Some water and sanitation officials wear R20k shoes, while SAns don't have water - parliamentary committee hears

Previous Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. (Lindile Mbontsi)
Previous Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. (Lindile Mbontsi)

Some officials in the bankrupt Department of Water and Sanitation wore shoes that cost R20 000, while some South Africans did not even have water, MP Patrick Chauke said yesterday.

"Officials which live very luxurious lifestyles come here wearing R20 000 shoes, while our people on the ground don't have water," Chauke said.

He was speaking during a meeting of the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation on Wednesday, where MPs were briefed by the Auditor General's (AG) office and the National Treasury about the department's mismanagement of funds over several years.

Last year the department had spent its R16bn budget, but had met only 28% of its targets. It had clocked up around R6.7bn in irregular and wasteful spending.

Stephen Kheleli, a senior manager in the Auditor-General's office, said the department had had some financial problems for the last eight years.

"This sky-rocketed around 2014/15 and went significantly higher in 2015/16 and 2016/17," Kheleli said.

Nomvula Mokonyane was Minister of Water and Sanitation from 2014 to January 2018, appointed by former president Jacob Zuma. She is now Minister of Communications.

READ: Mokonyane lambasted for 'collapsing' water dept: Scopa decries reshuffling and calls for charges

Of the R6.7bn irregular and wasteful spending, R2.4bn had not been disclosed by the department.

Portfolio committee chair Lulu Johnson said the fact that the problems had started in 2014, "said a lot about the leadership of this department which came in at that point".

He said the committee had been told about the financial mismanagement earlier, but he believed they had been too "soft" in dealing with it.

He added that, over the last two years, officials from the Auditor-General's office and the National Treasury had come before them and spoken about the department's financial mismanagement.

"Frankly speaking, we were quite soft, thinking things will come right," Johnson said.

The officials had also told them about possible political interference, but the previous minister had contested this, he said.

"We need to understand what really went wrong. If there was political interference, we must be told," Johnson said.

Chauke said the committee had met the Special Investigating Unit twice and had established that no action had been taken on any of the departmental cases that the unit had referred to the National Prosecuting Authority.

"We know a number of officials were suspended, but never charged with serious offences, and it's business as usual.

"The National Treasury has a constitutional responsibility, they will have to take action if there is misappropriation of funds," Chauke said.

Section 216 of the Constitution allowed the Treasury to stop funds if there were breaches of financial compliance.

MPs grilled the officials from the AGs office and the National Treasury, asking what measures they had taken to deal with the mismanagement of funds over the years, when they had been aware of the problems.

ANC MP Derick Mnguni said he believed the "buck stopped with Treasury".

"Treasury must explain whether their hands are cut off or why this ship is just left to sink… Are you really in control of the fiscus of the country? We might be talking to the wrong people…. You are not helping us," Mnguni said.

Johnson said a problem the committee now faced was that they had to pass this year's R15.6bn for water and sanitation, yet some of the very same people who were responsible for the financial mismanagement were still in office and would therefore handle the new budget.

Johnson said new minister Gugile Nkwinti had admitted the department he had inherited was "a mess".

READ: Water dept is in 'shambles', admits Nkwinti after taking over from Mokonyane

"Clearly we have officials which brought us to where we are. Whether we will continue with the same officials, is the fundamental issue we are dealing with. We want to protect that money, protect the public purse. It can't be business as usual for officials," Johnson said.

He said he had learned that there was no restraint on trade policy with government officials. An official who left a government department could be back the next week as a consultant.

"There is no cooling off period. That person, he smiles going to the bank. It is a wrong practice. It must stop," Johnson said.

The committee will call Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, his director general, the department and the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority to come before it next week.

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