Project managers in the City of Cape Town tasked with coming up with solutions about the drought spent lots of time talking about furniture they wanted instead of water projects, a submission by Mayor Patricia de Lille has revealed.
"At some of the very first meetings it was astounding to hear feedback from project managers who, when asked for updates on the plans to get additional water, instead spent a great deal of time talking about furniture for the 'war room' for the water resilience team," she said.
"Instead of receiving substantial feedback on the actual delivery of water and commencement of projects, senior project managers spoke about desks and other office furniture needed for the war room and the costs to set it up."
De Lille’s scathing submission also details how a year ago, when Cape Town’s water situation needed urgent tackling, some City officials did not believe there was a crisis and did not realise climate change was affecting the water supply.
Drought plan 'veered off course'
By the end of October last year, her submission said, it worryingly appeared that a water resilience plan created months earlier was not actually moving ahead.
"It was apparent that the plan had veered off course and the commitment of the second date in October for 'new water' to come online would not come to fruition," De Lille wrote.
"It was incumbent on me to step into the management of the water crisis even more hands on and more frequently."
This means just three months ago the City was still not on top of the pending crisis.
De Lille’s version of how the drought crisis has been handled by her colleagues is contained in a submission, dated January 5 this year, addressed to the Democratic Alliance’s (DA's) federal executive chairperson James Selfe.
It is headed: “Reasons why Patricia de Lille should not resign from her position as executive mayor of the City of Cape Town and reasons why the Democratic Alliance ought not to move a motion of no confidence against her".
De Lille has been at the centre of several allegations and claims about her conduct. Many of the claims have been leveled at her by colleagues.
The City council may debate a motion of no confidence against her this week.
In December the DA's federal executive suspended De Lille from all party activities pending investigations into her actions.
De Lille has approached the Western Cape High Court over the matter.
A draft court order, dated last Wednesday and which News24 has seen, says that De Lille may still attend caucus meetings.
But the caucus may exclude her if the meetings go into allegations against her which are contained in two reports. If she is excluded, the caucus chairperson should inform De Lille of decisions taken during her absence.
'Wholly inaccurate weather predictions'
De Lille’s submission to Selfe about why she should not resign said that before the winter of 2016 and 2017, the South African Weather Service predicted a higher chance of wetter conditions compared to 2015’s dry season.
"The prediction of rainfall and climate change does not fall within the mandate or expertise of municipalities, but we are now all too well aware that these predictions were wholly inaccurate," she said.
In 2016 the City had implemented water restrictions. This was before it was required by national government to do so.
Disaster area declaration denied
De Lille said that by February 2017 "the situation was so concerning", that she applied to national government to declare the City a local disaster area.
This, she said, was rejected on the grounds that this action would have been too early and the situation was not yet at crisis level.
"Had the disaster declaration been approved, we would have been provided with the legal mechanism to enable the City to move budget from one purpose to another, as well as had access to emergency funding," De Lille said.
In January 2017 dam levels stood at 40.4% and daily water consumption stood at 880 million litres. A second attempt at getting national government to declare the City a local disaster area was again denied.
Officials didn’t believe it’s a crisis
"At this time national government and many of our own officials did not believe we were at crisis stage and remained of the view that water restrictions, and later reducing the water pressure, remained the best intervention that would see Cape Town through until the winter of 2017 when rains were expected," De Lille said.
"Furthermore, many City officials did not see that climate change was introducing more uncertainty into our water supply and planning models."
Extremely concerned, De Lille called on officials to provide plans on how to address the water shortage, saying more action was needed.
De Lille said in May 2017, when dam levels were at 22%, she appointed Craig Kesson, the executive director in her office, as the chief resilience officer tasked with creating a team of experts and project managers to work with the City’s water and sanitation department to develop a new drought crisis plan.
She asked that the plan be developed in a week.
At that stage, De Lille said, officials were relying only on rain water and she had emphasised they needed to look at other sources of water.
The City’s new water augmentation plan was announced publicly in May last year.
Chance of CT drought ‘less than once in 1 000 years’
De Lille said that in late August, rainfall analysis by senior climatologists at the University of Cape Town "showed that the chance of this severe multi-year drought (in) Cape Town is less than once in a thousand years".
The water team, she said, indicated that the first water from additional resources would be online in August 2017.
"This did not materialise and the team attributed this to the fact that a project of this unprecedented scale and complexity had never been done before," De Lille said.
Another date of October was then provided for extra water resources to come online.
Seemingly 'stalled' plan
"At the end of October, it seemed that the Water Resilience Plan had not been moving and the responses to my questions on updates from the water task team became increasingly worrying," De Lille said.
She had then started daily water meetings.
De Lille said Kesson had gone on study leave for most of October and early November, but when he did return, he did not attend all the daily water meetings.
"Despite this, I have continued to lead the senior management team to ensure that we address obstacles and remain focused on our work and timelines which I am checking on a daily basis," she said.
De Lille detailed several interventions she had undertaken to deal with the water crisis.
These included getting expert guidance on groundwater, meeting water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane and asking National Treasury for help.
"A key positive example of my leadership in this water crisis is the R2.6-billion from the existing 2017/18 budget which the City made available for new water projects," De Lille said.
"This was made available through savings and reprioritisation of existing budgets without impacting on service delivery and the Integrated Development Plan."
She said she had also brought in external independent groundwater expertise to ensure this water augmentation process, which was cheaper and faster than desalination, was prioritised.
"These major achievements under my leadership have mitigated some of the disastrous consequences that the initially high proposed rates increases would have had for both the City administration and the people of Cape Town," De Lille said.