A borehole will cost R2.4m - if you're in government
Another day, another inquiry into unauthorised pickpocketing of the public purse
On a day when most South Africans celebrated the return of previously estranged cabinet ministers, it was business as usual for long-suffering members of parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), who spent Tuesday morning trying to compel tight-lipped government officials to justify drilling a single borehole for R2.4-million.
It was not to be.
When the dust had settled in committee room V464 of the old assembly, Scopa chairman Themba Godi announced he was through wasting time with the Department of Water and Sanitation.
He confirmed the committee would not only support an inquiry into allegations of corruption within the department, it would initiate criminal charges against individuals implicated in wrongdoing.“This department has a long history of mismanagement,” Godi told the meeting, also attended by officials from the auditor-general’s office and members of the portfolio committee on water and sanitation.“We have now just reached the tipping point which then requires us not to act in the normal way. I think we don’t have a department – that is the long and short of it,” said Godi, who reserved his most scathing comments for outgoing minister Nomvula Mokonyane.
Even by recent standards, the alleged pilfering within the department is staggering, with a slew of cost overruns likely to keep investigators glued to their calculators for some time.
Godi said Tuesday’s revelations were all the more tragic in the broader context of the drought, with many towns battling to keep taps running and farmers incurring huge losses.
Scopa members demanded to know how the department could justify a cost overrun of more than R1-billion on a flagship water infrastructure project in Giyani, in the Mopana district of Limpopo.
Officials conceded the boreholes had been expensive – on average R400,000 each – but said the high costs were due to supplementary infrastructure such as pipes and “package plants” where water needed to be purified.
The overall expenditure on boreholes alone, designed to assist 55 rural villages, was R317-million, the department confirmed. The total project cost had ballooned to R2.5-billion from an initial R1.3-billion.Committee members outlined several allegations and concerns related to dysfunction in the department, among them:
• The appointment of seven directors-general since 2008;
• A qualified audit (currently under appeal) due to issues such as improper accounting, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and irregular payments;
• An “illegal” R2.9-billion overdraft from the Reserve Bank; and
• Two “unofficial” and under-qualified deputy directors-general who do not feature in the department organogram, one of whom has only a matric and the other a bachelor of arts degree.Under-fire department officials stared sheepishly at their documents while several committee members vented their frustrations, among them ANC member Ezekiel Kekana.
“To be honest there is no department,” Kekana said. “Maybe what the president [Ramaphosa] promised us in terms of reorganisation of departments can be considered because unfortunately having this department we are just wasting time.”