Following the fallout of a public spat between the Gift of the Givers (GoG), Makana Municipality and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) over work the GoG had done to alleviate Makhanda’s (Grahamstown) water crisis since February, the municipality has apologised for “misunderstandings” and said it was looking into how the disaster relief organisation could be compensated.
GoG founder Imtiaz Sooliman announced on May 15 that the organisation was withdrawing from Makhanda even though there had been “no disagreement with the Makhanda Municipality”.
Sooliman explained that the contention rather came from the DWS over remuneration for GoG’s extensive interventions, and then instructing GoG to “move our trucks as there is no water crisis in Makhanda”.
In a statement this week, the Makana Communications Office said the GoG had come to Makhanda “at our invitation because there was a crisis”.
“GoG came in to assist us to provide water to residents on the eastern side of the town because there was a problem at the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works, which led to the municipality not being able to supply water to them. They brought much needed bottled water, animal fodder and helped us to cart water to areas that didn’t have water at the time, for that we are very thankful them,” the municipality said.
“Once they arrived and started doing all this work discussions between themselves and municipal officials commenced and they started drilling a number of boreholes in various areas around the town.”
In his earlier statement, Sooliman said the municipality had suggested everything would be back on line in terms of water supply within five days.
“Gift of the Givers 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,” Sooliman said.
“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, and successfully drilled 15 boreholes. They tested the water at huge cost, brought in special filtration systems, and delivered bottled water and water by truck.
“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,” Sooliman said.
Then last week DWS told GoG that only companies from Grahamstown could 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.”
Following that, DA caucus leader in Makana Municipality, Mlindi Nhanha said the DA would report the DWS to the Public Protector and request an investigation after R10-million was made available to local companies to do work already completed by the Gift of the Givers.
“The Gift of the Givers is a humanitarian organisation and it saved Makhanda from a looming Day Zero. After spending millions of rands on bottled water, exploration and drilling of boreholes, the government has now decided someone else is good enough to do the work.” Nhanha said.
This week Makana Municipality said: “Currently we are in the process of trying to determine how we can compensate them for the work they have already done. Officials from the Department of Water and Sanitation, the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency, the municipality and GoG have assessed the work that has been done and costed it. They are now putting together a report that will clarify the amount of work that has been done and how much it cost. As the institution we are looking at the modalities of paying the GoG the costs of the work they have done.
“We are very sorry for any misunderstandings that may have occurred leading up to this process and we would not like these issues to negatively affect the relationship that we have had with the GoG up to now. Meetings continue to take place among the relevant stakeholders.”