A R140-million water scandal has left thousands of rural KZN households dry and three top council officials in court on charges of fraud and corruption.

The uThukela Municipality paid R29m a year over five years to a host of companies, many owned by council employees, to provide water to 714 910 people.

The Sunday Tribune this week saw a damning report drawn up after an investigation into dodgy water tenders in uThukela.

The report, which landed two two top officials in court this month, details how unscrupulous water tanker contractors pocketed over R140 million in the past five years while at least 10 000 people who were supposed to receive water, never saw a drop.

At the centre of the saga are a group of uThukela District Municipality employees who flouted the law by either awarding tenders to non-tax-compliant companies or running their own businesses contracting to the municipality to deliver water.

Contractors, many of whom shouldn’t have been doing business with the council in the first place, overcharged the municipality and sometimes failed to deliver services.

Some of the privately owned water tankers were not properly registered, in some cases bearing registration plates of motorcycles to avoid annual roadworthy tests.

The findings are contained in an explosive forensic report which is with the provincial department of co-operative governance.

One of the people named in the report is the high-flying former head of water service, and former mayor, of the same municipality, Stanley Dladla.

Dladla and head of disaster management Zwangawe Phileus Sithole were arrested by the Hawks last August on charges of fraud and contravening the Prevention of Corruption Act. They are out on R10 000 bail each.

At their second appearance in October, Dladla and Sithole were joined in the dock by policeman Mhlawokuphela Sithole, out on R5 000 bail.

They reappeared in court two weeks ago and the case was adjourned due to the charge sheet being incomplete, and because Dladla’s lawyer withdrew from the case, said Natasha Ramkisson, spokeswoman for the National Prosecuting Authority.

Hawks spokesman Colonel McIntosh Polela said the two senior municipal officials and the police officer each owned companies that had acquired tenders from the Uthukela Municipality.

The alleged fraud involved about R2.7 million.

District mayor Dudu Mazibuko (ANC), who took control in May last year, said that under Dladla’s watch procurement processes were manipulated and several suppliers were not registered with Sars.

Mazibuko said so far five people, including three municipal officials, had been involved in “large-scale fraud.”

Another senior manager mentioned in the report resigned last November, said Mazibuko, but she said he was also facing criminal charges and the other five implicated were also facing internal disciplinary action.

The council also dismissed municipal manager Siya Nkehli last October and charged him with failure to prevent corruption.

“You cannot have a municipal manager where everything happened under his watch,” said Mazibuko.

The Sunday Tribune can confirm that about 50 trucks with mounted water tanks were meant to deliver water to 714 910 people living in the area. About 10 000 residents of the Entabeni village have not received a drop of water, while the other residents sometimes have to wait for days until the tanker arrives.

Many of the trucks were owned by council employees.

Mazibuko said it cost about R52 000 a month to pay each contracted truck.

The bill ran to R2.4m a month for all the trucks and R28.8m a year, since the 2007/ 2008 financial year.

Mazibuko said the forensic report by law firm Moloi & Kirby lifted the lid on municipal officials providing services, some of which were never rendered to the municipality.

“The report has revealed that water is not being delivered in other areas as anticipated,” said Mazibuko. “It has also been discovered that some of the service providers have been defrauding the municipality with municipal officials by not supplying goods or overcharging for goods and services.”

This had been reported to the provincial government, SAPS commercial crime unit and the Hawks and Asset Forfeiture Unit.

The Ladysmith-based council will appoint an independent law firm to assist and guide the municipality in implementing recommendations contained in the report.

Mazibuko described the huge water bills as “shocking”.

She said the most disturbing aspect was the use of private tankers to deliver water to the communities.

“The municipality is spending an enormous budget on water tanker service providers. We believe this budget could have been utilised to build a modernised water infrastructure scheme,” she said.

Dladla and his co-accused appear again on September 13.

Sunday Tribune