withdraws from Makhanda.

We have been inundated by calls from the media to confirm if we are withdrawing from Makhanda. The answer is “Yes”. There has been no disagreement with the Makhanda Municipality, they have been excellent. The municipality, university, the multicultural community, political parties, SAPS, B and B establishments, learners, tourists and students gave us the most memorable reception that anyone could ever have dreamt of.

On 9 February the municipality requested our assistance and said in five days everything will be back on line in terms of water supply. Gift of the Givers intervened on 12 February and explained to the municipality the extent of the problem was far greater than anyone envisaged. We drew up a rescue plan and commenced the process of “saving the city” immediately. We advised the municipality that the cost to solve the problem will be in the region of R23 million and that this will require government funding. They said the area has been declared a disaster in the government gazette and they will receive emergency funding with which they will remunerate Gift of the Givers. They were honest, were not sure how much they would receive and when they would receive it. We said it’s fine, their word was good enough for us. We were told that at a council meeting in March it was a unanimous decision that Gift of the Givers will be funded the moment the funds arrive.

Gift of the Givers brought in specialist hydrologist, Dr Gideon Groenewald, to site and drill boreholes in an area where the geology is very difficult and finding water a big challenge. He was successful in 3 hours with the first borehole. We successfully drilled 15 boreholes, tested the water which is a huge cost, brought in special filtration systems designed by us, delivered bottled water, water by truck and did everything possible to assist the community as that was the priority. In all this time we had not received a single cent from any government institution. The costs were rising daily. Thus far the intervention has cost us R15 million. The Department of Water and Sanitation (DSW) started engaging us. We’ve had, without exaggeration, more than 50 hours of meetings, 13 weeks have passed, the town is in crisis (we were called in on every occasion to quell unrest related to provision of water) and government is still having meetings, preparing business plans, filling in forms and God knows what, a typical case of Nero fiddles whilst Rome burns. But the best came from DSW on Freedom Day, when President Cyril Ramaphosa, was addressing the nation. They told us to move our trucks as there is no water crisis in Makhanda. Ironically, the president mentioned in his speech that there can be no freedom if there is no water in Makhanda.

This week we received the most incredible feedback from DWS. They said only companies from Grahamstown can be paid for the drought intervention so accordingly, a private consultancy will be paid R1.2 million for work related to boreholes (we did the consultancy work, drew up a plan to save the city and sited the boreholes), another company will be paid R7 million for boreholes (which we drilled) and a third company will be paid R1.9 million for electrical work to connect boreholes which we drilled at Waainek (and which we have not be compensated for) to the treatment plant. This is R10 million of taxpayers money handed out freely by the government to people as remuneration for work that Gift of the Givers did. Our hearts are with the people of Makhanda, the elderly, the women and children and everyone who waited so patiently for water but as a matter of principle we cannot continue.

Imtiaz Sooliman

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