Water board awash with problems
The minister has been in a year-long spat with the board of a key, but flailing, water authority
Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane is at loggerheads with the state-owned bulk water supplier, the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA).The minister is demanding answers to why the entity has no chief executive and is not implementing the National Development Plan.
The squabble between the authority’s board and Mokonyane has been going on since last year. Numerous meetings have been cancelled and the treasury will now be brought in.
Last week Mokonyane wrote a letter to the board, demanding to know why the authority has still not appointed a permanent chief executive close to a year later.
She also asked how the board had taken key decisions without informing her — including the appointment of a law firm to investigate the former chief executive, James Ndlovu, and other officials, and how others were suspended without her knowledge.
The board had seven days to respond, which it has not done.
“The term of office of the former chief executive expired at the end of October 2016. A period of 10 months has elapsed, without any reasonable steps taken by the board to appoint a permanent chief executive. Despite the undertaking made at the meeting held on July 21 2017, between myself and the board … still no reasonable steps are being undertaken to fill the position,” reads the letter.
The TCTA is one of the most important water authorities in the department, as it was established to work with the Lesotho government to supply much-needed water in Gauteng and surrounding areas from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
But the minister’s spat with the TCTA won’t directly affect this multibillion-rand project, she said in an interview with the Mail & Guardian.
“My biggest worry is the day-today running of such an important organisation, which doesn’t have a permanent chief executive,” said Mokonyane.
“I have called numerous meetings with the board and it’s either that the chairperson is not available, or the board has no idea what is going on.”
The minister said she is concerned the board is not taking full responsibility for the operational issues of the TCTA.
According to the letter, the minister also wanted to know how law firm ENSafrica was hired to investigate irregular appointments.
“My office received a letter from one Mr Mhlongo, pertaining to the allegations of irregular appointment of ENS. A letter was written to you to respond within the timelines set out in the letter, however, to date no response has been received. I consider the aforesaid failures by the board in a very serious light, as they adversely compromise the credibility and integrity of [the] TCTA,” the letter states.
It is understood that the board hired ENSafrica earlier this year to provide a legal opinion on an investigation — by advisory services firm EY — into irregular appointments, promotions and salary increases of certain officials at the TCTA.
The ENSafrica investigation found that Ndlovu had irregularly appointed a number of senior managers without going through the board and had also irregularly awarded a tender.
“On the face of it, there seems to be enough indication to justify that Mr Ndlovu be reported to the South African Police Services for fraud,” reads the ENSafrica report.
Ndlovu stepped down in November last year before the finalisation of the investigation, which Mokonyane said she had no idea about.
Meanwhile the board is allegedly also refusing to tell Mokonyane why it had not participated in the establishment of the National Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Agency (Nawasia), which forms part of the National Development Plan.
“The department has an obligation to implement the establishment of the Nawasia. Despite the various requests made by the department of water and sanitation to the TCTA to participate in the process of establishing Nawasia, no response has been received,” the letter reads.
Mokonyane said the board is failing to fulfil its role. “With the financial challenges we are facing right now in the department and the water boards, we can’t afford to have a board that is working like this.”
The board acknowledged receipt of the letter but said it would first like to respond to the minister before answering the M&G’s questions.
Impasse: The Little Caledon bypass (above) runs water into Gauteng. In 2009, James Ndlovu (left) attested to the water board’s soundness. Photos: Delwyn Verasamy and Deaan Vivier/ Gallo Images/Foto24