Water department taken to task over R1.7bn irregular expenditure

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Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane (Daily Sun)
Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane (Daily Sun)

Cape Town - MPs on Tuesday called for a forensic investigation into the department of water and sanitation’s 300% rise in irregular expenditure in 2015/16.

The standing committee on public accounts met on Tuesday to discuss the department's R1.7bn irregular expenditure bill over the past financial year, 76% of which was due to one emergency project.

The project in question involved the Lepelle Northern Water Board, an external "implementing agent" the department contracted to deal with an "emergency" roll out of water infrastructure in the struggling Mopane district in Limpopo.

Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said Mopane had no water, and the department had to intervene.

"For a period of more than six months, there was instability in the area. The emergency nature of this problem was not about replacing a tap.

"It had to do with relaying of pipes and fixing non-functioning water treatment plants that had been there for years."

Mokonyane said the department inherited the problem from the previous regime before the 2014 general elections. Planning and scoping were done "badly" and "horribly".

Acting director general Sifiso Mkhize said the irregular expenditure was due to processes not being followed.

Mkhize said the Lepelle board hired a consultancy firm called LTE Consulting. Due processes were not followed there either.

The department is currently doing an internal audit of 264 staff members, dating back to 2009, for alleged corruption and fraud, he said. The audit results would be made available to the department by the end of the year.

'Those people must go to jail'

Committee chairperson Nelson Godi and MPs from the ruling and opposition parties were not having it.

"When we see huge amounts of expenditure running into millions and billions, then from our side we have every right to be concerned, and require action to allay our fears," Godi told the department.

"If you've paid implementing agents R20m, R50m, and there are no invoices as proof, then we are talking fraud. Someone has defrauded the department.

"The person who signed off that payment and the person who received it, those are the people who must go to jail."

ANC MP Thapelo Chiloane said the department needed to explain how irregular expenditure went from R431m in the previous year, to R1.7bn.

DA MP Timothy Brauteseth said the department pointed to 52 investigations into staff members in its annual report, and questioned if it had the resources or objectivity to audit itself.

ANC MP Nthabiseng Khunou said the department's audit into itself was like "running around in circles". Her colleague Ntombovuyo Mente-Nqweniso questioned why LTE's name was always present in their report-back on irregular expenditure.

DA MP David Ross said a full forensic investigation was needed. ANC MP Mnyamezeli Booi said the anti-corruption task team should be called in.

'Mopane emergency protocols not followed'

Auditor General corporate executive Alice Muller told the committee that the "emergency" in Mopane was not adequately addressed in the department's letter of request.

Processes weren't followed when applying for the emergency funds allowed in both the Public Financial Management Act and Treasury's regulations.

Treasury official Solly Tshitangano said the contract with Lepelle and LTE was not allocated through a competitive bidding process.

Mkhize, who was left alone after the minister left in the first hour, faced the brunt of the criticism, despite only having joined the department in November 2015.

Godi had the last word, and wished Mkhize luck in his mammoth task in bringing fraudsters to book.

"When we have clear-cut cases, we won't wait for the department," he told Mkhize.

"I don't know how long you're going to be acting, but for that time you're acting, we expect you to act. That's the long and the short of it."

If the department had a problem with officials who claimed immunity, due to "political connections", then that would not be a problem for the committee, Godi said.

Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza said they would be open to investigate the department.

The committee wanted the results of the department's internal audit and the breakdown of the Mopane project before Christmas, he said.

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