A new proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe the Lepelle Northern Water Board (LNW) in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape’s Amatola Water Board (AWB), should cast light on long-standing allegations of corruption and maladministration. The two entities fall under the oversight of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).

President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the document on 11 July 2022 and it was gazetted on 5 August.

The LNW and AWB have operated under a cloud for a long time – but have been allowed to do so. At a briefing before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts in June 2020, SIU senior forensic lawyer Pranesh Maharaj said the organisation had received allegations from a whistle-blower on serious fraud and maladministration for emergency procurement and drought relief procurement, at the two water boards in question.

Furthermore, the SIU had submitted proclamation requests for both cases, said Maharaj – and has now received them, more than two years later. A proclamation was signed on 19 July 2021 to investigate the DWS, but it related to the national department primarily.

As far back as 2014 the LNW was involved in the questionable appointment of a service consultant without a tender, on the instruction of then minister Nomvula Mokonyane, in connection with the long-delayed Nandoni-Giyani pipeline for the provision of bulk water to 55 desperate communities. The use of LNW as the implementing agent directly contravened a Supreme Court order stipulating a tender for the remediation and completion of the works. Furthermore, there was no budget for the procurement.

LNW appointed LTE Consulting on Mokonyane’s orders. LTE in turn appointed two associated companies, Khato Civils and South Zambezi, to build the project, also without any formal procurement process to ensure value for money. What’s more, LTE grossly overcharged for the work done by their two associates.

The Nandoni project, tragically, is still not complete. In May this year current water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu described the R3-billion bulk water project, which was covered extensively in Corruption Watch’s and the Water Integrity Network’s 2020 water report, as an embarrassment to his department.

The same service providers were appointed in the same way at the AWB, Maharaj said in 2020, and around 60% of the R230-million allocated to the water board was said to have been set aside for them although again there was no budget for this procurement.

In addition to investigating, the SIU will seek to recover any financial losses incurred through corruption and negligence.

The proclamation covers allegations of unlawful and improper conduct that took place between 1 August 2019 and 5 August 2022, the date of the proclamation’s publication, as well as matters that happened before 1 August 2019 and after the proclamation date that are relevant to, connected with, incidental to, or involve the same persons, entities or contracts investigated.