Nomvula axes DG after just six months

2017-07-16 06:05
Nomvula Mokonyane

Nomvula Mokonyane

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Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has suspended her director-general, Gorbachev Mashitisho, after barely six months on the job.

Mokonyane, who appointed Mashitisho in December, axed him this week, accusing him of a litany of charges.

Mokonyane accuses Mashitisho of:

Failing to appear before the water and sanitation portfolio committee in Parliament on June 7;

Casting the minister’s integrity in poor light following his interaction with the water and sanitation portfolio committee and the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) committees in Parliament;

Failing to finalise the terms of reference regarding investigations into various tenders in the department; and

Failing to prepare for a meeting, last month, during which the department met Treasury to discuss its finances.

Mashitisho replaced Margaret-Anne Diedericks, who resigned in July last year following a fall-out with Mokonyane. His axing is the latest in a string of suspensions and resignations in the department’s executive.

Before his own suspension, about three months ago, Mashitisho had suspended infrastructure deputy director-general Zandile Mathe and the Water Trading Entity’s chief financial officer, Mpho Mofokeng, without giving reasons.

The Water Trading Entity is tasked with managing water sales and rights.

In the last three months, communications deputy director-general Matlakala Motloung and Mokonyane’s chief of staff, Colin Pitso, have also resigned.

Two senior executives in the department told City Press Mokonyane’s reasons for axing Mashitisho were a ruse.

The real reason, they said, was Mashitisho’s refusal to sign a letter authorising Werksmans Attorneys to start work at the department.

Cost implications

Mokonyane wants the law firm to be handpicked, without following the proper procurement process, to probe a number of contracts in the department.

She had announced the probe last year following a series of reports in City Press exposing tender irregularities.

These include an emergency water project in Giyani that was expanded from about R500m to about R5bn; phase two of the R26bn Lesotho Highlands Water Project; and a R950m SAP software expense that was supposed to cost about R400m.

Documents obtained by City Press reveal Mokonyane had wanted to deviate from an open public tender and directly appoint Werksmans.

The department’s legal unit cautioned against the direct appointment of the firm.

A legal opinion, in November last year, addressed to the department’s former acting director-general Sifiso Mkhize reads:

“It would seem that Werksmans Attorneys have already been contacted and have submitted a contract together with their terms of reference, which sets out what they are going to do and the amounts payable.

“The draft contract is biased towards Werksmans Attorneys in a number of material respects. We therefore advise against procuring their services through a deviation process, as it will be unlawful.”

A week ago, Mashitisho wrote to Mokonyane, explaining his failure to sign Werksmans Attorneys’ letter of engagement was not meant to defy her and undermine her authority.

In the letter Mashitisho explains: “Subsequent to their appointment, Werksmans provided me with a letter of engagement that clearly introduced a scope of work not envisaged in the initial terms of reference.

“Werksmans further engaged other service providers in the form of forensic and IT specialists without my consent.

"Therefore, it is apparent that the scope of work as per the letter of engagement has serious implications for the department.

“I have raised the question of cost implications with Werksmans and to date they have not been able to provide me with actual or estimate costs for the project.”

Mashitisho said the work envisaged by Werksmans would easily reach R50m.

The Public Protector and the Special Investigation Unit are already investigating Werksmans’ appointment, he said.

One of the executives said the pressure was because Werksmans had already done a lot of work and was ready to submit an invoice.

“That is why this thing has to be signed now.”

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