water affairs Director General, Pam Yako, has opened a can of worms. The department is considering how to discipline at least three of its top officials whom the investigation says violated procurement policies in multimillion-rand tenders.
But this might be only the tip of the iceberg. Several departmental sources have said that water affairs is rife with what they called "deals for pals". And service providers have confidentially expressed concern that the department has, in effect, been running a business.
The report of the Auditor General, Terence Nombembe, was completed in May and presented to Parliament on Tuesday. It says Yako awarded a tender to a company of which one shareholder is a friend and business partner. This violated tender policies, it says.
The report also says Yako and the chief financial officer, Onesmus Ayaya, condoned irregular expenditures amounting to millions of rands.
In a separate development, the chief director for financial management of water trading, Zandile Mathe, is under investigation regarding a multimillion-rand tender.
A senior departmental source said: "These revelations are only now beginning to touch on the nub of corruption at water affairs. The reason the country has not delivered on the water projects is simply because of this thing [corruption]."
Buyelwa Sonjica, the Water Affairs Minister, suspended Yako in July last year following allegations of financial irregularity and maladministration and asked the Auditor General to investigate the claims.
Yako is challenging her suspension in the Labour Court. In an answering affidavit, Sonjica named the former public works director general, Sipho Shezi, as the whistle-blower responsible for reporting Yako.
Shezi's company, Sirius, is part of a consortium, Sirius Kwinana, which won the largest departmental contract last year -- worth R47,8-million -- for a water-efficiency project.
Shezi told the Mail & Guardian that he gave Sonjica a dossier compiled by "concerned" department officials who fingered Yako.
"If it was not for the fact that I had raised this thing of [Yako], I don't think that it would have been attended to," he said. "I find it intriguing that the minister chose to expose me like that. It does not make sense why a political principal would expose a whistle-blower."
Supporters of Yako say the Sirius Kwinana contract was strictly controlled by Mathe and Yako and Ayaya were kept out of the loop.
"When [Yako] began to ask too many questions about the contract, suddenly one of the beneficiaries runs over to the minister and complains about Yako's alleged corruption," one of her supporters in the department said.
The contract was initially worth R47,8-million but is now standing at more than R72-million after the scope of work was extended. Mathe was the chairperson of the tender board that awarded the contract.
Mathe herself is now suspended because of that contract. The M&G reported last month that the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, believed Mathe might have been victimised because she questioned the contract. Madonsela's investigation is proceeding.
A KPMG investigation handed to the department last week suggested Mathe was guilty of irregularities (see KPMG's findings below).
Mathe and another partner in the consortium, Yakhe Kwinana, were close friends, the M&G has been told. Shezi said the two friends had a fall-out and that was when Mathe started to question the contract.
But Kwinana and Mathe both insist that they knew each other at a professional level only.
"I got to know Zandile because I had a contract with water affairs, which I do not think she was involved in," said Kwinana. "I know her as a client."
Mathe and Shezi knew each other when they both worked in the Department of Public Works. Mathe confirms this but insists the work relationship did not influence her to favour Sirius Kwinana for the huge contract.
Shezi denies remembering Mathe as a former colleague: "I even forgot that she worked for me at public works."
He also questions senior management's lack of involvement in the water-efficiency project. "Why does a project worth R47,8-million not get to the top management, including the director general and the minister?" he asked.
Mathe said she had held only one meeting with her manager, Ayaya, since the multimillion-rand project began. "Any attempt made by my assistant to arrange meetings with him [were] seriously frustrated by his office."
Mava Scott, the departmental spokesperson, said management controls are in place to ensure effective oversight of all projects. The department is considering the contents of the KPMG report, Scott said.
A KPMG investigation last week found that Mathe changed the scope of Kwinana's work 14 times within 18 months. It recommended that the company's work be referred back to the department's bid adjudication committee.
Disciplinary action should be taken against Mathe for changing the scope of Kwinana's work from the original and so frustrating the service provider, KPMG recommended.
The investigation also recommended that the suspended chief director should be disciplined for spending R2,1-million on a forensic audit that merely revealed a possible double payment to service providers of R14 000.