Five people from the Umgeni Water board are believed to be on a luxurious trip to Las Vegas, USA, to attend a conference hosted by the American Water Works Association.
“This trip does not reflect the current financial state of DWS and needs ministerial permission,” says Yamkela Ntola, OUTA’s Portfolio Manager for Water and Environment.
“Attending a conference of this nature may well be beneficial to the interim board in as far as performing its functions, however in the light of the department’s financial position, why is it necessary that a majority of the board members attend?”
OUTA was alerted by an anonymous whistleblower and found that the list of conference attendees includes nine South Africans.
Five of them are from Umgeni Water, almost all on the entity’s interim board: Thami Hlongwa, acting chief executive; Sbusiso Madonsela, company secretary; Ziphozethu Mathenjwa, chairperson of the board; Midiavhathu Tshivhase, board member; and Monica Malungu.
The other South Africans on the trip include Sizwe Zuma of the Insika Foundation where Mathenjwa is also a director.
Photographs purportedly taken on the trip were also sent to OUTA.
The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is struggling financially. The water boards receive subsidies through the department.
Umgeni Water, which provides water and sanitation services for about 6 million people in KwaZulu-Natal, has had to cut its capital expenditure budget over the next few years due to reduced allocations from national government, which means that some projects are being delayed.
The report of the Auditor-General to the joint committee of inquiry into the functioning of the DWS, released earlier this year, showed that irregular expenditure at the Department had risen to R6.4 billion. It also raised concern about governance at four of the nine water boards, including Umgeni Water.
Austerity measures initiated in recent years by the National Treasury have limited travel to the minimum.
Two letters written in 2016 by then Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, to Umgeni Water, warned them about travel expenses and the National Treasury instructions. These letters also note that delegations should be limited to a “reasonable” number of officials.
“These letters indicate that Boards are required to obtain Ministerial approval prior to undertaking international travel. According to our information, this was not approved. We have written to the Minister asking for him to account for this expenditure,” says Ntola. The Minister is now Gugile Nkwinti.
OUTA believes that trips like this are where a lot of the irregular and fruitless expenditure occurs, particularly when officials travel on business class and stay at five-star accommodation, all at the expense of the taxpayer, whilst the water sector is in disarray.
OUTA has asked the Minister and Parliament to take action against these individuals and to hold them personally liable for the costs. “We are seeking legal advice on the way forward, should those in authority not take the necessary steps to hold these individuals to account,” says Ntola.
OUTA is a proudly South African non-profit civil action organisation, comprising of and supported by people who are passionate about holding government accountable and improving the prosperity of South Africa.