Hawks tight-lipped about arrests following R700m tender corruption raids
Durban - THE search- and- seizure raids at multiple properties owned by eThekwini Municipality officials and service providers is linked to a multimillion rand, decade-long ablution roll-out project for impoverished communities that was run out of the city’s water and sanitation department. However, Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, could not comment on when or if there would be arrests any time soon.
Yesterday, the Hawks, along with other government agencies, raided 15 properties, seizing documents, communication devices and electronic equipment which will now be analysed by teams, including digital forensic experts.
The amount of money alleged to be siphoned off currently sits at R700 million.
While no one has yet been arrested, Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi told The Mercury that the investigation was at “an advanced stage” and that this raid, the second since July, was to obtain additional information to be included in the investigation.
“At first, the initial amount being investigated was R200 million, but this has been revised to R700 million. This forms part of the last part of the investigation to make sure we have gathered as much as possible.
“Once we have processed the information, we will then go to the National Prosecuting Authority. It is quite a lot of items that need to be analysed. We cannot say when arrests will be made,” said Mulaudzi.
The contract dates back to 2008 when the municipality announced the first of three phases – which ended in 2019 – to erect ablution facilities in informal settlements, rural areas and transit camps – home to some of the metro’s most vulnerable citizens.
Known as Containerised Ablution Blocks, the project provided plumbed sanitation services for men and women as well as hand and clothes-washing facilities.
The city then employed more than 1 500 caretakers to maintain and clean the facilities.
The units were either made out of shipping containers or modular (prefabricated) ablution blocks, if areas were inaccessible for delivery of containers.
While the city had overall control of the project, its management was conducted by project management consultants Aurecon, and later SMEC.
The main contractors were assigned emerging contractors, as part of a skills transfer and upliftment scheme, to assist with building the ablution blocks.
According to Mulaudzi, the R700m is alleged to be the “proceeds of crime derived from service providers who were supposed to be rendering services for the water and sanitation unit and claimed to have provided such services while they were not carried out”.
Some of the “companies” awarded work by the city did not exist, he said.
“Misrepresentations were allegedly made to the municipality and in some instances no authorized signatures as per requirement for approval were endorsed on the invoices.
“Despite the alleged falsification of documents, payments were approved and significant amounts of money were allegedly channelled to officials for their own benefit,” said Mulaudzi.
The Mercury understands that the project, which provided contractors with a large degree of freedom to ascertain where the ablution facilities could be built, quickly turned into a moneymaking racket.
Supply chain management policy was ignored and contracts handed to operators who were hand-picked by city officials.
Alan Kee, eThekwini metro project executive who started the first phase and carried it through until his retirement in 2013, said yesterday that he believed that during his period at the helm there were “tight controls”, but admitted that if the controls were not properly managed, fraud could have taken place.
“None of this happened during my time. The empowerment aspect of this project was really good as it gave opportunities to people and provided a platform for skills transfer,” said Kee.
He said he had not been contacted by any of the authorities investigating the matter.
The Mercury was told that the most common aspects of the racket included gross overcharging or billing for work that was never completed.
In a statement released by the metro after the news of the raids broke, mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said that the city “will always co-operate with institutions responsible for dispensing justice”.
“We are a city that permanently subscribes to the rule of law. In the event of any wrongdoing, no one must impede our law enforcement agencies to do their work.
“We have got a responsibility of ensuring that every cent of taxpayers’ money goes towards service delivery.
“Anyone found to have diverted public money to their pockets must face the full might of the law.”
The city said it would not comment any further on the matter, directing all enquiries to the Hawks.
The exact costs of the project are not immediately available, but according to a presentation made by the city before Parliament in December 2017, the budget for the project, primarily funded out of the Urban Settlement Development Grant, has hovered between R200m and R500m a year.
According to that presentation, the city said the project’s objective was to “provide water and water-borne sanitation to informal settlements”.
The presentation said that Phase One, which started in 2008, saw the delivery of 302 ablution blocks, Phase Two (2014) saw 905 ablution units delivered, and it was anticipated that in Phase Three, a further 450 units would be delivered.