'Bigwigs' behind Limpopo books bungle

Polokwane - A company controlled by ANC-connected businessmen and former top government mandarins is accused of obtaining a R320m textbook tender in Limpopo illegally – and bungling it.

This left thousands of pupils without books.

This is the claim made by Solly Tshitangano – the former general manager for budgets and acting chief financial officer in the Limpopo education department – who has turned whistleblower.

He revealed details of the deal to the public protector, Premier Cassel Mathale and President Jacob Zuma months before Pretoria stepped in to take over running much of the beleaguered province, including the education department.

By last week, publishers said the province had yet to order any textbooks for children returning to school.

Tshitangano now faces a basket of disciplinary charges, including gross negligence, gross insubordination and others, which he says are nothing but a vengeful plot against him for spilling the beans.

At the centre of the row is EduSolutions, a subsidiary of a burgeoning empire called African Access Holdings.

The directors of African Access – according to online company searches – include Mogopodi Mokoena, a former Gauteng director general and Joy Matsebula, a former acting director in the office of the presidency during Thabo Mbeki’s term, as well as other former top government officials.

“I am not surprised that the department is in financial trouble and that it was placed under administration. I warned that there would be fruitless and wasteful expenditure because of the irregular transactions for the 2010/11 financial year,” said Tshitangano.

He claimed the tender was awarded without due process being followed, and that the then head of the education department, Benny Boshielo, approved the contract worth more than R320m without attaching any conditions.

Nearly R20m upfront

The company got nearly R20m upfront in the deal which was signed in October 2010.

The tender was for procuring and delivering textbooks for an effective four years, and allowed EduSolutions to negotiate discounts with textbook suppliers which EduSolutions would split with the state.

Tshitangano said there had been no evidence that the mandatory competitive bidding required in the awarding of government tenders had taken place. No cost analysis had been conducted prior to it being advertised.

A handwritten document from the department’s bid adjudication committee dated July 26 2010 states that only one bidder had met the criteria and the words “on condition” had been scratched out. On the following day, Boshielo signed EduSolutions’ letter of appointment.

Boshielo dismissed Tshitangano claims, saying the tender was awarded legally. “I asked the provincial treasury to do a quality check on the process and procedures of the tender and they did. We even got assistance from the premier’s office,” said Boshielo.

He said that he had made an error when he didn’t include the 30% discount from the publishers in the tender document and was advised to do so by the Auditor-General.

Tshitangano claimed that of the R32.6m in discounts owed to the Limpopo education department, EduSolutions had only paid over R9.7m.

'Nothing untoward'

EduSolutions denies this.

EduSolutions executive director Moosa Ntimba said there was nothing untoward about the company receiving the tender. He denied that EduSolutions was responsible for the province’s failure to order textbooks, saying schools in the province had books, but none had yet been ordered for grades affected by the new curriculum.

He couldn’t provide an estimate of when the problem would be resolved, but said his company was anxious to find a solution and was working with officials from the provincial department.

Asked whether African Access’s politically connected board had anything to do with the government contracts, he said it was unfortunate that companies with politically connected black board members were regarded as corrupt.

The Limpopo education department refused to comment as it is under administration by the national government.

African Access did not respond to requests for comment.

Treasury spokesperson Bulelwa Boqwana would not comment specifically on EduSolutions but said: “It is important to understand the context that prompted the [Treasury] intervention. Those are cash management, budget management and supply chain related issues,” she said.

The public protector confirmed it was conducting an investigation into Tshitangano claims.
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