KZN education dept cleared in school water tank probe, but SIU finds fault with PPE procurement

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Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu waits to wash his hands at a water tap installed at Phumelela Secondary School in Msinga on 11 June.
Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu waits to wash his hands at a water tap installed at Phumelela Secondary School in Msinga on 11 June.
Photo: Supplied
  • The SIU probed allegations related to the provision of water tanks and the procurement of PPE.
  • While the department was cleared of the water tank allegations, there were other findings on PPE procurement.
  • Service providers awarded contracts were found to have committed fraud, forgery and uttering.

While the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has cleared the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education of wrongdoing in the procurement and delivery of water tanks to schools, it has found that the department purchased "non-essential items" under Covid-19 emergency provisions.

KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu welcomed the findings on Wednesday, saying the department cooperated with the unit and provided it with all the necessary documents.

"I accept the report and I'm reminded of one unknown author who once said, 'The truth is like a lion, you don't need to defend it but unleash it so that it defends itself'. This report is also a necessary morale booster to all the well-meaning and credible employees who have been under severe strain and attacks since the surfacing of these allegations," Mshengu said.

The unit received allegations that a tender was awarded to supply, deliver and install 41 000 water tanks to the tune of R28 000 per tank. It was alleged that R28 000 was excessive for 5 litre capacity tanks which retailed for up to R5 000.

In its findings on the matter, the SIU said while Rand Water was responsible for implementing and administering the procurement of water tanks nationally, the department also procured water tanks for schools, but the procurement was done through agents it had appointed.

The interim report also stated that the procurement of the tanks fell within the department's Infrastructure Development Plan to ensure all schools in the province had adequate water and sanitation. 

The SIU report read: 

In essence, the KZN DOE (Department of Education) did not procure the water tanks as alleged and this matter is now closed.
 

The probe into personal protective equipment (PPE) emanated from several allegations in the media about irregular procurement, the unit said in the report.

The SIU said several findings were made after initiating an investigation, which looked at among other issues procurement prescripts, agreements between officials and service providers, fraud, overpricing and value for money on purchases.

The contracts in question amounted to R183 262 489.

The SIU summary findings were: 

  • Cover quoting between service providers who were awarded the contract and other bidders.
  • Service providers did not declare on their bid documents that they had conducted work with other state institutions in the last 12 months, which was a requirement when completing the bid documents.
  • Non-essential items were purchased by the department under Covid-19 emergency provisions.
  • Fraud, forgery and uttering committed by service providers in the submission of the bid documents.
  • Non-compliance with section 23 of the Value-Added Tax Act No. 89 of 1991 as amended (VAT Act) in which service providers who were not already registered for VAT were obliged to apply to SARS to be registered as VAT vendors within 21 days of receiving contracts exceeding R1 million.
  • Service providers invoiced for VAT while they were not registered as VAT vendors.
  • Under delivery of items by service providers.

The unit said it had taken several steps and submitted various referrals to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to handle.

Among the matters referred to the NPA for fraud were service provider contracts valued at R440 000, R1 784 649 and R494 680.

"Disciplinary referrals in terms of the Public Service Code of Conduct were submitted to the [Department of Education] on 5 October 2020 for misconduct against six officials in respect of 10 service providers on 14 contracts at a total contract value of R3 856 056.

"The SIU has made contact with the department and although they are at various stages of actioning the recommendations, none of the matters have been finalised to date," the unit said in the report.

Referrals were also made to the SA Revenue Service (SARS) on 8 October against 10 service providers for failing to register as VAT vendors within 21 days of receiving contracts exceeding R1 million.

The unit said collaborative investigations with SARS were ongoing.

Mshengu said he was committed to act decisively against corruption in the department.

"As I said from the first day I assumed the responsibility of being MEC, I will not co-exist with any form of corruption. I also undertook never to issue any unlawful instruction that is not consistent with the duties of the MEC. Anyone who seeks to issue any unlawful instruction under my name or that of the ANC, must be reported immediately," he said.

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