Forensic investigation ordered into conduct of Mhlathuze Water board chairperson

Dripping water from a tap in Dunoon. File Picture: Cindy Waxa/African News agency (ANA)

Dripping water from a tap in Dunoon. File Picture: Cindy Waxa/African News agency (ANA)

Published May 4, 2022


DURBAN - WATER and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has ordered Mhlathuze Water Internal Audit to conduct a forensic investigation into the conduct of board chairperson Thabi Shange.

The investigation comes after allegations of wrongful conduct were levelled against the chairperson, including that she was spending more hours at the entity’s premises and holding more board meetings than is permitted by legislation.

The minister’s spokesperson Kamogelo Mokgotsi said the policy on board practices and remuneration of board members of entities reporting to the minister of Water and Sanitation, specifies that the maximum normal number of hours that may be remunerated a month is 50 hours for the chairperson of the board and 40 hours for a board member.

She said that only the minister could approve additional remuneration exceeding the norm.

“Any additional hours to be remunerated such as may arise in extraordinary circumstances, must be approved by the minister. The minister has requested an internal audit to conduct a forensic investigation on the chairperson of the board of Mhlathuze Water, Ms Thabi Shange,” the spokesperson said.

She also said that the entity was still busy with the investigation of the two executives on special leave since December last year, stressing that the department could not interfere with this process which was being undertaken externally.

CEO Mthokozisi Duze and chief financial officer Babongile Mnyandu have not been in the office since being placed on special leave. It is understood they are facing allegations of misconduct.

“In the intervening period, the two executives remain on precautionary suspension. Upon the finalisation of the investigation, the outcomes will be communicated to all relevant stakeholders,” she said.

The developments at the water entity follow a warning from a whistle-blower that Mhlathuze Water could collapse amid flouting of governance rules.

In a letter that The Mercury has seen, the whistle-blower has given a snapshot of the problems facing the water entity, and the frustrations over the minister’s silence and failure to act on the allegations against the board chairperson.

According to the whistle-blower, a report was presented to the minister, detailing the extent of the challenges at Mhlathuze Water and Shange’s alleged role in them since Duze and Mnyandu were placed on special leave.

“We have emerged from an era where there were serious administrative challenges in MW (Mhlathuze Water) and the name of our water board was dragged through the mud. A lot of work has happened to undo the past, but then the CE and the CFO were suspended on allegations of breach of ethics. We wonder why the same treatment has not been meted to the chair,” the whistle-blower said.

The whistle-blower also said that the staff morale was low. Some of the allegations against the chairperson, according to the whistle-blower, include:

That she spends more time at the water entity office than she should ordinarily.

A number of board meetings are being convened outside the mandated four meetings per calendar year

The chairperson uses board meetings to fight personal battles

The whistle-blower has also raised questions over the lengthy special leave of Duze and Mnyandu.

“That an institution of MW’s strategic importance can be expected to function optimally in the absence of these senior executives just boggles the mind,” the whistle-blower said.

In the letter the whistle-blower cites an instance in Amathole Water – another troubled water entity where Mchunu acted swiftly when allegations of wrongdoing surfaced.

DA spokesperson for water and sanitation Leon Basson confirmed yesterday that he had written to Mchunu asking for clarity on the problems reported at the water entity.

“I have sent the questions and am expecting them to be responded to within a 14-day period as per the rules of Parliament,” Basson said.

Part of the questions, he said, were about allegations of wrongdoing by the executives suspended last year, and those levelled against the board chairperson.

Speaking to The Mercury yesterday, Shange welcomed the investigation into her conduct, saying the truth would prevail in the end.

“When you know that you conduct yourself appropriately, there is no reason to be fearful. It is better that the investigation is being conducted so that the truth will come out,” the board chairperson said.

She also said that she remained committed to the principles of good governance and would not engage in conduct that would harm the entity.