The Department of Water and Sanitation's internal audit committee had given its former minister, Nomvula Mokonyane, detailed quarterly reports about serious financial mismanagement in her department – but she ignored them all.
The ailing department has clocked up more than R6bn in irregular expenditure and has delivered very little infrastructure development, Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) heard on Thursday.
Japie du Plessis, chairperson of the department's internal audit committee, handed a bulging file to Scopa chairperson Themba Godi, containing reports with details of the department's irregular and wasteful expenditure from September 2016.
It also gave details of the lack of financial controls within the department.
Godi said the file contained very important information about serious financial problems in the department, and letters about this to the former minister.
"But what I don't have in the file is her response".
'Life is about choice'
Du Plessis replied that Mokonyane had never responded to the reports, nor had she had any meetings with internal audit committee since National Treasury had appointed it in 2016.
Godi said the file contained "very clear and precise" reports about financial mismanagement, so the political leadership could not say it had not known about the problems.
"Life is about choice, so the choice was to ignore this," Godi said.
Water Boards, which act as implementing agents for the department, had been a big part of the financial problems and had committed irregular expenditure. Yet when Water Board representatives had come before the committee earlier, they had tried to "normalise wrong-doing, sitting here with straight faces very eloquently explaining away all that went wrong," Godi said.
But this level of financial wrongdoing could not simply be explained away. It should have been tackled "on a high level, both on an administrative and political level, because this is public money."
"If the political leadership does not respond to issues raised, they become meaningless," Godi said.
One of the problems with water boards was their refusal to provide information to the internal audit committee and the Auditor-General.
Du Plessis told Scopa: "In the November meeting with the water boards, when the AG asked for documentation, they didn't want to give the documents. They said they must go to ask their boards… Some water boards just don't want to co-operate."
MPs raised what appeared to be loopholes in the legislation which water boards exploited, enabling the boards to "do as they pleased". The legislation needed to be examined and changed if necessary.
Acting director general Deborah Mochotlhi outlined several plans they had put in place to tackle some of the financial problems.
But Mochotlhi said it was difficult for senior management to implement the plans as they had to fly to Cape Town frequently to appear before Parliament.
Many of their management meetings had been "usurped" by having to plan for the parliamentary meetings, some of which lasted from Tuesday to Thursday.
'This is resolved'
Deputy Minister Pamela Tshwete agreed and said this meant they were not being given a chance to do their work.
Godi said: "The departments that are always in Cape Town are those that are not doing well."
Speaking to News24 afterwards, Godi said Thursday's meeting was "a pause" in Scopa's probe into the water department.
"There are a number of serious issues that we wanted to hear them say: 'This is resolved', but instead they said: 'We are working on these things.'"
Godi said there was broad concern among the public about the mismanagement in the department and officials had to take it seriously. There were still many people who had no access to water, and South Africa was a water-scarce country.
"To deal with this we need a top-rate department. Instead we have a disjointed department, and we're heading for trouble."
The financial problems had been exacerbated by the absence of political and administrative leadership.
"If the previous minister Mokonyane had applied her mind to the audit committee – which succinctly painted a picture of the lack of financial controls – we would not be where we are at the moment," Godi said.