Textbooks tender deal gets dirtier

2012-06-02 08:28

The brother of a top Limpopo state official scored at least R6.9 million from a company that was awarded a R320 million textbook distribution tender after the official played a key role in awarding the tender.

The deal involving EduSolutions, a company owned and run by former top government mandarins, is the latest controversy in the R320 million deal that was scrapped as “illegal” in April and is now the subject of a major anti-corruption probe.

EduSolutions – which has deals in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere – says it has done nothing wrong and is litigating to regain the Limpopo contract.

But this week, City Press obtained documents that raise more uncomfortable questions about the deal.

The documents show how Hlomphanag Cleaning Services – solely owned by Matome Letsoalo, the brother of the Limpopo education department’s acquisition unit head – got at least R6.9 million worth of subcontracting work from EduSolutions after it was awarded the controversial contract.

Peter Letsoalo was intimately involved in the evaluation and awarding of the textbook tender, and also signed off on a R19 million advance payment when the multiyear contract was signed at the end of 2010. He was a member of the bid evaluation team that recommended the deal go to EduSolutions.

The deal meant EduSolutions would buy and distribute textbooks for the province, splitting the discounts from publishers with the provincial government.

The wrangle over the contract has seen thousands of school children in Limpopo left without books almost halfway through the school year – and has led to successful court action by an activist group to compel the state to provide books.

In 2010 Peter Letsoalo was part of a delegation of Limpopo department officials who went on a fact-finding mission to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to assess how EduSolutions operated there.

Matome Letsoalo denied that he got the contract because of his brother’s involvement.

“I went on my own to EduSolutions at their depot after I had heard that there was this contract to distribute books.

They came and did an inspection on my trucks, and they gave me work because I had capacity and trucks. My brother didn’t have anything to do with the contract.”

EduSolutions’ lawyer, Ian Small-Smith, denied that the contract was given to Matome because of his brother’s influence.

He said normal procedures were followed by EduSolutions in awarding the contracts, and the decision was based on ability
and capacity.

They did not know Matome was related to the Limpopo official.

Small-Smith said the claims were “inflamatory”.

“Uttering it is defamatory and EduSolutions will certainly act against all who suggests that we have entered into this contract to benefit Peter Letsoalo,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Task Team is investigating the textbook tender since it was terminated by the former head of the national basic education department’s education team, Anis Karodia.

The contract’s termination came months after claims were made to City Press earlier this year by Solly Shitangano, a former general manager in the province’s education department, who charged that it was riddled with procedural and legal problems.

Shitangano had blown the whistle even before the department was put under administration and had informed the Public Protector, Premier Cassel Mathale and President Jacob Zuma’s office of his concerns.

However, he was dismissed by the department on charges of gross negligence, gross insubordination and others.

Last June, Neo Africa, appointed by the then head of the Limpopo education department, Benny Boshielo, to do a forensic investigation found that the contract with EduSolutions was sound.

EduSolutions, a subsidiary in a burgeoning empire called African Access Holdings, and online company records show that the directors include Mogopodi Mokoena, a former Gauteng director-general, and Joy Matsebula, a former acting director in the office of the presidency.

Others include Mateli Mpuntsha, a former director in the communications department; Thabo Mpama, a former chairperson of the state training authority for IT; Shaun Battleman, the Black Management Forum’s top entrepreneur for 2011; Moosa Ntimba, a former CFO of the Government Printing Works; and Seth Phalatse, a non-executive chairperson of BMW.

Peter Letsoalo did not respond to requests for comment.

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