An engineer in the Mpumalanga department of education has gone into hiding after receiving death threats for blowing the whistle after he discovered that R25.6 million had been spent on “aesthetic” work at six schools.
In a sworn statement, the department’s chief civil engineer, Mfanelo Mbanjwa, said contractors were supposed to fix infrastructural defects in 14 schools, but they mainly only tiled floors, painted walls and installed ceiling boards.
They then charged exorbitant fees, even though their work did not correspond with the department’s memo regarding what they were expected to fix.
The contractors were supposed to repair major defects that made schools unsafe, such as blocked pipes, damaged roofs and ablution facilities.
Mbanjwa has since reported the matter to the Hawks. City Press has seen his affidavit, deposed at Buccleuch, Johannesburg, on March 12, in which he explained that he had requested a meeting with acting head of department Jabulani Nkosi to discuss the alleged corruption, but the request had been denied.
“I had previously also reported legislative transgressions, but no action was taken. My life was then threatened and I was victimised by the department’s officials,” wrote Mbanjwa.
He wrote that he had inspected six primary schools – Celani in Salubindza near Hazyview, Tsembanani (Chochocho near White River), Entokozweni (Kabokweni, Mbombela), Sabatha (Jeppe’s Reef, Malelane), Bukhosi Betfu (Driekoppies, Malelane) and Loti (Buffelspruit, Malelane).
OPEN BID BYPASSED
What he found was that the work had not been done as stipulated in the memo. An open bid process had been bypassed, Mbanjwa wrote, because the work was deemed to be an emergency.
Mpumalanga education spokesperson Jasper Zwane declined to explain why the project had been treated as an emergency and why the contractors had been handpicked from a database instead of sending out advertisements so that a competitive bidding process could take place.
“I discovered that the work carried out was of an aesthetic nature. Mainly floor tiling, wall painting and installation of ceiling boards were [done]. At some schools, ceiling fans and whiteboards had been installed,” wrote Mbanjwa.
He added that for the work done in the six schools, what had been outlined in the memo and what had been reported by the infrastructure directorate did not tally.
“Furthermore, the amounts paid far exceeded the normal market industry rates for such work. I hereby submit that, in my professional opinion, the entire 14 schools project, especially the six schools that I visited, was a scheme to commit fraud. I have compiled a report detailing my findings,” he wrote.
The department, Mbanjwa said, paid the following amounts per school: Bukhosi Betfu R3.9 million, Celani R3.7 million, Loti R3.8 million, Entokozweni R4.8 million, Sabatha R4.3 million and Tsembanani R4.8 million.
Zwane said he would not comment because the matter was under investigation. He also declined to name the companies that had been awarded the tenders for the emergency repair work at the 14 schools, not would he specify how much they had been paid. He added that the department was unaware that the engineer feared for his life because he had been threatened.
“The department is aware that the official opened a case with the Hawks in relation to the allegations. In this regard, the Hawks have already initiated an investigation. The department is equally conducting an internal investigation to verify the allegations,” Zwane said.
“Since the matter is still under investigation, it would not be advisable at this time to respond to the allegations made by the official. The department awaits the outcome of the investigations,” he added.
HISTORY OF DISHONESTY
The department’s approach to dealing with projects of this type has come under scrutiny.
This month, the DA in Mpumalanga asked Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to investigate possible corruption related to infrastructure projects undertaken by the department.
The request follows evidence that R2.6 million was paid to demolish pit toilets and construct waterborne toilets at Matsamo Primary School in Schoemansdal near Malelane, but no toilets were built.
However, according to the department’s report, the project was started on September 1 last year and completed on February 28.
The scandal was exposed when parents staged a protest at the circuit office.
Entokozweni Primary School in Kabokweni was also listed as one of the schools where the waterborne toilet project, which has also been recorded as completed, was initially set to cost R2.4 million.
The department’s report indicates that the cost of the project skyrocketed to R4.8 million, but not one toilet has been built.
Despite infrastructure backlogs in the province’s schools, the department forfeited R172 million of its infrastructure grant to National Treasury in the 2018/19 financial year because it fell behind schedule in implementing projects.