Big hole in Education budget

2013-10-11 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Education Department has been hammered in an audit report that revealed problems involving billions of rands in its budget.

The Witness has obtained the Auditor-General’s report, which has yet to be publicly released, but which was included in a bundle of documents provided to the legislature’s portfolio committee on Tuesday.

The report paints a grim picture of the coffers of the Education Department — until recently headed by newly appointed Premier Senzo Mchunu.

The Auditor-General’s report found:

• The department was unable to provide proof to justify allocating R7,89 billion to capital projects;

• Capped leave commitments were understated by R587,23 million;

• A determination could not be made on R2,56 billion in budgetary adjustments;

• Irregular expenditure was understated by R93,5 million;

• There had been R299,3 million in unauthorised expenditure due to overspending on public schools;

• There had been R376,65 million underspending in conditional grants, and;

• There was under-spending in the school nutrition programme, FET college education and various other areas.

The Auditor-General also found that departmental officials performed paid work outside their employment without authorisation, and that contracts were awarded to bidders that did not submit declaration of interests.

Some tenders worth less than R500 000 were awarded without requiring three quotes while others were not advertised for bidding.

Contacted for comment on the apparent disarray on his watch, Mchunu said he was not aware of the report and had not seen it.

However, the Auditor-General’s office has met with the department’s management, Education Department head Nkosinathi Sishi and the department’s audit committee at least 13 times about audit issues between August 2012 and May 2013.

When a part of the report was read to Mchunu, he said there might be something wrong with the figures on the capital commitments, before referring The Witness to Sishi and the chief finance officer.

“Ask the CFO and the accounting officer. I think there is a detail that has to be clarified,” he said.

But Sishi told the committee he was satisfied that his top management were doing their best.

Sishi said the department had submitted a plan to the committee on how it planned to obtain a clean audit.

He said systems needed to be improved to match cash allocated to projects to files documenting the details of each project.

The report was not directly discussed by the committee, but members made reference to it during their discussions.

Committee chairperson Linda Hlongwa was dismayed at the department’s audit qualification.

“Why can’t the department have adequate systems? Is it a question of lack of leadership?” she asked.

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