Inquiry into irregular spending in Education

2014-11-21 00:00

AN inquiry has been launched into ­“irregular expenditure” in the province’s Education Department.

Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni ­announced this “extraordinary ­measure” at a press conference in Durban yesterday morning.

This follows qualified audits from the auditor-general for the last three years for the department and a Treasury Forensic Investigation indicating “direct and ­indirect violations” of the Public Finance Management Act.

According to Nkonyeni, as of March 31 this year, the department had incurred “irregular expenditure of R2,68 billion as a result of non-compliance with supply chain management processes” and ­“unauthorised expenditure” of R260,3 million due to overspending.

In addition, an inaccurate payroll ­system had seen salaries paid to teachers who had resigned or been sacked.

The education budget for this financial year is R39,446 billion.

The committee of inquiry is to be headed by Gcwalisile Twala, an attorney and former regulator with the National Gambling Board.

Asked if the inquiry, which will take three months, could see criminal charges being laid, Nkonyeni said it depended on the outcome. “We are not sure if the irregular expenditure is caused by fraud and corruption or ineffective systems.”

Nkonyeni said she could not put a number on ghost teachers. “Neither we nor treasury can declare the number of ghost employees in our department,” adding that accurate figures of pupils were available.

Anthony Pierce, KZN chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), contested the inability of the MEC to provide ­figures on ghost teachers.

“Senior ­officials did a head count within the last two months. When it was concluded it should have been sent to the HOD and MEC.

“Truth be told, we don’t know the number of pupils in the province,” he said, citing the October report of pupil numbers in the uThungulu District being inflated by 200 000.

Regarding the inquiry, Pierce said ­although the figures supplied by the MEC “are not new” he was “taken aback” because the term “irregular ­expenditure has not been used before”.

Mbali Ntuli, DA KZN education spokesperson, said a recent Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) report “identified 139 ghost employees … including a ghost deputy principal”.

“The department’s financial crisis is not new,” she said.

“ Both the Scopa hearing and Treasury mid-term review clearly showed it is in dire straits with a R500 million overspend on employees’ salaries — R300 million of which is to be diverted from infrastructure — and an estimated R200 million overspend on operational costs.”

Ntuli said some National School Nutrition programme service providers had not been paid “for as long as 18 months”.

This had led to small businesses going bankrupt “and children who rely on this programme, not getting food.”

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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