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OPINION: Flushing out CT's budget realities

Judith February's piece ' Raising a stink about sanitation budgets' points to an alarming lack of interrogation on her part of the Social Justice Coalition's (SJC) factually distorted (albeit aesthetically swish) graphic.

As a political analyst who has been around for some time, her lack of actual analysis is surprising.

February asserts that 'nothing needs to be added or subtracted' from the SJC's words. Regrettably, for the sake of accuracy, it does.

The SJC's graphic distorts the city's proposed budget for the 2015/16 year because it omits the amount that will be spent in providing daily services to our residents in informal settlements.

The proposed operational expenditure on services to informal settlements amounts to R481,7 million in the upcoming financial year. This is a huge amount by any account.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the SJC decided to rather focus on the proposed capital budget instead - it suits their narrative and by doing so, they are wilfully misleading the public.

As the so-called experts in sanitation that they claim to be, they should be aware of the challenges that the city faces in informal settlements with regards to the provision of full flush toilets.

For instance, full flush toilets cannot be installed on privately-owned property, in areas of extremely high density, under power lines, on landfill sites, in a road or railway buffer, within servitudes, outside the urban edge, in areas where there is no bulk infrastructure, in water bodies/retention ponds and floodplains, and in high-noise zones.

In the above instances, full flush toilets requiring permanent infrastructure cannot be installed as to do so would be in contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act and would be considered wasteful expenditure by the auditor general.

If the city was to install infrastructure in a flood plain, for example, there would be an increased risk of pump station malfunction and electrical damage due to flooding. This would result in increased environmental health hazards such as sewage spills. The pipelines are also likely to sag which would increase the blockage rate. In the dry season, due to inherent poor drainage conditions, spillages would not drain away, contaminating the ground and ground water.

Up to 82% of informal settlements are either fully or partially affected by one or more of the above-mentioned constraints - a fact the SJC will never admit to. The city will always elect to install full-flush toilets if not constrained as described above. Put simply, the city has already installed almost all the toilets and standpipes it is allowed to and can, meaning that large capital allocations for the forthcoming year are not necessary.

As a caring city that is responsible for service delivery to our most vulnerable residents, the Water and Sanitation Department plans to spend R503,7 million (operational and capital budget) on services to informal settlements in the upcoming 2015/16 financial year.

This money will be spent on, amongst others:

• increasing the toilet and tap provisions;

• maintenance of sanitation and water facilities;

• cleaning and emptying of alternative sanitation;

• the janitorial programme;

• provision of water to informal settlements, which is unlimited and free; and

• removal of waste water for full flush toilets.

This proposed direct budget does not include the bulk water, reticulation and wastewater infrastructure necessary to deliver the water to our informal settlements or the removal of wastewater and the treatment thereafter. For example, the Zandvliet wastewater treatment works almost exclusively services Khayelitsha, Delft and Blue Downs, which all host a substantial number of informal settlements with full flush toilets.

Simply put, the R503,7 million only includes primary costs to informal settlements, and not secondary costs. Thus, it does not include support services charges and enhancements, repairs or new bulk infrastructure that services informal settlements.

This proposed budget is a display of the city's ongoing commitment to its residents in informal settlements. In the current year, we have a budget of R499 million for water and sanitation directly to informal settlements. Of this, we had spent 90% of our capital budget by the end of March 2015 and all functions and programmes pertaining to the operational budget are on track. Due to a substantial increase in budget since 2006/2007 for water and sanitation to informal settlements, we have increased our toilet provision from 14,591 to around 46,840 across the city. We have also steadily increased our tap count to around 9,850.

February also asks that the city 'provide greater levels of information regarding its budgetary decisions'. This year, the city embarked on its most extensive and inclusive public participation process to date. In addition to advertisements on radio stations and in local newspapers, there were public meetings, focus groups and a door-to-door campaign in areas like Lentegeur, Masiphumelele, Wallacedene, Langa and Bonteheuwel.

We have gone beyond the usual legislative requirements to get community input, encourage discussion, promote a better understanding of community needs, provide an opportunity for feedback and improve accountability and responsiveness to the needs of local communities.

The extensive public participation process has now been completed. All comments received by the city have been worked into the annual budget review for consideration. These comments are, at the moment, being directed to line departments for consideration. We are also very pleased that we have managed to implement a new methodology that tracks progress between the office of the executive mayor, public participation unit and the budget office.

February can rest assured that the city is indeed 'serious about its constitutional obligations'. That is why we have committed to approaching residents with a pro poor budget that focuses primarily on redress and on delivering services to our city's most vulnerable residents.

Councillor Ernest Sonnenberg is the mayoral committee member: utility services for the City of Cape Town.

To read Judith February's column, click here.

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