A recent recording reveals a top official hatching a plan with his two subordinates to siphon part of the R200m pledged to water-starved residents
At the height of the protests that took place earlier this year in Maluti-a-Phofung municipality, in the Free State, over poor service delivery and persistent water shortages in QwaQwa, Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu pledged R200 million in emergency relief.
However, it has since emerged that some officials in her ministerial advisory team were itching to get their hands on the funds.
Although there is no evidence to suggest that any crime has been committed, a recording suggests that a senior “adviser” in Sisulu’s team was actively involved in highly questionable discussions regarding an emergency tender meant to address the water crisis in QwaQwa.
“We can all share the slice because it is a lot.”
This is what Thami ka Plaatjie, chairperson of the ministerial water services advisory group, known as the national rapid-response task team [NRRTT], is heard saying in an audio recording that City Press has verified.
Plaatjie is heard telling his two subordinates, Mogomotsi Mogodiri and Lekgotla Dichoetlise, that “someone” has approached him, and that said person has 70 water tankers that can be contracted as part of Sisulu’s emergency intervention.
He corrects himself, saying it is actually 700 trucks, and then says: “I had wanted that we sit down and check how many we can bring and consolidate, so that we can all share the slice, because it is a lot.”
Dichoetlise and Mogodiri ask about the number of trucks Plaatjie expects to bring to the table, starting with 10.
Eventually, they agree on 15.
Both subordinates say that they can bring in 16 trucks from their contacts, but Plaatjie will have to negotiate on their behalf with Mpinane Shasha, the acting chief executive of the water department’s implementing agent in the Free State, Sedibeng Water.
This brings the number of trucks the three can supply to 31.
About 40 trucks would have been required for the emergency water plan and, according to the discussion, Sedibeng Water could then come in with its 10 trucks – taking the number envisioned in the scheme to 41.
The discussion then turns to reserving other contracts for the supply of JoJo Tanks to local people “so they do not fight us”. Yes, says Plaatjie, “let’s not be greedy”.
Plaatjie, who has taken leave from work, declined to respond to questions sent to him this week, but City Press understands that the plan eventually came to naught. It is understood that there were differences between him and his subordinates, whom he no longer trusted.
It was also common for Plaatjie and many other government officials to refer their contacts to influential people, like Shasha, who could give them business – but Plaatjie never got involved after that or even benefited, City Press heard from a source sympathetic to Plaatjie.
Mogodiri and Dichoetlise confirmed the discussion but declined to comment further, including on the termination of their services in the NRRTT on Friday.
In the termination letters sent to the two, copies of which City Press has seen, acting director Mbulelo Tshangana said: “This decision comes as a result of an irreparable breakdown of the trust relationship between you and the department.”
City Press reported earlier this month that Dichoetlise was suspended on two allegations: that he had proposed service providers to a water board executive – namely, Shasha; and that he had allegedly recorded telephone conversations with Sisulu.
Those close to Dichoetlise say the allegations that he had proposed service providers to Shasha are incorrect. They allege that it was Shasha who had made an offer to take companies from Dichoetlise.
A voice on another audio recording, said to be that of Shasha, could be heard assuring Dichoetlise that the arrangement they had was not “fraud”, as he had asked.
This week, Shasha confirmed that she met with Dichoetlise in February to discuss riots in QwaQwa – during which roads were barricaded by residents – and what could be done, as organisers of the shutdown protest were threatening to demonstrate again because Sedibeng Water was not delivering on the minister’s promises.
Shasha said she did not remember talking about fraud, and denied any wrongdoing.
Sedibeng board members fired - again
This week, Sisulu again fired members of the Sedibeng board.
This is the second time she has done so, after previously withdrawing a decision to fire them last month, saying the initial decision had been miscommunicated.
At least seven of the nine remaining Sedibeng board members, whose term of office was due to end in 2023, received letters terminating their services on Thursday night, just before 8pm – at about the same time candidates for the new interim board received invitations for their inauguration via a virtual conference, held on Friday at 2pm.
The axed board members have enlisted the services of Waks Silent Attorneys, based in Klerksdorp in the North West.
On Thursday night, their lawyers wrote a letter to Sisulu, warning her that their clients would be taking the decision to court for a review, according to a copy of the letter, seen by City Press.
In the copies of the termination letters signed by Sisulu, all seven board members are thanked for their services “as chairperson of the Sedibeng Water board”, which critics say was evidence that Sisulu rushed the decision.
In April, Sisulu wanted to remove the board members, saying their appointment by former minister Gugile Nkwinti last year “was not rectified [sic] by the fifth Cabinet, hence I have decided to start the process of appointing a new board for Sedibeng Water afresh”.
At a meeting with Tshangana on April 29, according to those in attendance, the board heard that, although the decision would not have had legal implications on the work that had already been concluded by the board, the termination letters were withdrawn.
City Press has learnt that the board of Lepelle Northern Water in Limpopo is also challenging its dissolution.
A media briefing has been scheduled for tomorrow in this regard.
What do you make of the notion that many government officials refer their contacts to influential people?
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