How Mokonyane paved the way for a consulting firm to earn billions

Documents show former water minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s hidden hand in the direct appointment of LTE Consulting Engineers to deliver the controversial R2.7bn Giyani water project in Limpopo.

City Press can now confirm that although LTE was appointed without a public tender by Lepelle Northern Water, the appointment was made at the insistence of Mokonyane’s then water and sanitation department.

This information is contained in two affidavits by the water utility’s chief executive Phineas Legodi and planning manager Carel Schmahl, which were deposed to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) last year.

After a City Press investigation into the deal, former president Jacob Zuma issued a proclamation in 2016, giving the SIU the task of investigating how LTE, a small firm of consulting engineers, received multibillion-rand tenders from Lepelle, as well as Gauteng’s department of human settlements, of which Mokonyane was MEC at the time it scored another lucrative contract.

About six months before netting the Giyani contract, LTE secured a R200m water and sewer reticulation contract it hadn’t tendered for in Sweetwaters, south of Johannesburg.

In his affidavit Schmahl told SIU investigators: “Based on the order of magnitude and speed at which the work must be done, DWS [the department of water and sanitation] recommended the use of one of their large term contract service providers namely LTE Consulting to do the work.”

However, he did not say who exactly recommended LTE.

Schmahl also alleged that LTE attended a steering committee meeting established to find solutions to Giyani’s water crisis at the department’s invitation. The meeting took place on August 15 2014, a day after Mokonyane held an imbizo in Giyani at which she announced she was appointing Lepelle Northern Water to implement the project on an emergency basis, which would allow them to deviate from procurement policies.

In his affidavit Legodi confirms this.

Three senior civil servants in the department told City Press that LTE boss Thulani Majola also attended Mokonyane’s Giyani imbizo and “it was a foregone conclusion” the job was his.

“One could call it a recommendation, but it is not like Nomvula recommended LTE to Lepelle.

“They simply had no choice; she shoved LTE down Lepelle’s throat,” said one.

SIU documents seen by City Press show that:

- Investigators have requested the state attorney to institute a R2.2bn lawsuit but it doesn’t say against who;

- The unit “identified serious irregularities in the awarding of the tender to LTE and this might lead to the recovery of a substantial amount through the civil action”; and

- Evidence is being considered for possible disciplinary cases against department officials and possible criminal referrals against those who contravened the Public Finance Management Act.

The documents say the SIU will complete its investigation into the Giyani water project at the end of the month and forward a report to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The SIU declined to comment.

However, the document is silent on the role Mokonyane played in Lepelle’s appointment of LTE, the company’s R200m Sweetwaters tender and the circumstances in which it bagged both projects. Mokonyane, now communications minister, referred all queries to the water and sanitation department and Lepelle.

Majola’s lawyer Victor Nkhwashu said: “Our instructions are that our client is an interested party in the said investigation by the SIU.

“Accordingly, and in the interest of the investigation by the SIU, our client will comment only after having had sight into the preliminary report and only when it is presented to him for comments by the SIU.”

Meanwhile, a war is brewing between Legodi and the SIU. Legodi is challenging the unit’s preliminary findings and threatened them with legal action.

In a letter through his lawyers, Legodi argues it was irrational for the SIU to suggest he irregularly awarded the tender to LTE when he gave them documents proving that Mokonyane directed him to do so on an emergency basis.

Legodi also refused to comment.

Another department official, who has seen the SIU’s documents, said: “It really looks like the SIU is using the low-hanging fruit as scapegoats.

“We all know that Legodi implemented instructions from Pretoria.”

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