Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane File picture: Phill Magakoe/ANA Pictures

Parliament - Exasperated MPs on Tuesday told Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and her top officials they were seemingly unable to give a straight-forward account of how they were addressing findings that the cost of the Gijani water project in Limpopo escalated five-fold without proper tenders.

Mokonyane responded to detailed questions from Parliament's watchdog Standing Committee on Public Accounts by saying she often found herself blamed for the failure of local municipalities to ensure communities had access to running water, and that this was to some extent also the case in Giyani. 

She stressed that the start of the project predated her tenure and implied that the fact that it started as an emergency intervention had added to problems.

"It is a good example of the complexities of water infrastructure and and how our financing can allow abuse. We have delivered water to more than 40 villages, but to accounting [it is] as if we have done something wrong," said the minister.

She added that she was engaging the Auditor General regarding his finding of misspending of R249 million.

Democratic Alliance MP Tim Breuteseth demanded to know how many people the department had fired in response to corruption in the Gijani project and accused her of giving the committee information dating from May.

"We have zero dismissals," he concluded.

The Inkatha Freedom Party's Mkhuleko Hlengwa said he believed the meeting should be postponed until the department was ready to come back with fresh data after it struggled to explain how the number of written warnings issued to officials stood at 34, when earlier it had reported 107.

MPs pointed out that written warnings could not be retracted and Breuteseth told the minister: 

"It is this level of confusion that puts your department where it is."

Hlengwa added that the department was giving "generic, blanket, one-size fits all answers".

The department said it was having some success in recovering money where contractors had been paid several times for the same service, notably Randwater received a "duplicate" payment of R33 million, though it was not sure whether the same in fact applied to another R18 million paid to the same company and might have to withdraw this claim.

It dismissed that reports that other contractors were waiting for outstanding payment of R1.1 billion, and said the true backlog amounted to R36 million in invoices where payment was 30 days overdue.

It emerged during the briefing that  the department has been paying auditing firm Ernst and Young up to R400,000 for the past two years to oversee accounting on the Giyani project and would continue to use its services until December, when the first phase classified as an emergency intervention is meant to be completed.

Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) chairperson Themba Godi said he would hazard a guess that the department had paid the company some R10 million for services so far.

African News Agency