Water department denies any wrongdoing in Gift of the Givers dispute

Makana needs to answer to how R22m for drought relief was spent

Image: Reuters

Gift of the Givers announced it was withdrawing its aid from the drought-stricken Makana  on Thursday following a dispute over R15m the non-government organisation says it is owed for drought-relief efforts.

The dispute surfaced on social media on Wednesday when Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said they were at loggerheads with the department of water and sanitation (DWS).

DWS has since lashed out, stating the dispute is not with them as they had paid R22m to the Makana Municipality for drought-relief efforts.

Gift of the Givers is currently R15m out of pocket amid claims that the DWS has failed to honour an agreement the NGO made with the municipality.

Sooliman said his trucks and officials would withdraw from the district by 10am on Thursday.

“I want to stress that this is not in the [Makana] municipality’s hands, it is with the DWS. This message has already reached the office of the president and a person from their office has called me. There is a department of special projects at the presidency who has been tasked to look into this and how this happened,” he said.

Sooliman said that earlier this week, DWS declined to pay them for their efforts amid claims that only Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) companies could be paid for drought intervention.

Sooliman said a consultancy would be paid R1.2m for work related to boreholes, another company R7m for boreholes and a third company R1.9m for electrical work to connect the boreholes.

“I have no problem with local businesses getting work, but I have an issue with people getting paid for work they did not do,” he said during a phone interview.

“This is R10m of taxpayers' money handed out freely by the government to people as remuneration for work that Gift of the Givers did. Our hearts are with the people, the elderly, the women and children and everyone who waited so patiently for water but as a matter of principle, we cannot continue.”

DWS spokesperson Sputnik Ratau, however, said the matter was  between the municipality and the Gift of the Givers – not them.

“We have given the [Makana] municipality R22m for drought relief – the funds have been transferred. It is not our mandate and we cannot dictate to them how they must use the money ... this is their own supply chain management process,” he said.

“We cannot dictate to them how they use this money and which suppliers they contract and so on. As long as it is for drought relief and follows the correct procedures and supply chain management processes, it is a municipal issue.”

Ratau said the department did not have an agreement with Gift of the Givers.

Makana Municipality officials could not comment immediately, but said a statement clarifying all the issues would be sent out later on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Sooliman released news about the withdrawal causing a stir on social media.

Sooliman said the move to not fund the organisation, took place despite several meetings with the DWS, totaling more than 50 hours.

Sooliman explained that on February 9, the municipality requested assistance with the water supply in the area.

“Gift of the Givers intervened on February 12 and explained to the municipality the extent of the problem was far greater than anyone envisaged. We advised the municipality that the cost to solve the problem would be in the region of R23m and that would require government funding,” he said in a statement.

Sooliman said due to the Makana area being declared a disaster area, it would receive emergency funding and, once the money was paid, Gift of the Givers would be reimbursed.

“They were honest, we're not sure how much they would receive and when they would receive it. We said it's fine, their word was good enough for us. We were told that at a council meeting in March it was an unanimous decision that Gift of the Givers will be funded the moment the funds arrive,” he said.

As part of the contract, Sooliman said, 15 boreholes had been drilled and the water tested, as well as special filtration systems purchased and bottled water delivered.

“In all this time, we had not received a single cent from any government institution. The costs are rising daily," he said.