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Rotten to the core


Posted : 28 November 2012

CRIPPLED by rampant corruption, widescale inefficiency and almost non-existent financial management, the Eastern Cape Education Department is stealing our children’s future.

While pupils face a daily challenge to be educated in crumbling schools with a shocking lack of textbooks, desks, chairs and teachers, greedy officials are lining their pockets with funds as fast as they can.

They do it by siphoning off billions of rand in fraudulent activities that go largely unchecked by the people employed to safeguard the state’s coffers.

The result is a dysfunctional education system that has become a breeding ground for school dropouts and illiteracy.

Audit reports show that a mind-boggling R9-billion could not be accounted for in the last nine years.

And an unauthorised bank overdraft for the department is at present sitting at almost half a billion rand.

A two-month investigation by The Herald has revealed that the department is being run by a corrupt clique using blackmail and intimidation to swing tenders fraudulently and withdraw millions of rand from the department’s banking accounts.

Dubbed the “Education Mafia” by colleagues, this clique includes senior officials together with well-connected politicians who use intimidation, threats and bribery to force staff members in key positions to do their dirty work.

“It is a massive web of deceit that will never be fully unravelled,” vocational education services chief director Khayalethu Ngaso said.

He, education deputy director-general Sithembele Zibi and supply chain management chief director Mthobeli Gaca were among the few senior officials willing to speak on the record about the clique.

Many other employees who spoke to The Herald were too scared to be named publicly.

The three men believe they are on a “hit list” of people earmarked to be fired because they are fighting against the massive graft in the department.

“My job, along with others in supply chain management, is on the line because we are in control of huge amounts of money,” Zibi said. Meanwhile, Gaca claims he was suspended for requesting a lifestyle audit on himself and colleagues.

Charge sheets and internal documents back up his claim.

“Instead of the department authorising it, I was suspended for being too honest,” he said.

An insider said: “You don’t mess with these guys. They are everywhere and have been doing it for years without ever being mentioned in the media or being caught out.”

The insider said that while working in supply chain management last year he had been approached by one of the four members of the “Education Mafia” to ensure a lucrative tender was awarded fraudulently.

The Herald’s investigation unearthed several crack special investigation unit (SIU) reports – many of which were never released to the media – which fingered senior officials and recommended criminal action be taken against them.

None of these recommendations was followed.

The SIU has been investigating the department for more than seven years, yet the situation continues to deteriorate.

Not even a national intervention spearheaded by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has had an effect.

Questions submitted to Motshekga’s office, as well as to the provincial department, more than two weeks ago have been ignored.

Opposition parties said a complete overhaul of the department was necessary to do away with crippling amounts of fraud, corruption and mismanagement.

COPE education spokesman Angela Woodhall said the issue of cadre deployment in the department was proving “very problematic”.

She said: “Apart from firing and rehiring, the department needs to change the culture of a lack of accountability and covering up for one another.

“We need to do away with [cadre] deployment and have a civil service that focuses on performance and the actual ability to do the job, and not have it based on political allegiances.

“It needs to be a concerted effort from the MEC, officials and politicians, and will need a lot of political will.”

UDM spokesman Jackson Bici said there was a desperate need for proper consequence management because wrongdoers did not suffer despite the negative results of their actions.

“It’s an indisputable fact that there is rampant corruption in the department and it will never be resolved unless they employ people suitable for the job, actively punish those found to have done wrong or made ‘costly mistakes’ and union interference in the administration of the department is stopped,” Bici said. “Our children’s education is going down the drain and there’s no hope of turning it around unless major changes are effected.”

ANC education spokesman Mzoleli Mrara, who also chairs the portfolio committee, said the department needed to follow up on a suggestion made in the legislature to remove officials to other departments.

“Some of the officials have been in the department for too long and know its ins and outs, have made connections and are just too comfortable.



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