Knives out at water and sanitation

A former senior department of water and sanitation official alleges the minister’s adviser and an MP tried to blackmail her to implicate former minister Nomvula Mokonyane in wrongdoing.

The claim was made in an affidavit by former acting chief financial officer Mbalenhle Manukuza in an urgent case in the high court in Pretoria in December.

The department wants the court to order the Government Employees Pension Fund to withhold the payment of pension benefits to Manukuza and another former chief financial officer, Rebeca Nkomo, until it has recovered more than R17-million the department said was irregularly paid to Fumile Advisory Services.

Mokonyane was removed as minister of water and sanitation in February last year. She left behind a department where irregular expenditure had accelerated from R13-million in 2009 to R4-billion in 2017, according to the auditor general.

Acting chief director of legal services Mapula Khuduga said in an affidavit that Manukuza improperly approved the payment to Fumile.

Nkomo was involved in irregularly awarding the contract to Fumile to investigate fruitless and wasteful expenditure on certain projects, according to an internal audit report.

When approached for comment, Nkomo said she had resigned and her responses had been sent to the department.

In Manukuza’s answering affidavit, she said the department was taking her to court because of her refusal “to falsely implicate the former minister [Mokonyane] and former acting director general [Sifiso Mkhize] in wrongdoing”.

Manukuza claims that, in May last year, Dumisani Lupungela, current Minister Gugile Nkwinti’s adviser, phoned her. “He wanted to confirm that I was alone in my office when answering his call … he further instructed that I must never share the contents of our conversation with anyone and that we never had the conversation,” reads the affidavit.

She said Lupungela wanted her to confirm that Fumile was “appointed to cover up the former minister’s wrongdoing, as well as to cover up the wrongdoing of Mr Sifiso Mkhize and Ms Zandile Makhathini [the director general for national water resources infrastructure].

“He indicated that, if I would assist him with all the information they require to plot the demise of the former minister Nomvula Mokonyane, Makhathini and Mkhize, he would make life easy for me and that if I refused to co-operate, he would make sure that I would be frustrated in the department,” reads the affidavit.

When Lupungela was contacted for comment he said all questions relating to his work for the department must be sent to the spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau.

He said: “The department still needs to file further papers before the court and these issues will be addressed there.”

In replying papers, Khuduga says she does not have any knowledge of the allegations. “Consequently I cannot admit or deny same and I put the second respondent [Manukuza] to the proof thereof.”

Manukuza said that after she refused to co-operate with Lupungela, she was given a “notice to suspend on allegations of misconduct”.

Then, in August, the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on water and sanitation, Lulu Johnson, asked to meet her at Tashas restaurant in Morningside, Johannesburg.

“In the meeting he indicated that he could help me to make the notice of intention to suspend me disappear on condition that I provide him with information of all the wrongdoing in the department and the responsible people.

“It then became clear to me that the notice to suspend me for paying Fumile was to scare me so I would co-operate in providing the information requested to plot the demise of the former minister,” reads her affidavit.

Manukuza decided to resign.

Johnson confirmed that he had met Manukuza at Tashas but said the discussion had nothing to do with plotting against anyone — he simply wanted to know what was happening in the department.

“I do meet with the DG [director general] and some of the DDG’s [deputy directors general] from time to time,” he said, adding: “She is lying if she says I called her to dig any dirt on the former minister or anyone. I made it very clear, [I wanted to know] what is going on from a finance point of view. I asked her to give me a report about what is going on in the department.

Johnson said Manukuza’s claims are a “figment of her own imagination”.

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Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

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