Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa stands accused of nepotism and meddling in the work of administrators to get things done her way in the department, even if it results in alleged irregularities.
Some of these allegations are now under investigation by the public protector and the auditor general.
Chief among the allegations is that she has hired her own preferred candidates, including radio and television personalities, on contract through her ministry office, only to pass them on to the department for higher and better-paid positions.
Molewa is also accused of influencing the decision to award a R420-million information technology contract to Business Connexion earlier this year. The awarding of the contract did not follow State Information Technology Agency (Sita) requirements, raising a suspicion that she favoured the winning bidder.
Molewa's spokesperson, Mava Scott, said: "The auditor general's office is looking into the issue of the awarding of the tender and they will make a determination at an appropriate time."
But, Scott said, Molewa was not involved in the adjudication of the tender and had not identified a preferred service provider.
According to Africa Boso, spokesperson for the auditor general's office, it was "finalising a management report, which will detail all the key findings that will form part of our normal, annual regularity audit of the department of water affairs for 2013-2014.
"If the matter you are inquiring about has some findings, it will be included as part of this report, which will be presented to the minister of water affairs when completed."
Questions have also been raised within Molewa's department about several employees who joined the department after her arrival.
A chief director in the department used the Protected Disclosures Act to write to President Jacob Zuma's office, the auditor general, the public protector and the Public Service Commission, raising allegations of corruption, maladministration and nepotism regarding Molewa.
She is accused of "appointing her people from North West in all senior positions. She has taken over the administration roles from the DG [director general] and does whatever she wants to do, regardless of whether it clouds processes or not," the writer said, adding that since Molewa's arrival in 2010 after she was moved from the social development portfolio in a Cabinet reshuffle, there had been "low staff morale".
Molewa said she had seen the three-page complaint but the offices concerned had yet to point out any wrongdoing by her office.
Scott said Molewa "does not meddle in administrative matters, neither has she engaged in activities that can be described as nepotism.
Hiring in an unfair manner
"The minister takes strong exception to these allegations and wishes to make it clear that all decisions that she has taken are within the ambit of her responsibilities as allowed in terms of the law and all relevant prescripts of the public service."
Among the people Molewa is accused of hiring in an unfair manner is Phillip Gumede, a consultant.
He joined the water affairs department to assist the finance department soon after Molewa took over. Although he did not have the required qualifications, he applied for the post of director of financial accounting. He was not appointed after "too many questions" were asked by members of the selection and interviewing committees who opposed his appointment, according to two departmental sources.
Gumede is currently employed on contract as the deputy director in financial management.
Said Scott: "It was subsequently established that he [Gumede] did not have the relevant qualifications and therefore was not appointed to the position.
"However, it must be stressed that government policy is clear that past experience and competence can be considered in place of academic qualifications."
Gumede served as Molewa's chief financial officer when she was North West premier.
The Mail & Guardian has seen an internal communiqué to Molewa with short-listed candidates for interviews. The minister approved the list on condition that Gumede was added to it and then removed five of the names, including those of two water affairs officials who had been acting in the position.
In the short-listing process, the candidates were scored on, among other things, their skills, experience and "formal knowledge".
Gumede scored four points and the other candidates' scores ranged from seven to 16 points.
According to the law, the authority to approve a short list for the filling of a post at senior management level rests with the executive authority, Molewa.
Speaking to the M&G by phone from Japan on Wednesday, where she was attending a meeting of negotiations over a Minamata convention on mercury, Molewa said it was her prerogative to ensure that suitable people were appointed in senior management positions.
"I read before I sign things. Those people are your cream of management; you can never go wrong with that. I want a strong team of management."
In another case that has raised hackles at the department, Molewa arrived at water affairs with an adviser, Squire Mahlangu, also a long-serving public servant in the North West. Water affairs sources allege that Molewa instructed that the process to appoint a chief director for transformation be stopped, although the applications had been received and short-listing was under way for interviews. Mahlangu was appointed to the position.
"Mr Mahlangu never applied for this position and he was not part of the applicants to be short-listed," said a chief director who complained to the public protector's office.
Mahlangu has since risen up the ranks to the position of deputy director general: corporate services.
Scott said Mahlangu took up the position of chief director of transformation because of a "lateral transfer" following a request from the department of defence and military veterans to the water affairs department.
"Given his previous position as commissioner of the public service in the North West and his extensive experience on transformation issues, the department deemed it necessary to deploy him in the position of chief director transformation."
Molewe has also appointed former radio presenter Alfred "Bigboy" Moagi as a researcher and former television presenter Duncan Senye as a speechwriter for her office. But, after allegations of poor performance, the two have been moved to the department's communications unit.
In response, Scott said Moagi and Senye had been "relocated" to the communications unit "to ensure more efficient communication and monitoring and better utilisation of resources".
Moagi referred questions to Scott.
Scott added that Moagi and Senye were appointed on contracts that are linked to Molewa's term of office and that these positions are not advertised. "Senye and Moagi were therefore head-hunted," said Scott.
Molewa said there was nothing wrong with the tender process that appointed Business Connexion. "That IT contract went as smooth as it can. That process was fair."
She said she could not stand on the side and watch her department collapse without an IT service provider.
"If services collapse, it's me whose head is on the block. There's nothing unethical about this thing. The only big thing is that we didn't issue the tender through Sita."