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Lindiwe Sisulu taken to court by ousted Umgeni Water board members

Human settlements, water & sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
Human settlements, water & sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
Image: Trevor Samson

Human settlements, water & sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu has been dragged to the high court in Pietermaritzburg by former board members of Umgeni Water after her decision to remove them and appoint an interim board.

Nine of the 14 former board members, Visvin Reddy, Siboniso Shabalala, William Mapena, Teboho Nkhahle, Nompumelelo Chamane, Mbali Ndlovu, Simosenkosi Chamane, Suleman Badat and Thandwa Mthembu, filed papers last week, seeking an urgent order to prevent Sisulu from removing them and the interim board from operating.

Sisulu has dissolved the boards of Umgeni Water, Sedibeng Water and Magalies Water in recent months as part of a process of reviewing the entities under her control, mainly because their appointment by her predecessor Gugile Nkwinti was allegedly not regularised by the cabinet.

Reddy, who is representing the other board members, asked in court papers that the interim board be interdicted and restrained from assuming office and executing any functions of the board of Umgeni Water.

The former board members also asked the court to declare Sisulu’s decision to disband the board as unlawful and to review and set aside the minister’s decision to remove them.

In his founding affidavit, Reddy said he had brought the application in his personal capacity and on behalf of the other co-applicants and in the public interest.

“The minister’s decision is unlawful. I am prepared to go to the highest court to challenge her,” he said. “The decision is irrational, not authorised by the empowering provision and is otherwise unconstitutional and unlawful.” 

In a responding affidavit seen by SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE, the department’s acting director-general Mbulelo Tshangana said the Water Act gave the minister powers to fire and appoint board members.

“The decision by the minister to appoint is an executive decision and therefore does not qualify as administrative action and cannot be set aside by the court in term of the Promotion of Administrative Justice act,” Tshangana said.

He said the applicant’s claim that the Water Act did not provide for the appointment of interim boards was without merit

Sisulu’s spokesperson Yonela Diko confirmed that the department filed its papers on Tuesday morning and added that the minister was looking forward to defending her decision in court.

“The department, however, is concerned by the sense of entitlement of various board members, many of whom accepted an opportunity to serve and understand section 35 which allows the minister to make changes and or remove them for various reasons, including efficiency, financial management and in this case, regularisation,” Diko said.

“Even boards like Lepelle, whose term had lapsed, felt entitled to be appointed again and challenged the minister.”

He said the minister's review of water boards, which has seen boards like Sedibeng, Magalies and now Umgeni being regularised, had brought much-needed certainty and stability to the entities.

Sedibeng challenged Sisulu in court and lost the case with costs. “These positions are not rights, they are servant-hood positions.

Judge Pieter Bezuidenhout postponed the matter until next week.

Suspended Lepelle Northern Water CEO Phineas Legodi's recent bid to secure an urgent interdict against his precautionary suspension failed this week.

Legodi was placed on precautionary suspension on June 2. He went to court to have the decision set aside and to challenge the appointment of an interim board at Lepelle by Sisulu in May.

The board had suspended Legodi pending an investigation into irregularities at the entity under his leadership.

On Monday, the Pretoria high court found that Legodi had failed to prove any urgency in the application, which was the fourth he had brought against the board since his suspension. The court found Legodi’s conduct had been “tantamount to abuse of the court in the quest to obtain relief in the matter”, as he had failed to mention the earlier applications, all of which had been dismissed.

The court found Legodi was suspended on full pay and was not suffering any prejudice because of the suspension, which was in place for the duration of the investigation, the outcome of which he could challenge.

He had also failed to prove that the board had been guilty of any acts of unlawful or wasteful expenditure, the court said.

Umgeni spokesperson Shami Harichunder said: “All appointments of members of boards of water sector institutions are made by Sisulu. Hence the matter relating to the court case in which former members of the board of Umgeni Water have applied for a court order for reinstatement is being dealt with by the ministry of human settlements, water & sanitation.”


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