Water and Sanitation dept's financial management in disarray, portfolio committee hears

(iStock)
(iStock)

The Department of Water and Sanitation's financial management systems are in disarray with cases of double invoicing, inflated payments to consultants, abuse of procurement processes and irregular expenditure for the department and water boards of R4.5bn in the last financial year.

This emerged during a briefing on Tuesday by the Auditor-General (AG) and the national Treasury to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

The special investigating unit (SIU) also briefed the committee, but this was done in camera in order not to jeopardise any possible criminal cases in the future.

One of the primary reasons for the department's financial mess was the high turnover rate of directors-general, with four different people holding this position in the last four years.

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu told MPs that "years of instability of leadership" had contributed to poor financial management internal controls.

"And when they moved on, there was sometimes a loss of documentation to provide evidence for transactions," Makwetu said.

There had been a high turnover with accounting officers, whose average tenure varied from six months to a year.

Three deputy directors-general, who had been suspended, had returned to work without any evidence that there they had been the subject of any investigations.

Double invoicing

Andries Sekgetho of the AG's office said it appeared there had been unlawful ministerial instructions to officials in the department, but nothing on paper.

As an example, an official had said there had been a directive from the minister to get new furniture, which incurred expenses.

"The official said it was a ministerial instruction. The minister said: 'I said I wanted it done, I did not mean the official must break the law.' So it became a 'he said/she said' thing. We don't know what happened behind closed doors," Sekgetho said.

He said some of the project management fees water and sanitation has paid were inflated and people were being overpaid.

As a benchmark, the AG's office said an engineer with a PhD charged R1 500 an hour.

"But one company claimed R3 500 an hour," he said.

Solly Tshatangano from Treasury, said the provisions in the procurement rules to deal with spending in emergencies had been abused.

For example, when a water pipe that supplied a hospital had burst, the department used the emergency rules not to go through the required procurement processes, but then went further and paid for other goods and services related to that project that were in no way emergencies.

"They abused the system, riding on an emergency to do what was wrong."

There had also been incidences of double invoicing, where a contractor invoiced the department for 160 hours as the project manager, but also invoiced it for 160 hours as an engineer.

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