File picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA).

Earlier this month, Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti announced that he had appointed the East Rand Water Care Company (Erwat), an entity of the Ekurhuleni Metro, as the implementing agent for the initial R341m Vaal sewage clean up.

“As a wastewater specialist company, Erwat will ensure that all wastewater treatment infrastructure is resuscitated to an operational state and that pollution in the Vaal River is stopped,” Nkwinti said.

But water adviser, Professor Anthony Turton, was critical of the firm’s appointment. 

“Erwat is a persistent and known polluter of the Hennops River. Therefore, to now appoint them to rectify the highly complex problem in the Vaal, at great cost to the taxpayer, does not represent good value for money.”

He wondered if Nkwinti understood the complexity of the Vaal river problem, where sewage infrastructure had collapsed.

“This includes more than 40 sewage pumping stations that have seized up with solid waste, flooding the chambers and rendering the pipelines useless. In all probability, the entire pipeline network will have to be replaced because it is unclear if such blockages can be cleared without highly specialised machinery not in the possession of the state.

“It also begs the question as to why the sums of money being spent on the SANDF and Erwat deployment, collectively approaching R1 billion, are not being channelled through the normal service procurement process into the private sector.”

Rosemary Anderson, a spokesperson for waste and sanitation for the business chamber in the Vaal, agreed.

“Erwat has received, for many years, negative mention for causing sewage pollution and spillages into water sources, emanating from their region. If it was felt we were in such crisis and we needed to get an outside entity because the level of expertise was not found in the Vaal, why did we not get the best company out there, due to our dire state? One with a near blemish-free reputation, unlike Erwat?”

Maureen Stewart, of Save the Vaal Environment, said: “At this stage, we have little knowledge of Erwat’s capabilities, but will be watching progress with great interest and their ability to meet the minister’s commitment of no more sewage pollution by March 2020.”

Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the DWS, said Erwat was a government entity specialising in wastewater management. 

“Erwat was engaged in the Vaal intervention as they have capabilities that are needed in the Vaal clean up, ie, wastewater management equipment that is critical (equipment that is much too costly to hire), laboratory services that are also needed, etc.

“With the high cost of cleaning the Vaal River, DWS had to engage all available Gauteng government agencies that can assist with the clean-up campaign in addition to the SANDF.

“The inclusion of Erwat will assist in bringing down the R1.1 billion projected cost for the clean-up. Rand Water is also involved as programme and project managers to the upgrade of the Sedibeng Regional Sewer Scheme.”

Anderson said a DWS document further detailed that 51% of the initial contract would be undertaken by the construction unit of DWS, based in Potchefstroom, 19% will be reserved for strategic partnerships such as the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority and 30% for local labour and procurement in the Vaal.

“Why are we getting an entity like DWS’s construction unit, which is not known for its expertise - to have 51% of the contract? Skills in the Vaal are superior to those of this construction unit.”

That pollution of the Vaal has continued under the DWS for the past 15 years and “deserves serious contemplation.

“The DWS owes the Vaal big time. It has caused tremendous harm to the environment, residents, business, tourism, employment levels and our reputation.

“The very least they could do is give the forthcoming contracts a major lion’s share to the unemployed and residents and entities within the Vaal so that the Vaal 100% benefits by the funds coming in to address the crisis.” 

Saturday Star