Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu with her deputy David Mahlobo at a media briefing in Parliament on Tuesday.

Parliament - Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said on Tuesday she was urgently arranging security vetting of her staff to allow them to work free of the suspicion that shadowed officials in the bankrupt water department.

"The most important thing for me is for my staff to be vetted and cleared immediately so that they are able to function, otherwise they will not be able to function if a cloud hangs over them. I would like them to look straight and proud and say they are working for this department, " Sisulu told a media briefing at Parliament.

She was answering questions about the dismal financial track record of the department immediately after delivering its budget vote speech in the legislature.

Sisulu said she needed more time to understand how the entity was pushed into bankruptcy and had asked National Treasury to help her set up an investigative team to achieve this, within a time frame not of months but weeks.

"I am still trying to understand this and I will not be able to understand until we have our investigations up and running and we have a report from them. Then I will be able to understand how we lost so much money and how it happened and be able to close those holes.

"Right now I have ensured that through (National) Treasury we appoint an investigative capacity immediately and we are able to investigate most of these issues... but the figures are shocking and I feel really sorry for the staff that have had to sit and explain all of this to treasury, the portfolio committee, and all of them because I don't know if they themselves know the extent of the damage."

Staff explained that Sisulu was seeking to establish an internal probe, separate to the work of the Special Investigative Unit. 

The SIU began investigating the department in 2017 for tender and other irregularities in the Giyani Emergency Project, after the cost escalated from R500 million to over R5 billion. 

National Treasury in the same year signalled that the department was R4.3 billion in the red, and that internal controls and contract management had collapsed. The trouble became apparent during the tenure of then water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane. The SIU report is not yet complete but officials told the African News Agency (ANA) that disciplinary processes against about 50 staff members were in the pipeline, flowing from other internal probes as well.

Sisulu said she was determined that the department could be rescued from its financial and management crisis, adding that water boards were clearly corrupt and that she would deal with this.

"We have a plan, we are determined to turn this department around."

African News Agency (ANA)