R50 mln fraud in skills dept

2011-06-16 00:00

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

The missing millions from the coffers of Higher Education and Training’s Institute for National Development of Learnerships Employment Skills and Labour Assessments (Indlela) is shrouded in secrecy as the department keeps mum on details of the scandal.

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

Media24 Investigations has found that the inquiry into the agency has seen details emerge of how a private golf club existed on the agency’s Oliphantsfontein property, of how staffers were running a private catering business there, stealing government tools and equipment, and milking the agency of 53% of its R100 million budget over two years.

The police have been asked to investigate possible 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 try and get Indlela back on track.

Democratic Alliance MP Andricus van der Westhuizen, a member of the education portfolio committee, said they were told staff were renting the golf course on the premises out and pocketing the rent.

“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”.

At the time that the money went missing Indlela fell under the labour department, but was transferred to Blade Nzimande’s ministry in April 2010.

The alleged fraud and theft were uncovered by a forensic audit conducted by chartered accountants OMA for the two financial years. OMA handed its report to the department in December 2010, but the department has refused 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 the disciplinary proceedings, which are pending.

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

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

At Indlela’s complex yesterday the golf course with a clubhouse and flags on the greens was still there. The course was historically part of the complex, but some Indlela officials ran it as a private course, allegedly pocketing the proceeds.

A staffer who asked not be named, said officials had rented it out to locals for functions and social gatherings. Locals paid them to play golf there over the weekend.

The deparment has closed the golf course and is investigating where the money went that was generated by the sideline golf club.

Education Department chief director Clive Mtshisa told the portfolio committee earlier this year that the financial problems were due to Indlela being allowed to operate as an autonomous entity while under the Labour Department. Mtshisa painted a picture of administrative chaos and rampant corruption.

Portfolio chairperson advocate Ishmael Malale said the committee is awaiting another briefing from the department about action against implicated officials. “We need tough action to be taken.”

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