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Leaking water tap. 123rf/CHAYATORN LAORATTANAVECH
Leaking water tap. 123rf/CHAYATORN LAORATTANAVECH

President Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe allegations of maladministration in the department of water & sanitation amounting to billions of rand and to recover any financial loss to the government. 

Ramaphosa called on the SIU to investigate alleged maladministration arising from the procurement of, or contracting for goods, works or services pertaining to departmental projects including: 

  • The “Drop the Block” Project and the contract entered into between the department and Sedibeng Water dated 21 April 2016; 
  • The “Almost Empty Outdoor” Campaign and the appointment of Sedibeng Water as the implementing agent in an allegedly irregular manner for the provision of generic services in 2016; and 
  • The “War on Leaks” Programme and alleged irregular appointments of and payments to rand Water and the Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority for the period 2015 to 2018/2019. 

The five-year “war on leaks” programme was launched by the presidency in August 2015 and reportedly cost about R3bn to implement. 

The project was aimed at curbing water leaks across the country as the government lost more than R7bn worth of drinkable water a year due to leaking taps and pipes. The programme aimed to employ 15,000 young people who were to be trained as artisans. 

SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the SIU would also investigate any unauthorised, irregular, fruitless, or wasteful expenditure incurred by the department or the state. 

“The scope of the investigation also covers any unlawful or improper conduct by department officials or employees, the applicable suppliers or service providers, or any other person or entity which has caused or may cause serious harm to the interests of the public,” he said. 

“Furthermore, the investigation will also establish whether there was any unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public money.”

Kganyago said the proclamation covers allegations of “unlawful and improper conduct” from January 1 2015 and April 19 2024, the date of the publication of the proclamation or before January 1 2015 and after the date of the proclamation relevant to, connected with, and incidental to the matters or involve the same people, entities or contracts investigated.

“In addition to investigating maladministration, malpractice, corruption and fraud, the SIU will identify system failures and make systematic recommendations to improve measures to prevent future losses.”

The proclamation comes as water has become a key electioneering theme ahead of the 2024 national and provincial elections on May 29.

SA is a water-scarce country and farmers and communities across the country are up in arms about little to no access to potable water. Even its economic and financial hub, Gauteng, which contributes nearly 40% to the national GDP, hasn’t been spared from outages. 

Besides personal consumption, water is crucial to several industries, including manufacturing, while agriculture accounts for about 60% of all consumption in the country. 

The cabinet announced plans in June last year to spend almost R80bn in a bid to deal with water infrastructure challenges, which opposition parties said had resulted in “water-shedding”.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, though, Deputy President Paul Mashatile called for the situation to be “depoliticised”. 

The Sunday Times reported that the government intends to co-opt farmers and trade union and civic movement Solidarity to help local governments repair and maintain hundreds of stricken water-treatment plants. 

The government has warned it will take over provision of water responsibilities from local councils as a last resort if repeated interventions and funds fail to halt the rapid fall in water quality and supply.

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