Officials ‘milk’ state for R50m

2011-06-25 16:47

Some 21 officials are facing disciplinary charges over the alleged theft of at least R50 million from an education department agency, amid claims that they were running a private golf club on government property.

The missing millions from the coffers of the higher education and training department’s Institute for National Development of Learnerships, Employment Skills and Labour Assessments (Indlela) is shrouded in secrecy as the department won’t release details of the scandal.

Indlela, an agency that dates back 60 years in various guises, is responsible for certifying the qualifications of artisans in South Africa.

Details emerged in Parliament of how staff:
» Ran a private golf club on the agency’s Oliphantsfontein property;
» Ran a private catering business;
» Stole government tools and equipment; and
» Milked the agency of 53% of its more than R100 million budget over two years.

The education department has asked police to investigate criminal charges.

A report to Parliament’s education oversight committee recently hinted at the scale of the problems that are being uncovered and which resulted in a consultant being hired to get Indlela back on track.

DA MP Andricus van der Westhuizen, a member of Parliament’s education portfolio committee, said they were told that staff members were using the golf course to generate income for themselves.

“There were allegations that even tools which are used for training artisans were removed from the premises and also some staff members were catering for the institution and charging for it,” he said.

At the time the money went missing Indlela fell under the labour department but it was transferred to Blade Nzimande’s ministry in April last year.

The alleged fraud and theft was uncovered in a forensic audit conducted by audit firm OMA for two financial years.

OMA handed its report to the department in December, but the department still refuses to make it public.

Media24 Investigations applied for access to the report in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act but the application was denied on the grounds that it would prejudice pending disciplinary proceedings.

But acting director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde confirmed that disciplinary procedures had been started against 21 officials.

Media24 Investigations has lodged an appeal against the refusal to provide the report.

During a visit to Indlela’s complex last week, the golf course still had a clubhouse and flags on the greens. The course was historically part of the complex but some officials at Indlela spotted a business opportunity and set about running it as a private course, allegedly pocketing the proceeds.

One staffer who asked not be named said officials there had rented it out to locals for business functions and social gatherings. Locals had also paid them to play golf there over weekends.

The department has now closed the golf course and is investigating where the money went.

Education department chief director Clive Mtshisa told the portfolio committee in a briefing earlier this year that the financial problems were due to Indlela being allowed to operate as an autonomous entity while it was located in the labour department.

He painted a picture of administrative chaos, rampant corruption and maladministration.

Portfolio chairperson Advocate Ishmael Malale said the committee was still awaiting another briefing from the department regarding action against implicated officials.

“We need tough action to be taken,” said Malale.

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