Authorities within the Limpopo department of public works, roads, and infrastructure have admitted to failing to hold anyone accountable for hundreds of millions that have been wasted under their watch.
Department MEC Nkakareng Rakgoale, head of department (HOD) Dikgole Seroka, and chief financial officer (CFO) Mahlasedi Mhlabane could not provide adequate answers when they recently appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) in the provincial legislature in Polokwane.
They were grilled on why the department awarded a R179 million contract to a company whose directors did not comply with tax requirements, only to mark the illegal transaction as negligence for which they only issued a warning letter against the responsible official.
“MEC, this thing can’t happen under your leadership, unless there is a brotherhood and sisterhood in this particular department to protect one another. There is justifiable evidence of what should happen but you are quiet. As a standing committee, we are tired of coming here and speaking about the same matters.
“If somebody doesn’t feel like doing their job, let them resign. There is no time for friendship here. There is time for work. You need a whip MEC. You must whip [officials] because the law allows you to,” said committee member Jerry Maseko.
Moreover, the committee found that the department spent the past eight years explaining away irregular expenditure that has accrued to R191 million without any severe steps being taken against any of the responsible officials.
Instead of following the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) guidelines on recovering irregular expenditure, the committee found that some officials were made to pay once-off amounts below R5 000 as punishment for unlawful spending.
“The law is as clear as the sun rises. There is nothing as clear as that. Since this is negligence, you must tell us about the amounts you are recovering. The amount we are talking about here is R191 million. You cannot tell us about R4 500 being recovered. I heard that someone paid R208 while he earns R1.4 million, and they want us to ululate and celebrate,” said committee member, Rudolph Phala.
The department was also accused of turning Scopa into a post office, where they send unsigned letters of ineffective action they claim to have taken against officials.
“The letters that we receive are those that were sent to officials after the department received questions from us. The dates clearly reflect that. This committee is not a post office. We are not interested in a lot of letters. Go to the post office and send those letters.
“This committee is seized with action. We are dealing with a situation where no officials have been fired or suspended or how much has been paid back. We wanted to know how much of the R191 million has been paid by the officials?” Phala said.
When given an opportunity to explain herself, Rakgoale handed the responsibility over to her Rakgoale, who in turn asked Mhlabane to respond to the committee.
“We are the first people to acknowledge that indeed since 2014/15 when issues of irregular expenditure were raised within the department, we really did not take effective steps to make sure that we prevent it from recurring.
“We also failed in making sure that we finalised the investigations on time. Even the reasons for the delays in the investigations, as finance, after the audit of our books by the Auditor-General, we did not formally write to the chief risk officer to request that the irregular expenditure be investigated,” Mhlabane said.
Mhlabane failed to give adequate answers on why the investigations they conducted so far were done internally, which is against public finance legislation.
Rakgoale added that she gave Seroka a written warning in relation to the irregular expenditure.
The committee rejected her explanations and demanded that the irregular expenditure should be recovered.
“The only action they take in this department is a written warning, which is a waste of paper and time. You listened to the last response from the Honourable MEC. Did you hear what she said? She herself has written a letter of warning. They tell you that for R28 million that was incurred irregularly, all of the officials involved incurred written warnings.
“They are saying ‘our work is done,’ and they can dance and ululate. The MEC is dancing there and ululating, celebrating it. There is another irregular expenditure of R12 million, and the same officials have received other letters of warning.
“There is another amount of R14 million and another of R18 million. The same group received other letters. It is like a birthday present. This is nonsense,” added committee member Phala.