In a spirited effort to rein in fraud and corruption amounting to billions of rands in her department, Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has embarked on a major clean-up campaign that could see some senior managers fired or even prosecuted.
A senior investigator tasked with tying up some of the considerable fraud and grand corruption investigations into the department’s top management structures told City Press that officials were allegedly withholding crucial evidence of wrongdoing by their bosses, which, they believed, could result in “open and shut criminal cases” when obtained.
Another investigator said the delays caused by the officials’ refusal to cooperate with investigations and disciplinary processes had allegedly resulted in evidence being “destroyed daily and a lot of it will never be recovered”. Some of the officials are believed to be in possession of vital data needed to finalise certain high-profile cases.
Sisulu seemed to have stirred up the hornet’s nest with her crusade to not only rid her department and the majority of water boards of corrupt officials, but for also pressuring for the immediate arrest, prosecution and recovery of billions of rands stolen by entrenched and sophisticated networks of service providers in collusion with water boards and department officials.
City Press has seen parts of an investigation report sent to Sisulu, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), as well as to the portfolio committee on human settlements, water and sanitation.
The report also exposes allegations of a bizarre relationship between Lepelle Northern Water Board former CEO Phineas Legodi and Sisulu’s predecessor, Gugile Nkwinti, and other officials. It paints a disturbing picture of how Nkwinti allegedly went out of his way to protect Legodi from facing a disciplinary hearing for alleged maladministration.
The investigation also shows how Nkwinti allegedly lied to Parliament on more than one occasion to save the then powerful water board head honcho.
Legodi allegedly manipulated board members to remove Kennedy Tshivhase as the chairperson during an extraordinary evening meeting he hurriedly facilitated after he heard about his own imminent suspension.
The suspension followed a disciplinary process on the recommendation of an SIU investigation that uncovered evidence of gross maladministration by Legodi.
He also allegedly had the minister ratify Tshivhase’s unlawful suspension and then went with him to two sittings in Parliament, where Nkwinti allegedly repeatedly lied to Scopa and the portfolio committee to protect the erstwhile CEO.
Legodi and Nkwinti are likely to find themselves in trouble as both committees and the investigators believe they have information that shows how the former minister deliberately lied to Parliament on more than one occasion to protect Legodi.
The former minister’s alleged lies paved the way for the total control and looting spree of the Lepelle Northern Water Board.
CORRUPT OR NOT?
In an interview with City Press, Legodi denied exerting undue pressure on either Nkwinti or the board of directors. He also insisted that the SIU never recommended that he should be suspended from the water board.
“The SIU never said that I must be suspended. You can’t come and investigate, I give you full information, I comply with everything you want and later on you issue a recommendation that I must be suspended. “For what? Because the investigation is done? There was never a point where the SIU or the board said I must be suspended,” said Legodi.
Lepelle’s erstwhile CEO offered an alternative story, saying that a concerted effort to throw him under the bus was under way by Tshivhase, whom, Legodi said, was initially of the view that the SIU had no case against him.
Legodi said the then board chairperson was persuaded to turn against him.
“In 2016, I was appointed as the CEO. At some point, Tshivhase said I must resign and the SIU would drop the charges.
“He then persuaded the board to suspend me. Most investigators were Venda and he’s the Venda chief. He changed his tune after meeting with the SIU in the village after eating a goat.
“The SIU always wanted a sacrificial lamb and I’m the one. Tshivhase even offered me money [a golden handshake] to leave. I couldn’t run because these things would follow me. “I am 42 and have 20 years of active life. Maybe one day I want to sit on the [court] bench,” he said.
However, the investigation report seen by City Press shows how Nkwinti was said to have allegedly encouraged Legodi to continue with an unlawful forensic investigation into Tshivhase and his board members, despite stating in court papers that such a probe was deemed illegal if not ordered by him.
Nkwinti conceded in an affidavit that he was out of his depth – something that caused him to be “embarrassed”.
“On or about January 16 2019 I provided my response to that letter [of Tshivhase’s suspension], in which I granted the request for ratification and appointed H Matsepe as the acting chairperson [of the water board] until the matter had been concluded.
“To my regret and embarrassment, I must also add that I never gave the applicant an opportunity to make representations in this regard. I must immediately add that I am not a legally qualified person,” Nkwinti said in court papers.
Several calls and requests for comment sent to Nkwinti went unanswered for two weeks.
According to the rules of Parliament, the pair could face a fine or “imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or both” for lying.
Yesterday, Tshivhase’s representative hit back at Legodi.
“The allegations by Legodi are noted and will be responded to appropriately. But it is not uncommon for a cat on a hot tin roof to start shouting without thinking, as people also are prone to from time to time.
“Legodi needs to go and shout at the SIU and Scopa. They will be most interested in both his excuses and views on tribalists and tribalism and what this has to do with his being a liar or corrupt or not,” said the representative.