- All bidders of the digital devices for students funded by the NSFAS were not successful, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has said.
- The process will start again and results will be made open for public scrutiny, the minister said on Wednesday.
- Nzimande said he has also instructed higher education institutions to publish full lists of companies which benefited from procurement in response to Covid-19.
No tender has been awarded for the supply of digital devices for students at higher education institutions, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has said.
On Wednesday, he said according to a report he had received from the administrator of the National Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) on Tuesday, none of the bidders met the mandatory requirements of the bid document.
"For this reason, no tender was awarded. This is of course unfortunate and regrettable only in the sense that the procurement of learning devices will not take place right now," Nzimande said.
He was briefing the nation on Wednesday afternoon about the sector's plans around Covid-19 Level 2 lockdown measures.
The delay of the provision of devices for students might now take about two months, he said.
Nzimande had tasked the scheme with the procurement process for the devices for NSFAS-funded students who were currently registered at universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges.
The minister said the sector had taken a different route instead of an emergency tender process to avoid corruption-related issues and normal competitive processes.
"The reason for this was our serious concern that the process must be beyond reproach given recent experiences of reported corrupt practices experienced around Covid-19 procurement of PPE [personal protective equipment]."
Nzimande added he was aware of a "campaign driven by some commercial interests and unscrupulous elements" using false accusations of undue interference by the department to mask their own interests to "gang press" the NSFAS into making shoddy decisions.
He urged people accusing the department of wrongdoing to come forward with evidence.
"Often the people who cry foul are often the ones who are being investigated for corruption and for other unethical practices in order to try and fight back and intimidate us not to conduct further investigations."
Nzimande added he would not allow any unethical and illegal practices in his department.
"Some of these people who are shouting loudest, what are their own business interests? Like Honourable Holomisa, he is a businessman, what are his interests?
"He must declare publicly, where is he looking for business, so that there is no suspicion that he is talking about the R600 million of the SETAs because he himself or his companies that he is associated with may actually have interest there."
He said people should be transparent in their interests.
On Sunday, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, in a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, charged he had "received a number of documents from an unknown source which exposes what appears to be direct interference of the political head of the Department of Higher Education and Training i.e. the minister of higher education, science and technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, in departmental processes and administration, as well as the active sidelining and/or undermining of the senior departmental accounting officers".
In the letter, which is on the party's website, Holomisa said there were allegations of Nzimande interfering in the appointments of SETA boards, and in the NSFAS laptop tender processes.
Nzimande said on Wednesday: "I'm challenging him. All that I'm saying is [Holomisa] is speaking utter crap."
He said because no tender had been awarded for the devices, the process would start again and the law would be followed, adding results would be open for public scrutiny once it was concluded.
Nzimande added for transparency reasons, he had also instructed all institutions under his department to publish lists of all companies which benefited from procurement initiated in response to Covid-19.