Water dept frustrates MPs with conflicting annual reports

Cape Town – MPs on the portfolio committee on water and sanitation were left frustrated on Wednesday after receiving two conflicting reports on the department of water’s leaking financials.

Both the department and the office of the auditor general reported to the committee on Wednesday on the 2016/17 annual reports, but differed on key figures and percentages in their respective reports.

The department disputed three aspects of the auditor general’s report: namely the R1.6bn figure of its irregular expenditure, and the costs incurred at the Water Trading Entity and the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority.

READ: Treasury paints bleak picture of water dept’s finances

Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and acting director general Sifiso Mkhize said the figure doesn’t take into account multi-year projects, where debt is rolled over.

It also didn’t take into account emergency projects needed to relieve citizens who did not have water.

Giyani, Mopani projects receive poor audits

Two of the biggest running projects of the department, the Giyani and Mopani water projects, received poor audit outcomes, achieving material findings in all aspects.

Both projects fell short in budget-versus-spending, financial management, compliance and pre-determined objectives.

Treasury told the committee earlier this year that the Giyani water project alone had begun with an initial 2016/17 budget of around R140m, but the current budget stood at R912m.

Mokonyane and her delegation’s constant defence was that emergency funds were sometimes accessed.

ANC MP Hlomani Chauke said emergency funds still needed to be accounted for with detailed ledgers.

“You have to bring a detailed report of that emergency money spent. Somebody has to account for it. You’ve spent R1.1bn that you are not accountable for.”

The department itself scored a 67% overall qualified audit, a regression from the previous year’s unqualified audit with findings.

Call for probes

The auditor general’s report identified ten projects of the department that needed further investigation.

Auditor Alice Muller said referrals need to be considered.

“We have definitely picked up some red flags. It’s now for investigators to go and look at these projects and get to the bottom of it.”

Committee chairperson Lulu Johnson said they would plan an oversight visit to the site of the Clanwilliam Dam. The costs on infrastructure there have escalated to R3bn, and contractors are being paid R2.5m a month without having the authorisation to work.

‘Frustrating’

MPs lamented the conflicting reports.

ANC MP Thomas Makondo said it would make their jobs difficult when they need to approve the department’s next budget.

DA MP Leon Basson highlighted that some figures in the department’s report was different to the auditor general’s. The auditor general said the department only achieved 28% of infrastructure projects, yet the department claimed it achieved 67%.

DA MP Tarnia Baker said, “There is so much contradictory information in these reports.

“To go back and forth is actually very frustrating. You report you’ve achieved objectives, but when we go through the annual report, the objectives have not been achieved. Maybe it is a true reflection of the status of the department’s financials.”

Johnson said they would schedule a meeting next week to have the department’s internal audit committee brief Parliament on the contrasting reports.