Maverick Citizen

AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Hawks arrest OR Tambo municipal officials over millions paid for unfinished and unbuilt dams

Hawks arrest OR Tambo municipal officials over millions paid for unfinished and unbuilt dams
What was meant to be South Africa's first hardfill dam has become an abandoned project near Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape after the contractor asked for a steep increase in contract costs — and the OR Tambo Municipality could not produce the funds. (Pictures: Supplied)

Uncovering a shocking corruption scheme that left hundreds of villagers dependent on rivers for water as reservoirs and dams were left unfinished or unbuilt, the Hawks on Monday arrested two officials from the OR Tambo Municipality. One is the municipality’s director of water and sanitation.

In 2019, the OR Tambo Municipality awarded tenders for the construction of three dams to provide hundreds of villagers around Port St Johns with clean, potable water. The project cost R160-million and was partially funded by Covid-19 funds as access to water became even more crucial during the pandemic.

In 2022, Daily Maverick flagged the issue of the hardfill dam near Ntsonyini that was meant to provide water to 40 villages in the deep rural Eastern Cape.

The Ntsonyini off-channel dam was meant to be South Africa’s first hardfill dam, with a design lauded in several engineering publications. However, it was never completed.

The Ntsonyini project, which began in February 2019, was not only beset by corruption, but also by protests and violence that broke out over work on the project. The Auditor-General also raised questions about the dam.

The OR Tambo Municipality, which was in charge of the project, has since been placed under administration.

Currently, communities around Ntsonyini and Ngqongweni, near Port St Johns on the Wild Coast, get their drinking water from the Mngazana River, the uMzimvubu River and local streams.

unfinished dams

Hawks arrested OR Tambo District Municipality officials over allegations of fraud worth more than R160-million in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, on 31July 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

In 2022, the Eastern Cape MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Xolile Nqatha, reported to the provincial legislature that the OR Tambo Municipality had said a new “variation order” (indicating an increase in construction costs of up to 20%) had to be generated due to extended excavation needed to reach a suitable level for the dam wall.

The original cost of the project was R200-million and R136-million had been spent so far. 

Another R238-million was reportedly needed for the project to be completed.

Nqatha, now the MEC for Transport and Community Safety, said the additional R238-million exceeded the permissible 20% for a variation order. This led to the project grinding to a halt.

Qokolweni Water Supply Scheme

Another major water project commissioned and managed by the OR Tambo District Municipality, the Qokolweni Water Supply Scheme – despite being reported as completed – has left communities without water after it was discovered that there had been no feasibility study to confirm whether there was water in the area before work on the project began. The Auditor-General also flagged this project.

OR Tambo District Municipality

A 51-year-old municipal official, Mawethu Mthengwana, makes calls during his arrest by the Hawks over allegations of fraud at the OR Tambo District Municipality offices in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, on 31 July 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

In 2022, a spokesperson for the OR Tambo Municipality, Zimkhita Macingwana, said the contractor had not abandoned the site, but had left after National Treasury withheld funding. She said it was not the municipality that was trying to cancel the contract.

A local shop owner temporarily halted construction by obtaining an interdict because his premises had been damaged during blasting.

“Due to time lapsed and the issue with the interdict, which prevented the contractor from performing, the contractor terminated the contract,” explained Macingwana.

A Hawks vehicle leaves the Tambo District Municipality offices in in Mthatha after the arrest of officials in connection with fraud on 31 July 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

“The municipality plans to complete the work. Engineers and contractors are busy finalising the new measurements and after that, a new tender will be issued,” she added.

In 202o, in a written response to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance, former OR Tambo chief financial officer, Moabi Moleko, explained how his own investigation found that the water and sanitation department had a “prepaid” scheme that paid contractors for work never done.

He said he had submitted an affidavit to the Hawks and also visited the incomplete projects with them. Moleko left the municipality in 2022. 

Arrests

On Monday, 31 July, Macingwana confirmed that two municipal employees had been arrested. 

“The details are still scanty, and we will update the public as things unfold. In line with the principles of good governance, transparency and accountability, the OR Tambo District Municipality supports any efforts to root out corruption in our quest to instil good governance.

“The municipality will allow the law enforcement agencies to play their role, while it will respect the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in treating the employees as not guilty until proven otherwise by the necessary authorities.”

On Monday, Andile Wiseman Vellem (58), OR Tambo Municipality’s director of water and sanitation, and Mawethu Mthengwana (51), a municipal project manager, appeared in the Mthatha Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on charges of fraud, corruption, contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act and contraventions of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

unfinished dams

The abandoned hardfill dam near Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

“Their co-accused is still at large while another was reported to have died in 2021,” Hawks spokesperson Yolisa Mgolodela said.

She confirmed the two municipal officials had been released on R10,000 bail each and the matter had been set down for 29 August to join more accused.

“More arrests will follow,” she added.

She said the allegations were that the accused irregularly awarded the dam tenders and provided loans to contractors for work not done. She said one of the dams was half-finished and the others were never built. DM

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  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    “Uncovering a shocking corruption scheme”

    Sorry but there is just no longer such a thing as shocking corruption under this pathetic farce of a government.

    The only thing that manages to continually shock me is how people can still vote for the ANC and the EFF.

    The stupidity and futility of it is literally equivalent to putting your head down and running as fast as you can at a brick wall.

    • Cachunk Cachunk says:

      Couldn’t agree more.

      • Ashley Stone says:

        People get the Government they deserve. If hitting your head into a brick wall is your thing and you are in the majority go figure. It makes no logical sense but perhaps that’s from the previous wall hitting sessions.

    • Waheed Mahomed says:

      And then continuing to run into the wall after the first experience….

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Yes, these exposés are no longer shocking – we’ve become immune to the Corruption and theft having been through the various stages of grief over what has become of our lovely country – shock, anger and sadness ….we are now in a state of acceptance. This in itself is dangerous as doing nothing will not stop the steal!

  • Abel Mngadi says:

    There we go again! When will this stop? Probably when there is consequence management within government. These cases drag on for years. A R10K bail is nothing for people who stole more than R200m in taxpayers funds. It highlights how the courts don’t take these cases seriously.

    • Paul Davis says:

      This will never stop. It’s part of the culture. Like putting kids in a candy shop. There is no conscience or guilt! Its here to stay for the rest of time.

      • Matthew Quinton says:

        Considering the number of SA Citizens who are employed by the ANC (Government) and then considering the sheer amount of theft and crime in government. Yes. I would have to agree. The evidence is becoming so glaringly clear that to ignore it is to stick your head in the woke-bucket of “surely not, there is no trend here, blame some external factor or the past or others, because we live in the land of the eternally innocent, abused and disadvantaged”
        The ANC has not created a culture of thieves and criminals. The ANC was created BY a culture of thieves and criminals.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Just another in a long line of total corruption in the Eastern Cape, and pretty much every other province the ANC runs, along with their stooges in the EFF, ATM, Al Jama-ah and the rest of ‘leftist’ lunatic fringe. I drive every now and again from Gauteng to Kei Mouth, usually via Bethlehem/Clarens, and once you get off the Sanral roads, they’re shocking – I doubt many of the roads have been repaired at all in the last 30 years, some even longer than that. The rural towns in the Free State especially are little more than dump sites, with forlorn ‘tourism’ signs offering an ironic juxtaposition to the reality on the ground: no tourist would ever set foot in these filthy dumps, other than to refuel and get the hell out!

    It took 48 years to get rid of the National Party – and please, don’t anyone defend their brutal track record – let’s hope it doesn’t take that long to rid ourselves of the similarly thuggish and brutal ANC.

  • Jennifer D says:

    So we are forced to hire more people and companies like this through BBBEE. Has the ANC never stopped to wonder how their policy has created a sense of entitlement without any sense of responsibility and accountability?

  • Rozanne Tonkin says:

    And the villagers still have no potable water? It’s disgusting how little concern these public officials have for their communities. I hope some money is recovered?

  • Rae Earl says:

    This all starts with the president of South Africa. Firstly Zuma who sold the country to a bunch of Indians for personal gain, and secondly, Ramaphosa who stood by and did absolutely nothing about it as vice president. He cemented this ‘screw you’ attitude as president by simply ignoring the country’s pleas for him to come clean about possible laundered money on his business farm. Municipal managers have taken note of this lack of accountability over the years from the entire ANC cabinet as wel as the EFF theft from VBS Bank and simply regard their own corruption as being fully justified. Time for my quote from Ayn Rand. Again.
    “When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion – when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing – when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors – when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you – when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice – you may know that your society is doomed”.
    Ayn Rand

    • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

      Ayn Rand had an unusual brain and character. Her works have influenced my way of thinking a lot, even if don’t agree with all of her ideologies.

  • Chris 123 says:

    Feeding ANC cadres is far more important than building dams for the community. Your comments Cyril 😴

  • SAM VAN WYK says:

    R10000 bail each for fraud totalling millions!!

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Ricky – most unfortunately for all of us is the reality that this country is awash with brain-dead masses who keep on voting for the very same thieves and scoundrels who steal this country blind. The rest of sub Saharan Africa is much the same, bar a couple of exceptions and we dared believe that SA was different! Race politics, vile populist frauds, lying, treasonous and incompetent government and so called leaders etc. The list goes on and nothing changes.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      “Race politics, vile populist frauds, lying, treasonous and incompetent government and so called leaders etc. The list goes on and nothing changes.”

      You’re describing whole swathes of Europe and the USA there as well! From Brexit Britain to Putin’s Russia and Trump’s USA – absolutely no different. Maybe it’s just a human thing, not and African one?

    • John Hepton says:

      C‘est l’Afrique.

  • Gordon Pascoe says:

    Par for the course.

  • Vanessa Farr says:

    “there had been no feasibility study to confirm whether there was water in the area before work on the project began.” So … was any EIA or environmental consulting work done and if so who signed off on it?
    Science-for-hire???

  • Bryan Macpherson says:

    In the eyes of ANC cadres, the crime is not corruption – what embarrasses them is getting caught.

  • Robert Watson says:

    No worries. They will be protected by the NPA (National Protection Authority) for cadres.

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