R12m in 5 years on legal costs for basic education dept

The department of basic education has been embroiled in various cases of litigation over the past five years, costing it more than R12m.

In comparison, the overall budget allocation from National Treasury to the department and the nine provincial departments for the 2019/20 year alone is R281.2bn.

In a written reply to a question posed by Democratic Alliance MP Désirée van der Walt, the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga provided details on the legal costs incurred by her department for the years 2014/15 to 2018/19.

In each of the years, legal costs totaled more than R1m. The matters include applications brought against the department, or the minister herself. In other cases, the department incurred legal costs in disciplinary processes for individuals or simply getting legal opinions. 

From textbooks to Public Protector

The list of cases provided by Motshekga even includes matters the department lodged against the public protector.

In the year 2014/15, the department's legal costs totaled more than R2.8m. In that year, the cheapest legal cost incurred by the department was R57.57, for the services of a Sheriff. A disciplinary hearing held that year cost just over R164 000. The highest legal cost incurred by the department for that year was a case involving textbook supplier EduSolutions and the Limpopo MEC of Education, totalling more than R519 000. News24 previously reported that EduSolutions had failed to deliver textbooks to the province.

In the year 2015/16, the department's legal costs amounted to R1.9m. Once more, the bulk of legal costs are attributed to the matter between the Limpopo MEC of education and EduSolutions, it totaled more than R648 000.

In 2016/17, the department's legal costs totaled more than R2m.

Expenses piling up

In that year, Motshekga notes that the department won a case against charity organisation Solidariteit Helpende Hande - which is part of Solidarity. The organisation had challenged a bursary scheme of the department requiring applicants to specialise in indigenous languages and teach in rural areas. Solidarity argued that the scheme discriminated against white students. Judge Tati Makgoka said the organisation failed to show that the bursary requirements unfairly discriminates against white students and dismissed the application with no order to costs. The legal cost of the matter totalled more than R81 000.

In the following year, the department incurred legal costs amounting to more than R3.9m.

In that year, a matter against the department's Director General Mathanzima Mweli and seven others including the minister and Treasury, was brought by CTP - a bidder for a tender the department put out for the printing, packaging and distribution of workbooks to pupils across the country. CTP wanted the department's decision to award the tender to another bidder – Lebone Consortium – be reviewed and set aside. This single matter cost the department more than R1.7m.

The matter reached the Supreme Court of Appeal and Judge Fikile Mokgohloa in November 2018 found the awarding of the tender to Lebone Consortium constitutionally invalid, and the department was to pay for the applicant's – CTP's – legal costs.

So far for the 2018/19 year, the department faced four matters of litigation, amounting more than R1.4m. The CTP case which was ruled on by the SCA in November 2018, cost the department the most, totalling more than R1.1m. 

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