Rejoinder to Athandiwe Saba’s article: Sisulu’s Plan Threatens Water Future

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Lindiwe Nonceba Sisulu, Minister of Human Settlements, Water & Sanitation

An error in reasoning is common enough to warrant a fancy name. This article is an attempt to save time, personal dignity and potential future damage. The author’s article was grossly fallacious; it trivialises an intervention aimed at saving lives. This denotes an error in what she was trying to say about honourable Minister Sisulu. She attempted to arrange her ideas correctly, but her content isn’t quite right. Her content is wrong/ off-kilter. She has never familiarised herself with Minister Sisulu’s Water Master Plan. Had she took time to read that Master Plan, there would have been no harmless and lifeless scarecrows in her article. Centrally to what she has written about is largely characterised by (Appeal to ignorance/Argumentum ad ignorantiam). The Act provides for the honourable Minister to release “any available resources of the national government” and also “facilitation of response and post-disaster recovery as well as rehabilitation” amongst others, which are currently being actioned.  

The article drives an argument based only on the response (which is phase 1), without enquiring on the Minister’s plans on the post-disaster recovery plan (phase 2) and on the rehabilitation (phase 3). Anytime ignorance is used as a major premise in support of an argument, it’s liable to be a fallacious appeal. It is often cheap and manipulative to allow this unfortunate aspect of the human condition to do most of the heavy lifting in an argument. An appeal to ignorance isn’t proof of anything except that you don’t know something. In the same article, Professor Anthony Turton embarrassingly misuses his “scholarship” authority. He underpins his assertions by citing a “foot doctor when trying to prove something about psychiatry”. All he needed to do was to represent Minister Sisulu’s Water Master Plan correctly and make sure the authority of his argument is legitimate. Had he familiarise himself with the Master Plan, he too could have come across 3 IIIs there in that document, they represent Innovation, Investment and Infrastructure.

The Master Plan remains relevant and the Covid-19 pandemic, though catastrophic necessitates acceleration of its execution. This is the context within which all of us need to look at the interventions currently being made, than coming up with no solution at all or just to fold arms as the author seem to suggest. We need to appreciate that indeed the Master Plan is responsive as the Covid-19 pandemic does not expose anything new that we did not envisage and that is covered in the Master Plan. However, what is happening now is reprioritisation, guided by both the virus spasmodic demands and its impact. The claim that the response to Covid-19 delays certain projects is therefore correct, but equally exposes naivety and shallowness of the writer. Common sense dictates that in times of disaster, inherent plans are reviewed, so as to respond to the immediate challenges caused by the disaster. The issue of the technical assessment raised by the so-called scientist in the article is sheer populism and a desperate recognition seeking a move to the sector. 

The logical injunction is that (supposedly the esteemed scientist should know), in dealing with a disaster situation that threatens lives, the natural response is to deal with what is symptomatic whilst sustainable solutions are sought. The entire country is currently in a mode for interventionist solutions, which mostly will be temporal in nature and this is better than empty criticism. The Department and the Minister, in particular, are very much aware that these solutions are not permanent, yet extremely necessary. Hopefully, this assists even those who do not understand the rationale behind centralisation of procurement, despite the fact they occupy very senior positions in Government in their Provinces. This is a period for maximum and extensive patriotism and objective journalism that is informed by factual content rather than alarmism and ulterior motive.  

In Sisulu’s Master Plan, which as a first of its kind since 1994, Professor Turton will notice that under innovation, there are a lot of technological alternatives as drivers of sources of water in South Africa. The question is; which books and reports is he relying on? That Water Master Plan is actually a reaction against Professor Turton’s twentieth-century narrow discipline focus and hyper-specialization, with a constraining and condescending rigidity, all in the pretext of scholarship, while it is an illusory authority. 

Scientific authorities can be wrong sometimes, as such they deserve a fair share of scepticism since they can make mistakes, overstep their expertise and otherwise mislead the public. Minister Sisulu’s Water Master Plan attempts to directly respond to the multi-layered challenges of diffuse disciplines and interlinked socio-economic problems, like Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation. Mrs Connie Nagiah is crying at a wrong funeral, the sooner she reads the Water Service Act and the Intergovernmental Relations Act the better for her mistaken beliefs. There she will learn where reticulation resides. Minister Sisulu is legislatively not responsible for dry taps. Forget the goodwill she exercised both in Butterworth and Qwaqwa recently, she was acting outside of her legislative jurisdiction and framework. That was COGTA’s responsibility, not Water and Sanitation, as many were “politically” led to believe.  

The author and her crew will have to learn fast on how to become responsible citizens, by observing the following: Section 27 of National Disaster Act communicates, explains and instill to us that; If a national disaster has been declared in terms of subsection (1) 1, the Minister may subject to subsection (3) and after consulting the responsible cabinet member, make regulations or issue directions or authorize the issue concerning; (a) the release of any available resources of the national government, including 15 stores, equipment, vehicles and facilities; (d) the evacuation to temporary shelters of all or part of the population from disaster-stricken or threatened area if such action is necessary for the preservation of life; (h) the provision, control or use of temporary emergency accommodation; (I) emergency procurement procedures; (3) the powers referred to in subsection (2) may be exercised only to the extent that this is necessary for the purpose of –15(a) assisting and protecting property; (d) preventing or combating disruption; or (e) dealing with the destructive and other effects of the disaster. In this case, the Minister of COGTA, Dr N Dlamini-Zuma was designated by the President as the lead Minister into the Disaster Management Act. 

It is therefore unfortunate that the Mail &Guardian would publish an article stating that Minister Sisulu’s plans threaten water future. Such a statement points to the ignorance highlighted above of some media personnel and sensational reporting as opposed to providing factual information to the nation. Firstly, when a disaster has been declared by the President and he appoints a lead Minister for coordination, that Minister is given certain powers of the Disaster Management Act of 2002. This supersedes and suspends everything, irrespective the size of the current projects or normal procurement processes. 

The coordinating Minister consults with respective Ministers, refer to subsection 2. Financing the shifts from appropriated budgets is done through section 25 of PFMA. In the meantime, the authorised Ministers per function are expected to inform the Accounting Officers about the expectations from their departments, who in turn authorise the use of available resources/funds with a clear understanding that should a shortfall arise for planned and performed work arise, the funds would be received through the Adjustment Budget process.

Secondly, everyone should know that the lockdown means the construction industry and SCM etc are also on lockdown for an unknown period at this stage. Simply put, we have lost so far 5 weeks of construction time, not because of Minister Sisulu as the author connoted. Projections for this year’s expenditure are already thrown out by at least a quarter and as government pays for actual work done. DWS will experience under-expenditure of at-least 1 full quarter on construction. These funds will be returned to the Fiscus at the end of the financial and thus can be utilised to defray the emergency expenditure that is allowed into Treasury Regulations 6.3.1 (c) i.e, Virements. 

Thirdly, it is the responsibility of the Accounting Officer, not the Minister, to ensure there is budgetary control within a department and any executive directives with financial implications are accurately recorded. It is unclear if the author has confirmed her allegations with the Accounting Officer or hers was just to demonise Minister Sisulu, as it is clear that she (the author) is a political hired gun analogically. The author and her crew must refrain from appealing to pity/feed into emotional manipulation and political malice. Lastly, the focus of the author and the professor should have been elsewhere as investigative journalism and academia allows them to look at the theft of water resource, ownership of such resource, what happened during negotiations about water and what happened before 27th April 1994 with over 4000 Dams of our country.  

Mphumzi Mdekazi (Advisor to Minister Sisulu), writing in his personal capacity.