Education looted as kids go without

2012-06-02 15:39

A company part-owned by a longtime friend of Limpopo’s education MEC looted the coffers of the department, which is too broke to provide its pupils with textbooks, a forensic report has revealed.

Aurecon Joint Venture, in which MEC Dickson Masemola’s friend Andrianis Johannes van Rensburg has a significant stake, was awarded a R95 million contract by the department in September 2010 to provide project management services.

It was allegedly paid up to R150 million because it overbilled for hours worked by its staff, dished out highly inflated tenders and double-paid suppliers.

These are initial findings of a report by Gobodo Forensics, hired by the Treasury to investigate irregularities in the department.

The Aurecon contract is also under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit.

Documents in City Press’s possession reveal that Aurecon won the contract even though it was the most expensive bidder.

Two other companies quoted R26 million and R45 million, respectively.

The companies partnering Aurecon in the venture were Tubatse Consulting – of which Van Rensburg owns 40% – and MOT Professional Services Consultancy.

MOT features on a “priority list” circulating in Limpopo of politically connected companies that are believed to have benefited handsomely from government tenders.

The education department outsourced vital government functions, including the issuing of tenders, to Aurecon.

Among those were 40 tenders, dubbed “Fast track Project 40”, which were issued between 2009 and 2011 to build new schools and repair others damaged in storms.

Documents from Gobodo Forensics reveal that the database of contractors Aurecon drew up was seriously flawed. And two independent, highly placed education officials say the contractors were hand-picked to “benefit politically connected individuals”.

One insider said the extent of firms overcharging the department could amount to R800 million.

Gobodo Forensics investigators recommended that five senior officials be charged with contravening the Public Finance Management Act for giving Project 40 the green light – in spite of the fact that it was never approved by the provincial treasury.

The report recommended that at least 12 education officials face disciplinary action, after which criminal charges may be instituted.

They include:
» Two officials who failed to prevent an asset registry tender being awarded to Nhluvuko Consulting Joint Venture, which was paid R43.5 million more than they should have been. It also emerged that the venture didn’t have the expertise to compile such a register.

The officials also approved payments despite the fact that the company failed to deliver;

» Five officials who each approved payments of between R133 000 and R264 000 to service providers that had already been paid those amounts; and

» Five officials for procuring services from an unnamed Indian company that was not registered for VAT in South Africa.

The officials approved a R9.8 million payment to the firm. The officials also approved a R15 million payment to the same company to buy licences for computer maths programs for schools across the province.

However, investigators found that there were no computers for the programs to be installed on.

The provincial education department and Aurecon declined to comment.

Chairperson of the Mass Democratic Movement, a civic group in Limpopo opposed to Premier Cassel Mathale’s administration, said: “The corruption here is so naked that it boggles the mind why we are not acting.”

Matter of fact

On June 3, City Press published an article on page 10, headlined “Education looted as kids go without”.
In the article, it was reported that Aurecon had declined to comment.

In fact, the company responded to City Press’s 15 questions as follows:

“Thank you for contacting us in this regard, however we believe the correct party to direct your queries to would be the client in question, i.e the Limpopo Department of Education, as this department is the custodian of this information and all project details for this and in fact all of its projects, from procurement through to execution.

"The department should be able to give you the names of the companies involved in the projects you wish to enquire about, and you may then proceed to obtain the names of the directors directly from such companies.”

The department of education declined to comment.

We regret the error and any inconvenience caused.

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