Sisulu to ‘sweep’ clean her corruption-ridden department

Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu says her department is determined to root out corruption and maladministration without relying on the other arms of government’s law enforcement agencies. 

Sisulu was briefing the parliamentary portfolio committee on human settlements, water and sanitation on Thursday about the progress of the investigations and disciplinary processes the department is following to root out corruption.

“The auditor general is worried that there is no consequence management in certain departments, especially water and sanitation. And there are fears we can’t run the department efficiently. We need to fight this. We are establishing an entity that will help us to root out corruption, in order to stabilise the department,” Sisulu said. 

The 2019-20 financial year report suggests that a staggering R10-billion has been squandered in the department.

“The committee is dealing with reports of forensic investigations looking at corruption, fraud, maladministration, misconduct and irregular expenditure. We are also working with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to finalise these investigations. It’s possible for us as a government to clean up our house without having to wait for the other arms of government to intervene.”

According to Sisulu, her department has also received a report of irregularities from the Special Investigating Unit  that should have already been dealt with.

Sisulu said 97 officials are under investigation and over 24 have resigned on their own. However the department will follow criminal procedures to investigate those who have resigned. 

In December 2020, Sisulu established a departmental stabilisation committee headed by the former minister for social development, Susan Shabangu.

“She is a disciplinarian, and we are confident that the committee will perform a good job under her leadership. Already the committee is taking action against officials who have been implicated in fraud and corruption.”

Shabangu told the portfolio committee that she is positive that the stabilisation committee will be finished with investigating the cases of irregular expenditure and corruption within the department by the end of this year. 

“It has not been an easy process, it’s been very tough. Because these cases also involve external people. Starting from next week we are dealing with the cases, and they mostly involve senior management officials,” said Shabangu. 

“There are billions missing from the department. R1.3-billion in irregular expenditure was discovered during the 2019-20 financial year because of work carried out by the internal audit unit. Employees who have been implicated in corruption have been served with charge sheets and are due to appear in court.

“We are also busy with disciplinary processes via the treasury,” she said, while acknowledging: “This is big money.” 

Shabangu said the SIU was helping. “If we do not go the SIU route, we will not be able to recover all this money. We are positive that by the end of this year, we will have concluded all of these matters,” she said. 

Shabangu said they have made remarkable progress because internal control is now fully applied in the department. 

“We started by looking at senior management in terms of the investigations going to junior management and all other general employees. Many cases are related to procurement irregularities. We are aware that things are not moving as swiftly as they should because of the backlog in cases. The department currently has a total of 47 disciplinary cases that are under investigation,” she added.

ANC MP Nancy Sihlwayi said she was concerned because the department has been quiet for a long time about important matters. She referred to the huge R3-billion Giyani water project that was supposed to bring relief after years of water shortage to the people of Giyani. The project has remained in limbo for years.

“Government has undermined the people of Giyani. The people who have done that sin in Giyani should be dealt with. And then there is the Amatola water entity in the Eastern Cape, which is the talk of the town. No one is paying close attention to the issues inside there that demand a lot of our attention,” said Sihlwayi. 

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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