Fundamental problems in providing bulk infrastructure, such as water, sanitation, and electricity, are slowing down government's housing delivery programmes, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale said on Wednesday.
"There is real cause for concern," he told the National Assembly's human settlements committee.
Sexwale cited a Treasury report - issued by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on November 18 - which raised "disquiet" at under-spending by provinces on capital spending.
Gordhan said, in aggregate, provinces had spent 33% of their combined capital budgets - a decline of 23,5% compared to the same period in 2009/10.
Sexwale said that within this context, human settlements in particular was experiencing varying degrees of under-spending in provinces.
Two provinces in particular - Limpopo and Northern Cape - were "ahead of the curve" midway through the financial year.
"But there is cause for concern in respect of others and room for improvement," he said.
According to Gordhan's report, three provinces - Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and Western Cape - had spent less than 35% of their human settlements grant midway through the financial year.
The Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North-West had spent less than 45% of their allocation.
Sexwale said the main risk to meeting delivery targets "is the challenge of providing bulk infrastructure to human settlements projects".
"There can be no viable, let alone sustainable, human settlements without the urgent rollout of large-scale electrification projects, the construction of new water treatment, and sewage processing plants, including pipelines to bring fresh and clean water to the people.
"We cannot continue to dot the landscape with top structures without providing bulk services below the ground," he said.
In addition, there was the added need to provide roads, storm-water drainage and streetlights.
The provision of these infrastructural projects after top structures had already been built brought about massive additional costs.
"The cart cannot be put before the horse."
Human settlements developments south of Johannesburg had almost come to a standstill due essentially to the lack of a sewage plant - the estimated cost of which would be beyond R3-billion," he said.
KwaZulu-Natal's largest new major project, Kornubia, where 50 000 houses were planned, was hamstrung by the lack of bulk infrastructure.
In the Eastern Cape, the 5 000-unit Thornhill project in Port Alfred was at risk.
Some 500 units had been completed and were due to be handed over in two weeks' time.
A lack of bulk services - in this case, major waterworks, such as a desalination plant to treat sea water, a plant to clean river water, or construction of a new dam -- was delaying the rollout of the remaining 4 500 homes.
"What is even more onerous is that the mandates for the rollout of these critical large-scale bulk infrastructure projects do not lie with the human settlements ministry."
Thus the need for a more integrated, planned and coordinated approach across relevant national departments.
However, Sexwale reassured the committee that his ministry was "on top of the situation".
"We are working very hard to ensure that by the end of the financial year, and also by the end of this term, no rollovers should be experienced because of capacity problems.
"Nonetheless, we do envisage that in the interests of overall delivery in the sector, there may be a need for the transfer of funds from some provinces to better-performing ones," he said.