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Multi-million rand water project in northern KZN in limbo

Questions on what is stalling a project that will provide water to over 80 000 people in northern KwaZulu-Natal have been raised by uMhlathuze mayor Xolani Ngwezi

uMhlathuze Municipality mayor Xolani Ngwezi. Picture: Facebook

Published Jun 24, 2022

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Durban - AN ALLEGATION of inflated pricing for a multimillion-rand water project for the City of uMhlathuze has prompted calls for a site visit which is set to include Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu next month.

This is after uMhlathuze mayor Xolani Ngwezi yesterday said he would write to Mchunu about the project.

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It is understood that the municipality concluded a contract with Mhlathuze Water for the package plant project.

Addressing a stakeholder engagement hosted by Mhlathuze Water in Richards Bay yesterday, Ngwezi said the project was set to provide water to more than 80 000 people under the municipality but expressed concern that nothing had been heard about the project.

“It is unfair that we get complaints from communities when we have paid money for the project to be undertaken, and eight months later there is nothing to report on the project that is supposed to be concluded by November 2022,” said Ngwezi.

He warned if the community members come to the municipal offices to complain about the lack of water in their areas in future, he would lead them in a march to the entity’s office.

“These are our people, lend them an ear when they complain,” the mayor stressed.

He appealed to the board to ensure that when contracts are awarded, the entity sees that a portion of the work is given to local contractors, as this would ensure locals take ownership and protect the infrastructure.

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The mayor alleged that the municipality had been alerted to alleged price inflation related to the project.

He said it was suggested to them that the project should have cost R60 million but instead had a total cost R135m.

“Because minister Mchunu is from the area and the water boards report to him, we will invite him to be part of the site visit,” said Ngwezi.

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Speaking to The Mercury, board chairperson Thabi Shange confirmed that the project was one of the transactions that had prompted the board to conduct an investigation into the operations of the entity, which led to the suspension of chief executive Mthokozisi Duze and chief financial officer Babongile Mnyandu in December last year.

“We welcome the call for a visit to the site as made by the mayor,” said Shange.

She acknowledged that the entity had faced challenges in the past including what she labelled human errors, but stressed that they were focused on moving forward in the quest to provide water to communities and local businesses.

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She said while Duze and Mnyandu remained suspended pending the outcome of disciplinary processes, the board would be willing to work with them, if they were cleared of any wrongdoing.

“We are here to do our work, not to pursue relationships, there is nothing personal,” Shange said.

According to the board chairperson, they had come across a raft of questionable transactions and contracts and were convinced more would be revealed in the near future about past activities at the entity.

She gave an assurance that the entity was willing to work meaningfully with other bodies, including municipalities, stressing that they did not want to suffocate their customers through high pricing.

King Cetshwayo District mayor Thami Ntuli applauded the water entity for hosting yesterday’s event.

In total, seven officials, including the CEO, CFO and an official from the Supply Chain Management remain suspended at the entity.

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