Human settlements, water & sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Human settlements, water & sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The department of human settlements, water & sanitation is taking strong action to root out the corruption that brought the department to its knees and is holding those responsible to account. 

This assurance was given on Wednesday by the minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, and her acting director-general, Mbulelo Tshangana.

Sisulu said the department was in bad shape when she took over and had been declared bankrupt by the auditor-general. Staggering amounts had been lost to the department through irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, she said.

Tshangana noted that in 2017/2018 the department was sitting with more than R2bn worth of accruals for work done in previous years and not paid for. It had asked the Treasury for condonation of about R10bn of the department’s R16.6bn in irregular expenditure on the basis that the department is taking action against those responsible. He said this proof was necessary for condonation to be approved.

Sisulu announced on Tuesday that advocate Terry Motau SC, who conducted an investigation into VBS Mutual Bank, had been appointed to lead a team of lawyers to review all fraud, corruption and irregular expenditure reports involving her department.

She told the media that officials had been charged, suspended and given written warnings regarding allegations of maladministration, fraud, corruption and misconduct related to the irregular expenditure of past financial years.

Disciplinary action

The minister noted that 249 reported cases were investigated during the period from April 2012 to end-September 2019.

Tshangana said that of those cases, 138 were found to be true and were referred for disciplinary action.

In the 138 disciplinary cases, 97 officials were found guilty, 11 of them at senior management level, and 16 were found not guilty. The others had resigned, were reinstated or had charges withdrawn.

Penalties included 13 dismissals as well as demotions, and officials being placed on one-month, two-month and three-month suspensions without pay as well as 15-day suspensions. Written warnings were also issued.

The department has referred 18 cases to law enforcement agencies such as the SA Police Service and the Hawks for investigation and possible prosecution.

“Civil recovery processes through the courts were also initiated in an effort to recover all the funds that have been lost through fraud and corruption,” Sisulu said.

The potential recoveries are estimated at R18.2m based on claims instituted through civil proceedings and the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

Water boards

In addition, the department has prioritised 151 irregular expenditure investigations and 13 forensic investigations within the next six months, which are due for completion within the next 12 months.

The department has also taken action to clean up the nine water boards. Sisulu said there were ongoing investigations regarding irregular expenditure, mismanagement and governance issues at the Amatola Water Board in the Eastern Cape and Lepelle Northern Water in Limpopo, the latter also being investigated by the Special Investigating Unit.

The CEO of Amatola, Vuyo Zitumane, is on precautionary suspension to allow the investigations to continue.

Tshangana said the department had decided to place the Amatola and Lepelle boards under an executive caretaker arrangement so that the irregularities can be attended to and to stabilise governance.

Sisulu said forensic investigations will be conducted into all the water boards.

DA MP Emma Powell claimed that Sisulu’s media conference was a “deliberate attempt by her spin doctors to obscure serious, criminal claims faced by the minister with specific reference to alleged tender meddling at Amatola and Lepelle water boards”.

She said the CEOs of both boards had implicated Sisulu in potentially serious allegations of procurement meddling. The CEOs, Vuyo Zitumane and Phineas Legodi, respectively, have been placed on precautionary leave, she said.

Sisulu's spokesperson Sputnik Rantau stressed that these allegations still needed to be tested. Only the outcome of an investigation would establish whether they were valid.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za