Even if municipalities do not pay up, the water supply needs to continue, says Mokonyane
WATER and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has revealed to MPs that her department is under financial pressure, with municipalities and water boards owing it R7 billion.
Mokonyane told the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday that this was a lot of money that needed to be recovered from municipalities.
She said the debt had even led officials in the department to include the R7bn debt in their financial management plans, but have been told to stop the practice.
Mokonyane said they were not like Eskom which can switch off the lights to defaulting municipalities, the department cannot stop the supply of water to municipalities that are in arrears.
Mokonyane was facing a grilling from Scopa on irregular expenditure of billions of rand when she revealed the municipal debt.
Initially, the minister said the municipal debt was R7bn. But she later said municipalities owed her department R3.8bn and water boards R3.2bn.
She said they wanted to recover the money from the defaulting municipalities and water boards.
However, they would not be able to cut-off the water supply.
“By law, we cannot switch off water to municipalities. The Department of Cooperative Governance and National Treasury is trying to recover the R7bn owed to the Water Trading Entity (WTE),” she said.
“The WTE had worked on the basis that there is R7bn that is coming. The challenge with water (non-payment) is different from Eskom. Even if municipalities do not pay we must continue to supply water,” said Mokonyane.
Mkhuleko Hlengwa of the IFP said there was instability in the department due to the suspension of officials.
He said the current Director-General, Dan Matshitiso, has been placed under suspension a few months after being appointed to the position.
He took over the position after the previous Director-General, Margaret Diedericks, who resigned halfway through her term.
Mokonyane said Diedericks was going to leave soon because she had been transferred.
She said Matshitiso will be facing disciplinary action over various allegations relating to his work.
Matshitiso has been replaced by the Chief Financial Officer of the department, Sifiso Mkhize, in an acting capacity.
Mokonyane also assured Scopa there were investigations into the water project in Giyani after the cost ballooned to R2.5bn.
She said the Special Investigating Unit and the Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, are investigating the project.
She added that they have also roped in auditing firm Ernst & Young to look at whether the department was getting value for money.
“Ernst & Young is doing a verification of the project. These others are not our own initiative. They started when we had already started,” said Mokonyane.
Members of Scopa were also left fuming that the Northern Lepelle Water Board spent R336 million to install boreholes in Mopani.
Nthabiseng Khunou said she could not understand why a borehole which would cost a few thousand rand would have a bill of hundreds of millions of rands.
MPs said the figure should not have risen to R336m and demanded a breakdown of the costs of the boreholes that had been installed.