A criminal case has been opened against the Eastern Cape Department of Education over a controversial R160 million tender awarded to Sizwe IT Solutions Group, a company linked to Iqbal Survé.
The contract is for a supply of 55 000 digital tablets to the department for Grade 12 pupils for the purpose of e-learning due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The case was opened by DA spokesperson on education Yusuf Cassim, the Eastern Cape police confirmed on Friday.
Education MEC Fundile Gade's office described the case as nothing but "political grandstanding" by the DA and accused it of undermining the department's efforts to make education accessible to poor pupils.
In a statement on Friday, Cassim said the case relates to how the Covid-19 crisis was allegedly used as an excuse by the department to flout normal tender processes to grant a multimillion-rand contract to "ANC ally" Survé without advertising the tender.
Giving details about the case, Cassim said: "At the heart of the matter is the awarding of a contract without the matter going out to tender.
"Instead, Sizwe Africa IT Group, which is a subsidiary of well-known ANC ally Iqbal Survé's Ayo Technology Solutions, was contracted to the Department of Education, through the means of a transversal term contract, based on an existing contract with the Department of Economic Development Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
"This procurement process has been fast-tracked under the umbrella of Covid-19 measures, yet the tablets, which are being procured, will only be available after the matriculants are back at school, providing little if any interim relief."
Cassim said what was extremely concerning was that, of the R160 million, R123 million have been identified for the purchase of 55 000 tablets for Grade 12 pupils at a cost of roughly R2 250 per tablet.
"A quick internet search has shown three cost effective alternatives, ranging from R1 200 to R1 500 per tablet, yet the department chooses to pay Sizwe Africa Group at least R1 000 more per tablet."
The case was opened on Friday at the Humewood police station in Port Elizabeth, said police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu.
"Yes a case was opened. At this stage, the case is still with Humewood detectives. The case was opened in terms of the Contravention of Public Finance Management Act."
Education department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani confirmed receipt of our questions and promised to respond. However, by the time of writing on Friday, Pulumani failed to respond or take follow-up calls. These comments will be added to the story once received.
Sekunjalo Investment Holdings and Survé's spokesperson, Kaz Handerson, denied Survé was involved in the company who was awarded the tender.
"It is important to understand that Dr Survé is not a direct shareholder of Ayo Technologies, nor is he a member of the board and he holds no position within the company.
"Therefore, there is absolutely no reason for him to comment about this matter. Second, any questions relating to the awarding of the contract or the DA case should be directed to the department since it was the department who awarded the contract."
Sizwe IT Solutions spokesperson Bongi Radebe said the contract was above board.
"Sizwe Africa IT Group [Sizwe] strongly refutes any allegations as to any improper conduct in the awarding of what is a legitimate contract to the company."
Education MEC Fundile Gade failed to respond to questions from News24.
Cassim said even when asked questions about the contract by MPLs at a portfolio committee meeting on Wednesday, Gade refused to respond.
"[He was] saying he does not want to discuss procurement processes or contracts that have been awarded, or any issues that have appeared on social media, challenging those who had issues with the contract to go to court."
Gade's spokesperson, Vuyiseka Mboxela, denied this.
"It's unfounded and misleading to claim that the MEC refused give answers to the portfolio committee and that is why the meeting was able conclude its business of that day."
Mboxela described the criminal case as political grandstanding.
"It is unfortunate that the DA has opted to go the route of political grandstanding, in the process undermining the department's endeavour to draw in poor indigent learners so that they can also access virtual classes and e-learning education portals.
"The department has been consistent and steadfast in openly profiling how this breakthrough partnership will assist all Grade 12 learners to access lessons through live interactive virtual classes. That information has been in the public domain for over three weeks now."
Asked to confirm if Survé was indeed an ANC ally and its views on the case, its spokesperson, Pule Mabe, failed to respond to questions sent to him via WhatsApp. These will be added to the story once received.
"We cannot allow the hijacking of the Covid-19 crisis by individuals looking to shortcut due process for their own self-enrichment," said Cassim.