The department of water and sanitation under former minister Nomvula Mokonyane splurged billions on overblown project-management and professional fees, deviating from tender procedures without consulting Treasury as required, Business Day has reported.
Treasury officials and Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu reportedly told Parliament on Tuesday that the department was also beset by a skills and leadership crisis, adding to its financial problems.
Tuesday's briefing was in preparation for a full-scale Parliamentary inquiry into the department, and officials from the Special Investigating Unit briefed MPs in camera. The department has asked the Reserve Bank for a R2.9-billion overdraft and has incurred billions in irregular expenditure.
Makwetu told MPs that the department's financial problems were a drain on the national fiscus.
"We are where we are largely because of deviations over the years — things like duplicate payments, spending on projects that are not budgeted for, payments for projects that are not complete. We see a lot of irregular expenditure and overpayments," said Makwetu.
Irregular expenditure at the department reached R4.5-billion over the past year, News24 reported. The department also overpaid consultants, and there were cases of double invoicing, MPs reportedly heard.
A high turnover rate of senior officials also added to the department's financial problems. "Years of instability of leadership" had made the problem worse, said Makwetu.
"And when they moved on, there was sometimes a loss of documentation to provide evidence for transactions," Makwetu said.
Andries Sekgetho of the auditor-general's office reportedly said there were many instances in which it appeared as if the minister was behind poor decisions, but there was no paper trail. In one case, an official had taken an instruction from Mokonyane to get new furniture.
"The official said it was a ministerial instruction. The minister said: 'I said I wanted it done, I did not mean the official must break the law.' So it became a 'he said/she said' thing. We don't know what happened behind closed doors," Sekgetho reportedly said.
At the end of February, Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) chair Themba Godi expressed concerns that the department was at a "tipping point", with concerns that it was on the brink of collapse, Eyewitness News reported.
The department reportedly overspent its budget by R2-billion. ANC MP Vincent Smith reportedly said, "We have a concern that this department could well be a bankrupt institution."