Covid-19

‘DIRTY’ WATER DEPARTMENT

Under-fire Lindiwe Sisulu talks tough on corruption

Under-fire Lindiwe Sisulu talks tough on corruption
Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)

Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu says she’s determined to combat corruption, but her recent actions raise more questions.

During the early response to the spread of Covid-19, Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu spoke regularly on the need to urgently provide water services to communities across the country and to “de-densify” informal settlements.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, the minister said the Department of Basic Education is providing R600-million to help her team improve water and sanitation facilities at 3,475 schools across the country before they reopen and that infrastructure upgrades performed during the pandemic must provide long-term benefit to communities.

The press conference, however, focused not on preventing the spread of Covid-19 but corruption.

The department of water and sanitation, as it was called before it was joined with human settlements, was notoriously bankrupt under former minister Nomvula Mokonyane and her successor Gugule Nkwinti said he found it in “a mess” in 2018. Corruption allegations have been rife and, according to the department, fewer South Africans had access to reliable water services in 2019 than in 1994.

“We promised we would do everything so we can push back on any perception of corruption,” said Sisulu on Wednesday, referring to the commitment she made when she was appointed minister in May 2019.

“It has taken the better part of my term in my administration dealing with these cases.”

The minister explained how her department is trying to fight corruption. She officially accepted the handover of a Corruption Watch and Water Integrity Network report on graft in the sector, a report which was released months ago.

Her briefing on Wednesday follows allegations that her advisers have been trying to use their positions within her department to influence deals and raise money to pay debts related to Sisulu’s short-lived campaign to become ANC president in 2017 and pay for a potential campaign going into the party’s 2022 national conference.

One of Sisulu’s close advisers is accused of trying to pressure leaders of water boards Amatola Water, in the Eastern Cape, and Lepelle Northern Water, in Limpopo, to manipulate drought relief tenders to favour a specific company.

The Amatola and Lepelle water boards have been placed under an “executive caretaker arrangement”, said human settlements director-general Mbulelo Tshangana on Wednesday.

“In fact, we should have put them under administration from day one,” he added.

Sisulu didn’t directly address the allegations from the water board leaders, although she and all others involved have flatly denied the claims, but the suggestion was that they were trying to save themselves by making allegations against the minister.

The minister’s actions, however, raise questions. While previously denying that advisers on her own national rapid-response task team (NRRTT) were corrupt and had tried to raise funds for her political ambitions, Sisulu reportedly decided to disband the team because, according to correspondence reported in the media, she said certain members had used their positions to pursue their own business interests, tarnishing her reputation.

Her spokesperson denied the team had been disbanded.

“We have found that over a period of time this department has had systemic problems over maladministration, fraud and corruption and we’re hoping that the systems that we’ve gone through, the issues that we have combed through, will assist us to have the kind of clean government that we look forward to,” said Sisulu on Wednesday.

Her director-general, Tshangana, said 138 officials within the department had been found guilty of claims related to corruption and maladministration since Sisulu became minister and some high-level employees had been dismissed or suspended without pay as a consequence.

Tshangana said the department had appealed to Treasury to condone R10-billion of its recent R16.6-billion in irregular expenditure because it was taking actions against employees involved.

“Irregular expenditure will not be condoned, it will not go away until you go after the wrongdoers,” he said.

Sisulu has appointed advocate Terry Motau SC to investigate allegations of fraud, corruption and irregular expenditure within the department. Motau led the investigation into VBS Mutual Bank, which revealed that R2-billion had been looted.

He was also appointed by former minister Mokonyane to investigate corruption in the department of water and sanitation between 2014 and 2016. DM

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