Lindiwe Sisulu has talked up her department’s moves to combat corruption, but the human settlements, water and sanitation minister failed to address the corruption claims against her top adviser, which have continued to gain momentum.
On Wednesday Sisulu held a media briefing at which she went on the offensive, listing a total of 139 corruption cases that have been investigated by the department since she took office.
Sisulu was at pains to show “how serious we are about dealing with corruption” in water and sanitation, a response, albeit indirectly, to a wave of accusations that chief director Mphumzi Mdekazi had pressured the Amatola Water (Eastern Cape) and Lepelle Northern Water (Limpopo) boards to award tenders to a specific company.
Mdekazi has, through his lawyer, denied any wrongdoing in his dealing with the boards or any of the department’s other entities.
Sisulu described the corruption she had inherited when she became minister a year ago, along with the bankrupt department, as “staggering”. She said the department’s stabilisation committee was considering restructuring the department to “tighten up systems and policies” and ensure clean governance.
Sisulu said she had spent the better part of her year in office dealing with corruption cases.
She announced that she had appointed Terry Motau SC to investigate corruption in the department and the entities under its control. Motau, who investigated the VBS Mutual Bank “heist”, would act as her legal representative and would advise on additional anti-corruption measures to tighten up procurement controls.
Sisulu did not make reference to the alleged interference by Mdekazi in water boards’ procurements. Instead, she hinted at the involvement of the Amatola and Lepelle boards’ leaders in maladministration.
She said the two boards have been audited and a third is about to be placed under the microscope.
She said she had decided to place the boards under “executive focus” over the outcome of the audits and “instability” in the boards, so that “we are quite certain that matters we found to be irregular will be attended to”.
Lepelle board chief executive Phineas Legodi and his Amatola counterpart, Vuyo Zitumane, have made statements to the Hawks accusing Mdekazi of putting pressure on them to award sand water extraction contracts to a single company, whose name is known to the Mail & Guardian.
Sisulu said the two chief executives have been suspended.
Legodi and Zitumane said in affidavits, which M&G has seen, that they are being removed from office because of their opposition to awarding the contracts to this company.
Regarding the furore over her National Rapid Response Task Team, which she had appointed after taking office, Sisulu maintained her silence. The team members have been accused of illegally fundraising for her 2022 ANC election campaign.
She reportedly reinstated the team members after firing them in an April 15 memorandum that was later withdrawn.
Last week the M&G reported that Sisulu had fired its members and in the memorandum she had effectively admitted knowing they had been acting corruptly, but had kept quiet.
Sisulu states in it that she had disbanded the team after becoming aware that some of its members had been unlawfully raising money in her name, claiming that this was part of her ANC election campaign.
Her spokesperson, McIntosh Polela, at the time refused to comment on the authenticity of the memorandum, instead saying that the team remained in place and was still working.
Wednesday’s briefing with Sisulu was closed down by her staff
after a “suspicious individual” dialled in to the Zoom call through which the media briefing was being conducted.
Her spokesperson, Thuso Zibula, requested written questions from the M&G, but had not responded to them at the time of publication.
Emma Powell, the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on water and sanitation, said Sisulu’s announcements on the water boards was “a deliberate attempt by her spin doctors to obscure serious, criminal claims faced by the minister with specific references to tender meddling at Amatola and Lepelle water boards”.
Powell said claims by both Legodi and Zitumane in their affidavits directly implicated Sisulu in meddling in procurement processes, which made a mockery of her appointment of Motau to investigate the boards.
“It is outrageous that the same politician embroiled in claims of tender meddling, feels it fit to directly appoint the firms responsible for the investigation,” Powell said.
She said Sisulu had failed to respond to written questions regarding the team and that she would lay a criminal charge against the minister for failing to act against its members despite knowing that they were acting illegally.