Former water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/THAPELO MOREBUDI
Former water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/THAPELO MOREBUDI

Systemic corruption in SA’s water sector could hamper the state’s ability to provide the scarce resource to the country’s 57-million people, an NGO focused on fighting corruption in water worldwide said on Thursday.

In its report titled “Money down the drain: corruption in the SA water and sanitation sector”, the Berlin-based Water Integrity Network (WIN) said corruption in the sector “has gone through the roof”.

This as human settlements, water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu has been criticised for her ambitious R900bn master plan aimed at addressing SA’s water challenges.

Water is key to several industries, with SA’s agricultural sector using about 60% of all available water in the country for irrigation.

On Thursday, WIN’s report touched on corruption scandals reported in the media, including the R4bn SA lost to irregular expenditure during the controversial tenure of Nomvula Mokonyane as water and sanitation minister from 2014 to 2018.

WIN executive director Barbara Schreiner also cited the R247m project to provide water services to Giyani in Limpopo in 2009. She said a total of R2.5bn had been spent on the project by 2019, with R10bn more still needed to finish the project, with R2.2bn flagged as irregular expenditure.

“There were a whole lot of shenanigans that happened over time,” said Schreiner. She attributed some of SA’s water crisis to challenges of the past, saying corruption “cannot be divorced from the past. Everything before 1994 was corrupt. After 1994 there was a huge pressure to provide services to under-serviced communities … in the process, a whole lot of doors got opened for corruption”.

Schreiner said people need to recognise that corruption affected water security, which “affects our economic future”.

“The water sector is vulnerable to corruption. It needs high levels of investments. This sector is particularly important because it’s a human right, and a life and death issue,” she said.

The report recommends that a culture be established in which misconduct has consequences, and that rampant irregularity in the management of public resources be regarded as “red flags for corruption”.

Department spokesperson Sputnik Ratau could not immediately comment on the report.

Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said the report was handed to the water and sanitation ministry on Wednesday, adding, “We’d want them to interrogate the recommendations we have made with us.” 

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za