Umgeni Water boss suspended over jobs for pals, tender rigging claims

Umgeni Water is a state-owned entity and is the largest supplier of bulk potable water in KwaZulu-Natal. (David Harrison, M&G)

Umgeni Water is a state-owned entity and is the largest supplier of bulk potable water in KwaZulu-Natal. (David Harrison, M&G)

KwaZulu-Natal’s Umgeni Water chief executive, Cyril Gamede, has been placed on precautionary suspension by the utility’s board of directors after a meeting in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday.

Umgeni Water is a state-owned entity and is the largest supplier of bulk potable water in the province. The suspension relates to a series of damning allegations made in an anonymous email sent by an employee to the board, as well as to Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and several other people.

Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder said the suspension “was served on him by members of the board at a meeting this afternoon in Pietermaritzburg”.

Harichunder said Gamede’s precautionary suspension was to allow the independent forensic investigation into “certain allegations made in an anonymous letter sent to members of the board and other stakeholders” to go ahead.

The whistle-blower was a technician “pained” how an unnamed senior official was allegedly “running down” the organisation “through corrupt conduct and behaviour”, according to an IOL weekend report.

Among the allegations were claims that the official and other employees had abused their positions to arrange tenders of tens of millions of rands and jobs for friends and that work had overrun in terms of project costs and completion deadlines without any penalties against contractors, it was reported.

Two Umgeni Water insiders told the Mail & Guardian that the precautionary suspension letter was initially meant to have been served on Gamede in a board meeting on Friday.

“Unfortunately we received information that he was not well and had taken sick leave. We couldn’t get hold of him,” said the insider, who asked not to be identified.

Another source, who cannot be named for fear of reprisal, said the allegations against Gamede were “serious”.

“It’s corruption, bribery - a host of things … It was this email but other whistle-blowers have come forward with information,” he said.

Department of water and sanitation spokesperson Mlimandlela Ndamase said the minister had not yet been made aware of the suspension “but I’m sure that she will be update, if that is the decision they have taken”. 

“The minister had referred the matter to the board to consider the allegations being made, if it saw fit to launch a preliminary investigation,” he said.

Attempts to get comment from Gamede were unsuccessful at the time of publication.

His phone was answered by a man who refused to identify himself.
He promised to ask Gamede to return the call.

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