Nomvula Mokonyane, when she was still water and sanitation minister, in February 2017. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF
Nomvula Mokonyane, when she was still water and sanitation minister, in February 2017. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF

Efforts to institute a forensic investigation into allegations of corruption and maladministration at the department of water & sanitation, which oversees all water supply and treatment in the country, seemed to have been thwarted by officials.

The process to investigate tenders issued by the department was started by former water & sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane in October 2016, with advocate Terry Motau appointed to lead the investigation with assistance from law firm Werksmans. But the Treasury has yet to approve the firm’s appointment because the paperwork from the department remains outstanding.

In the preliminary forensic report completed by Motau and handed to the department in 2017, the advocate found irregularities in all four contracts he reviewed despite being unable to employ the specialist forensic and IT investigators from Werksmans he had requested.

The business crime department at Werksmans has produced heavy-hitting investigative reports on allegations of fraud and corruption at Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of SA. It contributed to the departure of a string of directors and executives as part of the attempted clean-up of state-owned enterprises under President Cyril Ramaphosa.

MOTAU FOUND IRREGULARITIES IN ALL FOUR DEALS HE REVIEWED DESPITE BEING UNABLE TO USE INVESTIGATORS

"One of the reasons Werksmans was appointed was due to their possession of the additional skills set that would enable the fulfillment of the [investigation’s] mandate," said Motau.

This referred in particular to the services of IT and forensic investigators. "Without employing these services, the exercise will be merely superficial and will serve no purpose," he said.

The four tenders probed in Motau’s preliminary investigation included the multibillion-rand Giyani project in Limpopo, the budget of which ballooned from an initial R96m in 2014 to more than R2.2bn. As of July, the project has not been completed due to issues over payments to contractors.

Motau’s preliminary report also raised questions about tenders awarded for IT and debt management services.

In terms of Mokonyane’s original instruction in October 2016, all tenders from June 2014 — the date of her appointment — were to be investigated.

Yet towards the end of June 2017, a full eight months after Motau had been appointed and despite consent being given by the state attorney for the services of Werksmans to be employed, the law firm had still not received a letter of engagement. Protocol required that the department’s director-general, at the time Dan "Gorbachev" Mashitisho, sign the letter.

This omission forced Mokonyane to suspend Mashitisho.

Mashitisho eventually signed the letter of engagement, and the department applied for Treasury approval to cover the costs of the investigation.

Mashitisho, who is now the director-general of the department of co-operative governance, did not respond to requests from Business Day for comment.

The Treasury confirmed it had received an application from the department early in October 2017, but despite further exchanges with the department, the application was declined in January 2018.

The Treasury says it advised the department of water & sanitation to resubmit its application in terms of a supply chain management instruction note, but that there is no record the department has done so.

This failure pours cold water on assertions made by the new water & sanitation minister, Gugile Nkwinti, that he is cleaning up the department. Nkwinti replaced Mokonyane in late February, following a cabinet reshuffle by Ramaphosa.

Nkwinti and the department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Nkwinti and other officials have been hauled before parliament to explain ballooning irregular expenditure at the department, which came to a total of R6.5bn in the 2016 and 2017 financial years.

On Wednesday, the department warned parliament that the country would run out of water by 2030 unless management of the resource improves.

More than half of SA’s municipal waste-water treatment works need urgent rehabilitation, and 11% of waste-water works are dysfunctional, polluting the environment and increasing the cost of water treatment, the department said.

thompsonw@businesslive.co.za