Whistleblowing the Hartbeespoort Dam project

27 May 2011

Sunset over Hartbeespoort Dam (Photo: Bill Harding)

Last year, Garry Mackay, former Chairperson of the Hartbeespoort Dam Water Action Group (HWAG), sent a detailed letter (link here) to the Minister of Water Affairs, drawing attention to a slew of problems with the management and running of the Hartbeespoort Dam Remediation Project.  Garry has spent a good portion of his life acting for and on behalf of Harties and has a long-standing interest in seeing the water quality problems alleviated.  For him to blow the whistle on the project indicated that something was seriously wrong.

Garry’s letter came at a time when lots of people were expressing concern about what was happening at the dam and the somewhat eccentric approaches being applied. Moreover, that very large sums of money were being expended on not much else than creating a ‘management infrastructure’ – this by someone with no relevant experience whatsoever and which took two years to develop!  Rumours abounded that people on the actual project team were unhappy, but were loathe to speak out in fear of being fired!  It also transpires that project team members were gagged to prevent them from speaking out. His letter concluded with “It is critical that an assessment of the expenditure of this project be done and the associated deliverables be evaluated in line with this expenditure. The funding made available to this project could have been far more effectively spent if experienced management had controlled the program“.

Garry’s letter was referred by the Ministers office to Rand Water, the latter acting as the implementing agent for the DWA.  They, in turn, referred it to the person Garry was complaining about, for a response!  So, he obviously got a letter back (link here) that maintained his complaints were without foundation.  Surprise surprise!

Having been blocked in an open appeal to the Minister, Garry then published an ad entitled ‘The Unfortunate Truth‘, in which he appealed to the Hartbeespoort Dam community to help me revive the by-then defunct HWAG and get matters back on track. This drew some criticism and a personal attack on Garry, to which he responded in another, detailed letter (link here).

Also arising during 2010 was a parliamentary call for an audit into the expenditure on the Harties project, this in order to determine what had been bought or achieved, the relevance of the skills that had been paid for and how the expenditure related to the aims and objectives of the remediation process.  As reported yesterday, the Minister has now confirmed that an audit will take place.  The project has reportedly expended in excess of R40 million, with nothing to show for it – and now wants R50 million more!

Where there is smoke, there’s usually fire.  Read the letters and decide for yourself whether or not the machinations of this project should be examined.

2 Responses to Whistleblowing the Hartbeespoort Dam project

  1. Karen Graaff says:

    Please advise if there is any person out there available for a presentation. Every person around Harties have been trying to get a hand in there for the pure reason of the amount of money thrown around – which has done everything but clean the water. where is the days when people remembered actually swimming in that dam?

    please respond. I have spoken to Sameer at Rand Water and their hand over date is September. we would love to hear from you.

    • Bill Harding says:

      What you note in your message appears to have been common knowledge to many for a very long time. Despite this, very few people spoke out and a substantial amount of money was wasted (but of course South African’s seem to have become immune to this – and some who should have spoken out possibly did not in fear of upsetting their paymasters. Others were effectively ignored or silenced.

      I am not sure what you mean by a presentation. As you may be aware, the DWA has terminated the project in its current form and has announced that it will create a specialist division for managing dams – something that is decades overdue but one can only wonder where they will find the expertise and experience to staff and/or provide skills transfer and training. There are no ‘quick-fix’ solutions for Hartbeespoort Dam – in fact the sheer scale of the problem may be such that it is simply not resolvable beyond a relatively crude threshold. It is not the only dam in this country with impaired water quality, there are many others.

      The inability of the Metsiame Project to provide any tangible improvements has simply served to further retard progress in the field of practical and pragmatic management of reservoirs that are urban- or effluent-impacted.

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