On 17 January 2020, the Democratic Alliance (DA) reported that state employees recently appointed to a National Rapid Response Task Team (NRRTT) hired by Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, included the former Fees Must Fall leader, Chumane Maxwele; former PAC leader, ka Plaatjie; and former COPE Regional leader, Mbulelo Ncedana (Annexure 1).
Seven of the 19-person NRRTT were indicated to have been employed by the Department of Water and Sanitation, despite not even having formally submitted CVs.
Subsequent to the DA having revealed the names of the NRRTT staffers, the Minister re-issued an amended Parliamentary response to the DA, withdrawing the list of names originally made public in her reply.
It subsequently became clear that the Minister was staffing herself a political war room at the taxpayers’ expense. Despite dozens of media enquiries regarding the nature and purpose of the NRRTT, the Minister went to great lengths to defend the appointments as necessary in the execution of the Department of Water and Sanitation’s core work. All claims by the DA that this R13.9 million team was in fact a political campaign team, irregularly appointed as auxiliary to Ministerial staff limit allowances, and remunerated at the taxpayers’ expense, were denied emphatically by Sisulu and dismissed as “false and malicious” (hyperlinks 1, 2).
The DA then wrote to the Public Service Commission (PSC) on 23 January 2020, requesting an urgent investigation into these and other appointments by the Minister and the Department (Annexure 2). The DA also submitted a Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) request to understand what, if any processes had been followed in the staff member’s official recruitment and selection processes.
On 11 February, the PSC responded noting that an investigation into the conduct of Executive Authorities does not fall within their mandate. The PSC then referred our complaint to the Public Protector (PP) (Annexure 3).
As a result of the DA’s referral of this matter, we were reliably informed by high-ranking officials that Sisulu’s office received a number of enquiries from both the media and other organs of state, demanding clarity.
On 15 April 2020, in a staggering about-turn and despite having previously denied all claims levelled by the DA, Sisulu penned and signed a letter addressed to the NRRTT stating the following (Annexures 4a and 4b):
- Sisulu did not envisage this team to be the subject of scrutiny from the political front and media;
- It has come to Sisulu’s knowledge in recent months that some NRRTT staff meant deliberately to tarnish her image as Minister;
- Sisulu is left with the “perception” that some staff joined the NRRTT to pursue easy wealth accumulation of the expense of the good case;
- Those involved went across South Africa soliciting deals and getting financial support on her behalf;
- Despite this, Sisulu deliberately kept quiet, knowing some staff were purporting to drive her campaign ambitions for the ANC’s 2022 National Conference;
- After consideration of facts brought to her attention by law enforcement agencies, Sisulu has come to the conclusion that she must disband the NRRTT; and
- Sisulu instructed staff to forward close up reports and wind their work up within 48 hours, instructing her Chief of Staff to communicate her decision to the Acting Director General, Mbulelo Tshangana for action.
In the knowledge that the Minister has failed to answer any subsequent questions that my office has submitted to hers since January, a decision was taken to wait for the letter to be aired in the media in fuller detail, along with Departmental responses, before taking further action.
Astonishingly, despite the letter having contained Sisulu’s personal signature, responses issued to the press by Sisulu’s spokesperson McIntosh Polela flatly denied the disbandment of the unit, despite the signed letter, stating the following:
- “The NRRTT has not been fired.”
- “The NRRTT has not been disbanded. The NRRTT continues to do its work.”
- “Members of an entity are not employed as a group. They are employed individually. This is also the case when contracts are terminated. This has not happened.”
- “The NRRTT continues doing its work.”
It is clear that Sisulu is not only seriously compromised politically, but has attempted to execute a sloppy diversionary campaign intent on silencing the furor surrounding her slate of politically aligned appointments to tax-payer funded positions – including Bathabile Dlamini, Menzi Simelane, Mphumzi Mdekazi, 19 alleged political campaigners disguised as NRRTT staffers, amongst others.
It is further clear that Sisulu has no respect for the integrity of both the media and Members of Parliament, whose core mandates are to provide the public with factual information and hold the Executive to account.
In light of these developments, the Democratic Alliance is left with only one choice:
Should the Minister not submit full, public responses within 24 hours as to the current status of the employment contracts of members of the NRRTT, the veracity and purpose of her signed letter, and actions taken by the Department to deal with serious, criminal allegations contained in the document, the Democratic Alliance will proceed to lay criminal charges against the Minister for abuse of state resources and for failing to act on suspected corruption in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.
The clock is ticking.