An oversight visit by a North West provincial legislature committee revealed little to show for the funds accounted for in a dubious R93 million Covid-19 coronavirus-related expenditure report by the Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality.
Members of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) said they found what looked like an abandoned site when they arrived at a dysfunctional wastewater treatment plant in Ottosdal, in the Tswaing Local Municipality, where Ngaka Modiri had supposedly spent R8.5 million on the refurbishment of the plant, according to a report presented to the committee earlier last month.
Two companies possibly paid for the same job
Committee member Aaron Motswana said they were shocked by the discovery in July.
“Our understanding, according to what was presented to the committee, was that R8.5 million was spent on bringing the wastewater treatment plant back to life, but when we arrived there we were told that it had last fully functioned some years ago. It looked bad and we found sewage spilling from the plant into a nearby stream flowing towards [Letsopa] township,” Motswana said.
“It was reflected in the visitors’ book that the last time someone from the municipality was at the plant was on July 5, and we were told that they were there to drop off some Covid-19 awareness posters ... Now a second company will be paid to do the work that the first one was paid R8.5 million to do.”
Motswana said he went to the plant again earlier this week and found a different company on site.
“They said they received their appointment letter on July 13 ... This is a different company to the one we know to have been awarded the contract for the same job initially … What do we call that?”
Little to show for the multimillion-rand expenditure
It was stated in the report that R25.8 million was spent on repairs to four pumping stations and another wastewater treatment plant in Lichtenburg, in Ditsobotla Local Municipality.
Three companies were paid about R38 million in total for the procurement of materials for water and sanitation maintenance, including engines, pipes, tool boxes, storage tanks, motors and pumps.
Among other expenditure in the report was a combined R9.5 million spent on the drilling of three boreholes, the construction of a pipeline to connect to existing storage, equipment for two existing boreholes and a 4km bulk line connecting to a storage tank in Tswaing.
Contracts were dished out, deviating from regular supply chain processes, after National Treasury allowed the district municipality to deal effectively and speedily with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The municipality said it had spent millions in its bid to flatten the Covid-19 curve by ensuring that there was uninterrupted water supply and functional sanitation, as well as personal protective equipment for employees. But committee members saw a different picture to that painted in the expenditure report.
“We also went to Ditsobotla, where we found no boreholes upgraded in Lichtenburg. It was only at one borehole where we could see some new wires connected. In Tswaing municipality there were no new boreholes in Atamelang, where R5 million was supposedly spent on the drilling and equipping of three boreholes and a bull line connecting to the storage tank,” Motswana said.
“We were told by community members and a local councillor in Ratlou Local Municipality that people from the district municipality came and asked where the boreholes were, went there, took pictures and left. This is in areas where R5 million was spent on the drilling of two new boreholes and construction of a storage tank, but the picture is different on the ground.”
Specific questions were asked about several projects, but the district municipality chose to respond selectively.
In his response, Ngaka Modiri Molema District Mayor Justice Makolomakwa said they were expecting Scopa to give feedback to the municipality after its oversight visit, adding that it was a “surprise that we got the feedback through [City Press] communiqué, which flies against protocol as espoused by government”.
However, Scopa chairperson Job Dliso said his committee was under no obligation to give feedback.
Makolomakwa said the Ottosdal wastewater treatment plant was one of the “six projects approved for municipal infrastructure grant reprioritiation as an intervention that seeks to mitigate Covid-19 infections, but had to prescribe to the process”.
“I officially record that as at today [July 7], the municipality has not spent a dime on the six approved reprioritised infrastructure grant projects. It is therefore incorrect to suggest that expenditure was incurred in respect of the Ottosdal project,” he said.
Dliso said his committee only asked the municipality for Covid-19-related expenditure.
“You can’t appear before Scopa under oath and later retract the information you presented there. It does not work like that,” Dliso said.
“They also chose to not be part of our oversight visit and only sent a junior official in Lichtenburg when the visit was almost over.”
Asked what the next step was, he said: “The matter is now with law enforcement agencies and if there is anything to clear up then investigators will deal with that. We don’t need another meeting with the municipality and we are still going with everything that was presented to us as expenditure in our meeting.”