Gauteng education disputes 'alarmist' DA claim that dept's irregular expenditure totals R1bn

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Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.
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  • Department said it incurred R14m irregular expenditure for 2019/2020 financial year as disclosed in its financial statements.
  • The DA said the department's irregular expenditures were increasing yearly with the department failing to govern.
  • The department accused the DA of political opportunism.

The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) says the DA's claim that it incurred more than R1 billion irregular expenditure for the 2019/20 financial year, is incorrect and misleading.

On Wednesday, the DA said in a statement the department incurred R1 030 657 000 in irregular expenditure for 2019/20, according to its annual report.

The DA said according to the office of the Auditor-General, effective steps were not taken to prevent the said irregular expenditure, adding it was as a result of "non-compliance in respect of procurement and contract management".

It added: 

The reports of more than R431 million in irregular expenditure purported to be used to decontaminate schools last year clearly confirms that the department is disregarding the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

But in a clap back, the department said it incurred R14 million irregular expenditure for 2019/2020 financial year as disclosed in its financial statements.

It added that its 2020/2021 financial statements were not yet audited, meaning the R431 million on cleaning and decontamination of schools was also not yet audited and found to be irregular.

The department came under scrutiny last week after reports that over R400 million was spent on decontamination, disinfection and sanitising of schools.

The money was spent in three months since schools reopened in June 2020, after they closed due to Covid-19. 

The spending was under investigation, the department said.

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The DA also slammed the department, saying its senior management had failed to adequately review and monitor compliance with PFMA and Treasury - and that lack of consequence management had led to the irregular spending.

But the GDE said while it welcomed public scrutiny, it was important for all critiques levelled at it to be substantiated to avoid its reputation from being slandered.

The department said:

The first error [in the DA statement] is to lump together audit outcomes for different years to reach this alarming figure of R1 billion. The second error is to contend that the department has failed to take remedial action against irregular expenditure. Far from it, the department has progressively improved management of public funds and to substantially reduce irregular expenditure. The department is proud of the steady improvement towards a clean audit.

It said irregular expenditure for the 2019/2020 financial year amounted to R14 million, adding that "irregular" in this respect meant failure to adequately follow procurement procedure.

"This is of course not acceptable and the department is determining whether there was untoward behaviour by any of its officials. The rest of the irregular expenditures refers to historical or legacy issues. It should be noted that irregular expenditure resulted from procurement procedural issues."

The GDE further clarified that an amount of R125 million related to irregular expenditure incurred by its implementing agency, which did not participate in procurement processes.

DA MPL Khumo Ramulifho said the department's irregular expenditures were increasing yearly with the department failing to govern, adding that it was high time its head and financial officer explained the situation.

The department said the DA rushed to release its statement before it responded to the portfolio committee on education in the Gauteng provincial legislature.

MEC Panyaza Lesufi said:

It is unfortunate and reckless for the DA to lump together historical issues and mislead the public by not providing a disaggregated report. The alarmist and sensational figure of R1 billion can only serve to tarnish the image of the department and represent a basic misreading of audit reports. This is nothing other than political grandstanding and opportunism.

The GDE also said that: 

  • The second item relates to the school nutrition tender for the 2017/2018 financial years. This contract had since ended, but could not be cancelled during its life as this would have been detrimental to pupils. Cancellation would have resulted in pupils not receiving meals until new service providers were appointed. This matter was also subject to a forensic investigation and remedial steps taken.
  • The school furniture tender was declared irregular in 2018/2019 and the department cleared all audit findings except one in 2019/2020. The matter was referred for legal advice which was shared with the Auditor-General. The department was still waiting for the response from the Auditor-General.

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