Mpumalanga’s feeding scheme theatrics added millions in irregular spending

 The Mpumalanga education department’s flouting of procurement procedures in the awarding of a school feeding scheme has added to billions in irregular expenditure. Picture: Chevon Booysen
The Mpumalanga education department’s flouting of procurement procedures in the awarding of a school feeding scheme has added to billions in irregular expenditure. Picture: Chevon Booysen

The Mpumalanga education department’s flouting of procurement procedures in the awarding of a school feeding scheme tender three years ago has added to the billions in irregular expenditure flagged by the Auditor-General.

The Auditor-General has identified the department as one of three major contributors to Mpumalanga government’s ever-increasing R4 billion irregular expenditure in the 2015-2016 financial year alongside the departments of health (R1.9 billion) and human settlements (R1.1 billion).

Irregular expenditure by provincial departments has increased from R1 billion in 2013-2014 to R2.4 billion in 2014-2015 and R3.971 billion currently.

Education is responsible for R355.8 million of the 2015-2016 irregular expenditure and R92 million was incurred from the school nutrition tender.

When the department awarded this tender for the feeding of 882 801 pupils to 17 service providers in May 2014, other bidders who complained of irregularities, took the matter to the North Gauteng High Court for review of the decision.

The department lost the case, but the court ordered that the 17 inappropriately appointed service providers should continue on month-to-month contracts to avoid starving poor pupils while the case dragged on.

The department has, up until July this year, spent R92 million paying the 17 companies while it is trying to overturn the court’s decision.

Mpumalanga education spokesperson, Jasper Zwane, declined to comment.

“Regarding the national school nutrition programme, the issue is going to be subject of a court process. As such we are not at liberty to comment about it,” Zwane said.

The court was scathing of the department’s bid committee officials when it set aside the appointment of the 17 companies and ordered the review of the tender. It described their conduct as “abhorrent” and “shocking”.

The court found that:

» Of the 17 companies awarded the tenders, 11 were not registered with the department of labour, according to the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, as per criteria set in the tender documents;

» The chairperson of the bid adjudication committee allowed successful bidders to submit letters of good standing with the Compensation Commissioner three months after they were appointed;

» Fourteen more companies submitted their bids after the tender, contested by 1117 companies, was closed;

» One successful bidder, Ethel Shongwe of Mbetse Ladies (Pty) Ltd, set up the company one month before the closing date for bid submissions – proving that the company neither had the experience nor infrastructure required to do the job;

» Shongwe – a former provincial tender board official, also submitted another bid using her other company, Mabeke Women (Pty) Ltd, but was not disqualified for submitting two bids;

» Another successful bidder, Mathata and Given Trading CC, was deregistered and its owner, Cedric Mathata Mashile, submitted three bids as part of a joint venture – which was grounds for disqualification;

» Four other successful bidders – Triponza Trading 804 CC, Daphm Trading CC, Gugulezwe Lethu Logistics and Judies Catering Service CC – quoted prices 400% more than the average tender amount but were not disqualified.

The Economic Freedom Fighters has meanwhile requested Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to put Mpumalanga under administration.

EFF Mpumalanga leader, Collen Sedibe, also said that the party would lay criminal charges against MECs and heads of department where irregular expenditures took place.

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