Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of Gift of the Givers. Picture: THE TIMES/SYDNEY SESHIBEDI
Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of Gift of the Givers. Picture: THE TIMES/SYDNEY SESHIBEDI

Humanitarian aid group Gift of the Givers‚ which drilled boreholes in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape to alleviate a looming water crisis‚ has pulled out of the town in a dispute with the government over the payment of millions of rands.

Despite drilling the boreholes and supplying water to those in need‚ the NGO says it has not been paid for its services by the municipality‚ which made an undertaking to do so. Instead‚ says Gift of the Givers‚ private contractors and consultants were paid for work that they, in fact, had done. This was R10m of taxpayers’ money that was “given away freely”.

The organisation said in a statement that it did not have a disagreement with the Makhanda municipality‚ saying it had “been excellent”. The issue appeared to rest with the department of water and sanitation‚ which the organisation said has not paid for services rendered. However, the department disagrees with this assessment. Spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said on Thursday that the department’s responsibility when it comes to disaster areas is to allocate drought relief funds to the affected municipality.

“To this end‚ the department of water and sanitation has lived up to its responsibility by transferring an amount of R22m to the local municipality for the sole purpose of assisting it to deal with drought challenges in the area,” he said. “The manner in which that money is spent is the responsibility of the concerned municipality and the department does not dictate or interfere with how that money is spent and which service providers are used.”

He said any agreement entered into by the municipality and the NGO was a matter between those parties. Municipal manager Moppo Mene was not immediately available for comment.

The Gift of the Givers says the municipality asked for its help to restore the water supply in February. The NGO drew up a rescue plan‚ advised that it would cost about R23m to solve the water crisis, and that this would require government funding. The NGO brought in a specialist hydrologist to drill boreholes where the geology was difficult and finding water was a challenge.

Gift of the Givers said it was assured that it would be paid with emergency government funding secured by the municipality. But the department later advised the NGO that only companies from the town itself could be paid for drought intervention.

These include paying a private consultancy at R1.2m for borehole-related work‚ a second company at R7m for boreholes, and a third R1.9m for electrical work.

“This is R10m of taxpayers’ money handed out freely by the government to people as remuneration for work Gift of the Givers did‚” said the organisation’s founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman‚ in a statement.

“Our hearts are with the people of Makhanda‚ the elderly‚ the women and children and everyone who waited so patiently for water, but as a matter of principle we cannot continue.”