Minister on a mission to root out corruption
In an exclusive interview with Independent Media on Wednesday, Sisulu laid bare how a sophisticated patronage network system involving some officials had resulted in the looting of more than R16 billion in her department over the past decade.
Others who have been at the helm of the water and sanitation department have often viewed it as a poisoned chalice, one that is meant to take care of the basic needs of the people but is often the subject of instances of irregular and wasteful expenditure.
This was especially evident in recent months after an investigation by Open Water Advanced Risk Solutions revealed how the suspended chief executive of the Amatola Water Board, Vuyo Zitumane, was allegedly involved in inflating tender prices and supply chain management processes.
Zitumane in response said the forensic report was part of a “smear campaign” to remove her from her position and denied the allegations levelled against her.
Sisulu vowed that corruption would not happen under her watch.
“I’ve made up my mind that this is what I will focus on. The previous ministers had problems with corruption in the department and it has a long history of maladministration. We will find a way to root it out and once and for all get to the bottom of what is happening.
“I’ve studied the auditor-general’s (AG) report and one of the things that stood out for me is that there was no consequence management in the department.
“People do things and get away with it. Nothing happens to them, which is why I put together a team of people who have great professional integrity and credibility, comprising labour law experts and other legal minds. This team was chaired by Susan Shabangu, a veteran trade unionist, politician and veteran of the ANC. They have finished what they were set out to do and I am proud of the work that they have done,” said Sisulu.
She revealed how the department had lost a “great deal of money” from corruption, about R16bn in total, through irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
All of this, according to Sisulu, occurred as a result of a stream of patronage that involved officials and some businesses. She said that this patronage network excelled in instances where organisations affiliated to the department had to divert from normal procurement processes, especially in times of drought.
“The president (Cyril Ramaphosa) has been saying this and warned that this is what is going to happen. Instances of corruption are high in times of disaster and he advised that we need to take stringent measures to deal with it.
“When looking at these factors, I decided to take a deeper look into the areas which had gone through droughts where there would be possible cases of irregular expenditure. We did a forensic audit and what shocked me is the reaction of people who have been investigated.”
Sisulu said that once she initiated a forensic investigation into corruption in the Amatola Water Board, there was huge backlash.
“They climbed the highest mountain and screamed all sorts of profanity. In government or state-owned institutions we are investigated regularly. The AG investigates, you never find people complain about why they are being investigated, it’s standard practice.
“Their responses have been ludicrous and it’s the behaviour of someone who has something to hide. I’ve been in the public service long enough to know that investigations are part and parcel of how we deal with some issues in government.”
Sisulu was adamant that those who had something to hide would be exposed and prosecuted. She further revealed that her lawyers would also be suing Zitumane for defamation.