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WATCH: Troubled water board in KZN admits graft in project inflated its cost from R60m to R135m

Published Jun 23, 2022

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Video by Sihle Mavuso

Richards Bay – The troubled Umhlathuze Water Board which has been in the spotlight in recent years has publicly admitted that corruption resulted in a water project worth R60 million inflated to R135 million.

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The admission was made on Thursday by Thabi Shange, the chairperson of the board of the Richard Bay-based water board on the sidelines of the stakeholders’ breakfast meeting.

Mhlathuze water board is tasked with providing water in the greater Zululand area, starting from the UThukela River, up to the border of South Africa and Mozambique. Its biggest clients are the towns of Richard Bay and Empangeni.

Shange’s admission comes after the mayor of the City of Umhlathuze (Mpangeni-Richards Bay), Xolani Ngwezi, took on the board for failing to deliver a water scheme in the Esikhaleni (Esikhawini) township which has been battling a water crisis for almost three years.

The multi-million water project was commissioned in October last year and it was to be finished by November this year.

Thabi Shange of the Mhlathuze Water Board. Picture: Sihle Mavuso/IOL

Addressing the stakeholder's meeting which was held in Richards Bay on Thursday, Ngwezi said the delay in implementing the water scheme was troubling because the township of eSikhaleni and many other areas badly needed the service.

He said it was also troubling that the water board was failing to finish the project that would have benefited 800 000 people.

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“This project will take water from Nseze river… to the Sikhaleni area down to Forest reservoir; it will add a fourth reservoir,” Ngwezi said.

It later emerged that the project was inflated; hence the delay. Ngwezi said their own technical manager, who is experienced in running water projects, upon taking office, advised them that the project was not worth the R135m quoted and they subsequently demanded an explanation.

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“You see, there are so many issues. Some of them are the allegations of inflation of prices there, because remember when this project was actually packaged, the city didn’t have qualified engineers.

“There were people who were acting (in positions) and when the DMM which we have appointed now who have got more than 10 years experience… he told that us no, for a packaged plant of this magnitude, we can’t pay R135 million.

“So, this project would relatively cost about R60 million. The infights (sic) in the board, the corruption in the board as you have heard the chairperson saying they are uprooting corruption.

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“So there was a lot of collusion and some wrong things which the board and the city are now trying to resolve… we need to get this project moving at a cost that is acceptable,” Ngwezi said.

Shange admitted that the price tag was found to be too high and heads were already rolling. Among the people that Shange said have already been hauled over the coals, are suspended chief executive Mthokozisi Duze and the chief financial officer, Babongile Mnyandu.

“In fact when you do a basic digging, you realise that there was something fishy. In reality that used to hurt our operations a lot… we used to wonder where the inflated money is going… It was not that alone (that led to the suspensions); there are a variety of things that happened,” Shange said.

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