Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu will approach the National Treasury to investigate alleged corruption and mismanagement at the beleaguered department.
Addressing members of Parliament at the budget vote for her department, Sisulu acknowledged that there was a "cloud over the department" and that the state of it "is not a good story".
The minister said that the biggest problem was "huge financial mismanagement", with the result that many top officials at national and municipal levels were under investigation.
"It is not a good story, it is not a situation anyone should be proud of, and it is not a situation we should tolerate. I intend to detail for you what steps will be taken to turn this around in the shortest possible time, within the resources made available to us in this financial year," she said.
Sisulu said she had been appraised of the situation by her predecessor in the department, Gugile Nkwinti, adding that "this was a very heavy, intensive induction, given the magnitude of the issues that need my most immediate attention, because my job is to find solutions. We have to solve the problems of a sector that no longer enjoys the public confidence that it once had in the early days of our democracy".
Nkwinti conceded to MPs last year that the department he had inherited earlier in 2018 from Nomvula Mokonyane was "a mess".
Sisulu said she would be instituting a process of vetting senior officials in the department - something that was meant to have been done before.
R6.7bn in irregular and wasteful spending
"All my senior managers will be required to have been vetted, which is a requirement of the public service, but one that has not been followed through in our case. We need to lift the fog of negative perception around this sector," she said.
She added that "all current investigations will be fast-tracked and concluded in order that we may move forward. We will appoint an investigative partner approved by National Treasury to deal with all outstanding investigations, fast-track all the drawn-out cases, study the reports of the Auditor-General and ensure there will be follow-through consequences. If needed we will also call in forensic investigators to assist us to identify where there might be loopholes in our systems".
News24 reported that, in 2017, the department had spent its R16bn budget, but had met only 28% of its targets. It had clocked up around R6.7bn in irregular and wasteful spending.
Of the R6.7bn in irregular and wasteful spending, R2.4bn had not been disclosed by the department.
Briefing members of the media after her budget vote address, Sisulu said: "I'm still trying to understand the depth of this [financial mismanagement in the department] and I will not be able to understand fully until we have our investigations and I have a report from them. Then I'll be able to understand how we lost so much money, how it happened, and be able to close those holes.
"Right now, I am intent on making sure that, through Treasury, we appoint an investigative capacity immediately and we are able to investigate these issues before we take any further steps."