Human settlements confident of regaining 'missing billions'

Human settlements confident of regaining 'missing billions'

There has been progress in dealing with officials in the department of human settlements, water and sanitation who are implicated in irregularities.

That was the word from minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who on Thursday appeared before parliament’s portfolio committee on human settlements, water and sanitation.

Sisulu told the committee that with the help of an advisory committee she established in December 2020, the department was able to move swiftly to act against officials who were flagged for irregularities by the auditor-general (AG) in the previous year.

“The AG had previously said there is no consequence management in most departments, especially within our department. This had an effect in eroding the AG’s confidence in the department running its affairs efficiently,” said Sisulu. 

The advisory committee, headed by Susan Shabangu, is mostly focused on disciplinary measures against officials flagged in reports by the AG and other forensic investigations.

In her address, Shabangu said the committee had managed to finalise more than 100 of  166 disciplinary cases. Shabangu said they were left with about 47 cases which she committed to completing by the end of July.

“The problem we face is that these are very complex cases and in most instances they also involve external people [service providers],” she said. 

Committee chairperson Machwene Semenya raised concerns about the recovery of lost money.

“You cannot recover R100,000 when the loss is billions. Also, you cannot use a lot of money to recover R100,000 when billions were lost,” Semenya said. 

A point of concern for most members was the lack of criminal prosecutions against officials.

A lot of money went missing. We are talking billions, but with the involvement of the SIU we believe that money will come back to the department.
Susan Shabangu

Shabangu revealed 23 officials had been referred to the police for further investigation, of which nine had resigned from the department.

“The cases were reported to the police but we are not sure if they [police] take these matters seriously. There’s a lack of follow-up from police and we see no action from them.

“The minister [Sisulu] must take up this issue with the ministers of police and justice because we continue to refer matters but nothing happens. We continue to face this challenge over and over again. The minister also needs to raise this at cabinet level,” Shabangu said.

She said another problem they faced was officials who jumped from one department to another, despite the serious allegations they faced.

“Those officials are never dealt with,” she said.

EFF member Shirley Mokgotho asked the department how much it had paid the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) so far and how much it spent on Shabangu’s team because she felt this was a duplication of duties.

Sisulu could not immediately answer but undertook to send the information regarding spending on the SIU to the committee.

Regarding how much the department spent on the team headed by Shabangu, Sisulu said they could not be paid enough for what the department had lost.

Shabangu said they were trying to locate missing billions within the department. “A lot of money went missing. We are talking billions, but with the involvement of the SIU we believe that money will come back to the department,” she said.

On the duplication of duties, Sisulu said the work done by Shabangu’s team was not a duplication of the SIU work because the SIU worked on proclamations from the presidency while the work done by the advisory team supplemented functions of the department to ensure disciplinary processes were timeously completed.

Despite the shortcomings identified by the portfolio committee members, they applauded the department for its progress and said it seemed to be on the right track.

Sisulu said the department had a monitoring and evaluation strategy in place to make sure the department did not repeat past mistakes.