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Thursday, 28 March 2024 15:56

Cabinet approves publication of Gas Master Plan in its last official meeting ahead of polls.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Cabinet approved the publication of the long-awaited Gas Master Plan for public comment during what was the last formal meeting of the executive ahead of the May 29 election.

However, Minister in The Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni indicated that special Cabinet meetings could still be convened should the need arise.

The master plan, Ntshavheni said, was supportive of government's commitment to diversifying the country's energy mix away from coal-fired power plants.

She added that the document would be used as a policy instrument to guide gas investment in the country, which currently imports gas through a pipeline from southern Mozambique, from fields where production is set to taper before the end of the decade.

"The master plan will enable a natural gas economy that is favourable to investors and can provide an alternative source of energy for the country's electricity sector."

The Gas Master Plan has been published amid warnings of a "gas cliff" for industrial consumers in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal from mid-2026, at which date Sasol will divert the remaining gas imports from its wells in Mozambique towards its own facilities in Secunda and Sasolburg to help reduce its use of coal and, thus, its carbon emissions.

Several industrial consumers have accepted the need to switch to far more expensive imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), but are warning of a timing mismatch between Sasol's deadline and the prospect of constructing the import and regasification infrastructure required for LNG.

They have also indicated that their combined 50 PJ/y demand is insufficient on its own to trigger the construction of a terminal in Maputo and the associated pipeline infrastructure that will be required. They are therefore calling for firm commitments to be made from South Africa's nascent gas-to-power (GtP) industry to provide the demand underpin required.

However, critics are cautioning against South Africa making commitments to operate the GtP plants at high capacity factors, arguing that such a move could result in elevated electricity prices for decades.

Water Task Team

Ntshavheni says government has established a task team to assist municipalities struggling with erratic water supply.

"Cabinet established a water task team to be chaired by the deputy president Paul Mashatile, that will give dedicated focus on the resolution of the water challenges facing the country. This task team will be constituted by the Department of Water and Sanitation, Cogta, Agriculture, land reform and rural development, public works infrastructure and the police."

Earlier this month, deputy minister of water and sanitation, David Mahlobo, confirmed that  government has deployed water boards to assist the various municipalities.

In Gauteng, the department will deploy Rand Water, while the Umngeni-Uthukela water board will be deployed to assist struggling municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal.

Various issues in several municipalities in the two provinces have led to communities experiencing water shortages in recent weeks.

Ntshavheni says rapid population growth was amongst some of the challenges in both provinces.

"Water losses in the municipal water distribution systems, delays in Lesotho Highlands and Umkhomazi Water Projects, and specifically for Gauteng the breakdown in the supply of electricity to Rand Water.

The Cabinet is pleased that the Lesotho Highlands and Umkhomazi Water projects have since been unblocked with Lesotho Highlands at 15% implementation.

The cities will need to continue to implement their own range of projects including addressing water losses, that when fully implemented together with Lesotho Highlands and Umkomazi water projects will enable the capacity to meet the demand," says Ntshavheni.

Regulations for Intelligence Coordination

Cabinet approved the Regulations for Intelligence Coordination which is a groundbreaking achievement since the enactment of the national strategic intelligence act in 1994, and the subsequent establishment of the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC), as there has never been Regulations for intelligence coordination.

Ntshavheni said, "The regulations will strengthen the Office of the Coordinator and streamline the work of the national intelligence structures. They will also make a clear distinction between the Committee and the support staff on the Office of the Coordinator."

SAA| Takatso Deal

Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says Cabinet will not get involved in the current disagreement between Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Parliament concerning the terminated South African Airways (SAA) and Takatso deal.

Gordhan has become embroiled in a contentious dispute with the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises after MPs decided to request the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe the SAA deal, which has since been called off.

The minister pointed out that Parliament had its own processes.

She emphasised that Gordhan was within his rights to take action based on what he deems necessary.

"Im sure you are fully aware that the processes of Parliament are not part of the deliberations of Cabinet. The separation of powers doctrine still applies so we will not comment on the processes of Parliament.

"The minister is entitled to act in accordance to what he feels has to be done, but Parliament will process its work and when Parliament has resolved, in respecting the separation of powers doctrine, will then take a decision in Cabinet that is appropriate, "Ntshavheni told reporters.

Gordhan hit back at the parliamentary committee, claiming that MPs had gone beyond the mandate to look into former Public Enterprises director-general Kgathatso Tlhakudi's allegations about the sale of SAA to the Takatso Consortium.

The minister stated in a letter that the Department of Public Enterprises would take legal action by taking the committee's recommendation to the SIU on review in court.

The Department last week critised the committee, saying the call for an investigation was misleading the South African public by insinuating impropriety regarding the SAA deal.

Cabinet Ministers

The minister said cabinet ministers have made many sacrifices and should be given salary increase like all other working South Africans

She said that public officials had responsibilities just like other South Africans, and should not be treated differently.

On average a South African cabinet minister earns about R2.58 million while the deputy president of the country and the president are estimated to be earning just above R3m.

"Are ministers not people, are they not entitled to get salary increases? Yes its service to the country, [but] we also have families," she said.

She said government ministers should be remunerated in line with inflation levels.

"Are we saying that a call to national service and duty is a sacrifice for all your family in addition to all the sacrifices that you have made?" Ntshavheni asked.

Last year President Cyril Ramaphosa made a determination to increase salaries of all public office bearers by 3%, with effect from 1 April 2022 (back dated).

This determination followed recommendations made by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers on the annual salary for all public office bearers, submitted to the president on 17 April 2023.