Lindiwe Sisulu accused of using water budget to run for ANC deputy president
Human settlements, water & sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu may be facing parallel investigations from two constitutional bodies over the employment of “political campaigners” to her rapid response team at a cost of R13.9m to the taxpayer.
The minister and one of her advisers, Mphumzi Mdekazi, allegedly pressured the department of human settlements, water & sanitation in September to employ people who were involved in LS2017, her campaign for the ANC presidency two years ago, as members of the ministerial national rapid response task team (NRRTT).
Those serving on this team are paid annual salaries ranging from R621,000 to R1.3m in positions that whistleblowers said were not budgeted for, nor advertised, and are not part of the department’s organogram.
They allege that members of the team are actually lobbyists who are preparing the ground for Sisulu’s possible challenge for the ANC deputy presidency in 2022.
But this has been dismissed as “false and malicious” by Sisulu’s spokesperson, Makhosini Mgitywa.
He said the NRRTT was established in 2016 to address conditions that led to service delivery protests. He said Sisulu inherited 14 of its members from the department of human settlements and only added five people.
“We concede that some of the people the minister added are people she’s worked with in the past and that is not illegal or irregular. All members of the NRRTT are suitably qualified and they are adding immense value to the minister’s work,” said Mgitywa.
But those familiar with government regulations said no minister is allowed to assemble such a team of advisers on a full-time basis over a five-year period.
Whistleblowers also alleged that Sisulu’s NRRTT amounts to an abuse of public resources as her ministerial support staff now exceed the cap of 15 people set out in the ministerial handbook.
The NRRTT is chaired by long-serving Sisulu adviser Thami ka Plaatjie, who is paid R1.3m.
Other members include those who helped manage her 2017 ANC presidential campaign.
Former COPE regional leader Mbulelo Ncedana, who is deputy chair, and former ANC MP Zolile Burns-Ncamashe — both of whom are paid the same as Ka Plaatjie for working 20 days a month — make up the rest of the team.
Mdekazi just walks into an official government meeting to tell us we’re useless, that if we were hard-working, Sisulu would be president by now
Others who have been “rewarded” with jobs in the task team include Xhosa Prince Xhanti Sigcawu, student activist Chumani Maxwele and political operator Mogomotsi Mogodiri.
They each get paid R621,648 a year, or just over R51,000 a month, for working 12 days a month.
The whistleblowers claimed that the NRRTT does nothing in relation to the operations and mandate of the department, spending most of its time discussing Sisulu’s plans to mount a political challenge to ANC deputy president David Mabuza ahead of the party’s national elective conference in 2022.
The office of the public protector and the Public Service Commission this week indicated they had received separate anonymous complaints about the team.
The two watchdog bodies said they were assessing the complaints before deciding whether to launch official probes of Sisulu.
Departmental insiders said the team was eating into critical staff budgets.
“Funds are being diverted from hiring critical departmental staff in favour of the NRRTT,” said one unhappy staff member.
Another said: “Mdekazi just walks into an official government meeting to tell us we’re useless, that if we were hard-working, Sisulu would be president by now."
“He’s boasting that he has appointed the NRRTT, that their job is to work the ground and mobilise branches for 2022. He makes it clear he’s here to run a political programme and the resources must be made available.”
Mgitywa said it was not necessary to advertise the positions because they “are not part of the public service. They are appointed at the discretion of the minister.”
He denied that Mdekazi was using the department to push Sisulu’s political ambition, but said his official duties complemented those of the NRRTT.
“The official you refer to [Mdekazi] is responsible for stakeholder relations in the ministry and his work and that of the NRRTT are complementary to each other,” he said.
Mgitywa also insisted that the creation of Sisulu’s task team was no reward for those who worked on her 2017 campaign.
“The nature of the work they do in some cases requires people with political acumen, as one of the issues they advise the minister on pertains to dysfunctional municipalities and the resultant breakdown of service delivery."
“Government officials do not always possess such qualities.”
He said the team’s existence is supported by public service prescripts, and denied that they are doing any political work.
The work of the NRRTT has nothing to do with ANC politics
“The work of the NRRTT has nothing to do with ANC politics.”
Mgitywa also said the NRRTT was a “troubleshooting” team that Sisulu needs because she cannot always rely on “crooked and incompetent” government officials.
“Departmental officials have their office-hours responsibilities and they can’t be dispatched to troubled areas every time [problems] occur. Furthermore, some of the service delivery issues are caused by officials who are crooked or incompetent and can’t be relied upon to give accurate information to the minister to enable the ministry to take correct remedial steps.”
But Vukani Mbhele, spokesperson for public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu, said government regulations did not allow for the appointment of ministerial staff beyond what is stipulated in the ministerial handbook.
“The [handbook] does not make any provision for the appointment of additional 19 staff beyond what is prescribed,” Mbhele said. “We have not received any complaints from labour unions,” he added.