Residents queue in Newlands for drinking water from a spring on May 16 2017. Picture: THE TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER
Residents queue in Newlands for drinking water from a spring on May 16 2017. Picture: THE TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER

Department of water & sanitation deputy director-general for national water resources infrastructure Zandile Makhathini has been suspended for refusing to allow other projects in the ministry to dip into her unit’s R12bn budget.

The department has a R15bn total budget, of which R12bn is spent on water resources infrastructure. According to a senior department figure who declined to be named, the unit is generally regarded as the department’s “honey pot”.

The unit is responsible for the development, operation and maintenance of water resources infrastructure and for managing water resources.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which is representing Makhathini in her case against the department, said she is being victimised for refusing to release funds to projects that do not fall under her unit.

“Her branch is one with the high budget and you will understand that everyone wants to put their hands in that budget,” the union said.

This has been the case since Nomvula Mokonyane, who is now communications minister, headed the ministry, it said.

Mokonyane was removed from the department by President Cyril Ramaphosa in February and replaced with former land reform minister Gugile Nkwinti.

In the department’s annual report, tabled earlier this month, auditor-general Kimi Makwetu pointed out that the Water Trading Entity had incurred fruitless and wasteful expenditure of more than R1bn and irregular expenditure of R4.9bn for the year ended March 2018. It incurred an overdraft of R1.4bn, down from R2.1bn in the previous year.

Makhathini was suspended on October 2 and is facing four charges of misconduct. This is not the first time; she was placed on suspension in 2017  for four months before returning to work for another nine months. The first suspension was, however, without a  charge sheet.

The deputy director-general’s disciplinary hearing was meant to start on October 9.

At the time Nehawu asked that the matter be handled by a commissioner from the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council, but the department refused and appointed a senior counsel to conduct the disciplinary hearing, which is expected to reconvene in 10 days.

The department confirmed that Makhathini had been suspended but would not give further details or respond to allegations made by the union.

“At the moment we cannot discuss the details of her suspension, it is still a matter between employer and employee. It is important to note that both parties will be afforded a chance to present their arguments in a fair and just process, as prescribed by the labour laws of the country,” spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said.

The charges against Makhathini include allegations relating to the multibillion-rand Giyani water project, in which she is accused of increasing the costs for the emergency water and wastewater intervention in the Mopani district municipality, in Limpopo, without obtaining a variation order or approval from the accounting officer, the bid adjudication committee or the Treasury.

In response, Nehawu said Makhathini was being charged for something that did not happen, as a letter meant to be sent to Lepelle Northern Water in Limpopo allowing it to continue its work on the Giyani project, and which would have resulted in the costs increasing, was never sent.

On the second charge, Makhatini is accused of allowing Black Dot Construction to render services to the department for more than eight months after its contract had expired, and did this without obtaining approval for an extension by way of a variation order.

Nehawu said the project manager had placed on record that she had misled Makhathini by stating that the chief directorate for internal audits had been consulted, which was not the case.

The project manager had told the deputy director-general, in her submission recommending payment, that the job was complete. Makhathini’s unit was merely the financial “sponsor” for the project, which was actually led by the communications unit, which had its own deputy director-general.

Makhathini is also accused of misconduct in relation to the appointment of engineering firm Aecom and Ascul construction.