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Ongoing Indignity: Bucket toilets keep Department in business

Water & Sanitation plans to spend R88 500 to replace a single bucket toilet this year, but that’s just a fraction of the 2015/16 costs of an average of R530 685 per toilet.

The Department of Water and Sanitation’s Bucket Eradication Programme (BEP) is a way of spending with no end in sight and not a great deal of delivery.

The 2018/19 Budget indicates that the Department plans to spend about R88 500 to replace each bucket toilet this year: it budgets R1 048.2 million (that’s R1. 048 billion) for the BEP with a target of just 11 844 bucket systems to be replaced. The target is listed in the Department’s Budget in Table 36.1 and the BEP budget on page 787 in the “Additional table: Summary of expenditure on infrastructure”.

How is this cost possible?

“Overspending on the BEP captures the essence of the Department’s financial mismanagement, which will be placed under a microscope in the forthcoming parliamentary inquiry,” says Yamkela Ntola, OUTA’s Portfolio Manager for Water and Environment.

The Bucket Eradication Programme (BEP) has been run under the Department of Water and Sanitation since 2014. Since then, the Department has failed to meet the national target for completely eradicating the buckets, thus perpetuating this indignity. In 2016, Nomvula Mokonyane, the then Minister of Water and Sanitation, correctly stated that the bucket toilet system is “the most degrading legacy of apartheid”. But under her leadership, there has been no commitment to the eradication of bucket toilets, only a waste of public funds.

The Department has overspent significantly on this programme.

The Department hid some of the mess by reporting different numbers in the Budget and in its annual reports. For instance, the Budget shows that the Department replaced 28 365 buckets in 2015/16 but the Department’s annual reports show that only 1 838 buckets were replaced.

The Departments annual reports show the astonishing spending on replacing bucket toilets.

  • In 2014/15, the Department spent R281.779 million replacing 20 581 buckets, an average cost of R13 691 per toilet.
  • In 2015/16, the Department spent R975.399 million replacing 1 838 toilets, an average cost of R530 685 per toilet.
  • In 2016/17, the Department spent R831.390 million replacing 6 978 toilets, an average cost of R119 144 per toilet.

The Department’s report for 2017/18 isn’t available yet, but the Budget shows that in 2017/18, it spent R852.1 million on the target of 13 538 toilets (it’s not clear if this target was met): this is an average of R62 941 per toilet.

Where’s the dignity?

“For South Africans who make use of bucket toilets, the Department’s dismal performance and financial mismanagement is a stark reminder of the indignity they suffer,” says Ntola.

There is no explicit right to sanitation in South Africa’s Constitution. However, the Constitution does provide that “everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected”. According to South Africa’s constitutional jurisprudence, the right to human dignity is intricately linked with other human rights such as the right to a healthy environment (section 24) and the right of access to housing (section 26), from which the right to sanitation can be inferred.

OUTA believes that the Department has failed many citizens by ignoring their right to dignity. “The failure to eradicate the bucket toilet system brings into question the departmental leadership’s commitment to these basic human rights as well as to our societal values,” says Ntola.

Unrealistic costs

The Department’s own costing shows how exaggerated its spending is.

While there may be some confusion over whether the delivery numbers refer to households or units, the Department’s own statistics frequently refer to households (in the annual reports). Even if some of the facilities replaced include blocks of toilets, most of these costs are still inexplicably high.

In April 2015, in a progress report on the BEP and in response to questions raised on the cost of constructing a toilet, the Department informed the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation that:

“The cost of providing sanitation is guided firstly by the Human Settlement subsidy quantum on the provision of a serviced stand which is costed at R43 000 (Grade A Service) and R34 000 (Grade B Service) in the 2014/15 financial year. This includes the provision of water, sewer, electricity and roads and stormwater drainage to the property. The Department also adopted the geotechnical variation principle from Human Settlements that in the event of hard rock, difficult soil conditions etc, up to a maximum of 15% will be afforded to the unit or project based on the soil conditions encountered.”

This is reported in the Department’s annual report for 2015/16. In the same feedback session, the Department indicated that it had verified 58 453 bucket toilets in formal areas and that those would be eradicated by December 2015, for the year’s BEP budget of R975.339 million.

In March 2016, the DWS indicated in a media statement that “costs of these units are in line with the industry guidelines on infrastructure service delivery unit costs of approximately R9 000 for a single pit, R12 000 for a double pit and R15 000 for water-borne sanitation. Expenses relate largely to reticulation, material, civil works, geotechnical expenses and project management fees.”

The numbers provided by the Department indicate that it not only overspent but failed to meet its target as there are South Africans still using bucket toilets. The fluctuating costs for this programme are inexplicable.

OUTA calls on the recently instituted inquiry by the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts to investigate the costs of this programme and why there are still communities obliged to use bucket toilets.

OUTA encourages anyone with information on the programme to contact us directly or via our whistleblower platform detailed on our website.

OUTA is a proudly South African non-profit civil action organisation, comprising of and supported by people who are passionate about holding government accountable and improving the prosperity of South Africa.

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