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New Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, and more suspensions at DWA

6 November 2010 at 7:52 pm

Business Day, 3 November 2011

A chaotic Department of Water Affairs has a new minister and a suspended director-general — and now acting director-general Nobubele Ngele has been suspended on allegations of tender fraud.

Ms Ngele’s suspension on Monday, along with that of chief financial officer Onesmus Ayaya, follows the suspension of director-general Pam Yako more than a year ago. The unresolved allegations against Ms Yako were reported to relate to millions of rand of “wasteful expenditure” allegedly authorised by her, as well as tender irregularities and corruption.

The suspensions will be a major headache for incoming minister Edna Molewa, who walked into her new office only yesterday after the axing of the previous minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, in the Cabinet reshuffle on Sunday.

The department announced the suspensions yesterday, and spokesman Mava Scott said Ms Ngele was replaced as acting director-general by Cornelius Ruiters.

The suspensions arise from an investigation by the office of the auditor-general in May and, separately, the Public Service Commission has found “ the two individuals have also been implicated in further but separate allegations of procurement malpractice”.

The department said “ the two are not guilty of any wrongdoing and their integrity and innocence should be respected”. “The legal principle, ‘innocent until proven guilty’, applies wholly in this case.”

Mr Scott was unable to say how much money was involved in the allegations of irregular procurement. He said the new minister had not been involved and that Ms Sonjica had handled the matter.

Democratic Alliance water affairs spokesman Gareth Morgan said the suspensions suggested the “rot” in the department went deeper than originally thought.

“Minister Molewa has walked into her new office and the officials she would normally rely on to bring her up to speed on the major governance challenges in the department have all been suspended.”

Mr Morgan said SA faced severe water challenges, including failing infrastructure, the worsening state of health of rivers and dams, and poor compliance and enforcement.