MRS SIZANI IN GHOST TEACHER SCANDAL: THE HERALD

“It doesn’t matter who it is. Whoever is involved in fraudulent activities should be suspended with no pay and all the missing money should be recovered in full.” — Edmund van Vuuren

FORMER education MEC Stone Sizani’s wife has been implicated in defrauding the Education Department of about R2.5-million by creating “ghost teachers” and pocketing their salaries.

Pankie Sizani, who is alleged to be the head of a syndicate that created fake Grade R teaching positions attached to non-existent schools, is under investigation by police.

Senior investigators within the city’s directorate of priority crime investigation, known as the Hawks, confirmed yesterday they were wrapping up their investigation into Sizani, who is believed to have personally netted in the region of R500 000 through the syndicate.

Sizani was the head of the Port Elizabeth education district office’s early childhood development (ECD) unit until her suspension in October, when the department and the Hawks discovered the syndicate and began investigating her.

The unit is tasked with recruiting teachers for Grade R pupils.

A visit to Sizani’s former office at the district’s Sydenham headquarters found her name removed from the door and her office empty.

A colleague at the education district offices, who asked not to be named, said: “This thing (the investigation) is so secretive. All we know is that she in not in the office. In the leave register, it says she is on leave.”

According to Hawks officials close to the investigation, as well as district office staff, Sizani was the alleged mastermind behind the creation of up to 99 ECD practitioner posts within the unit. But after four months of paying R6 500 for each of the posts, the department found the positions were fake and attached to non-existent schools.

Investigators alleged the people being paid were recruited by Sizani and, in return, paid her kickbacks, mostly in cash, which amounted to about R500 000.

Although police spokesman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg would not confirm Sizani’s involvement, citing the ongoing nature of the probe, she said investigators were “just waiting for some outstanding (bank) statements” before wrapping it up.

The Hawks official said that in order to escape prosecution, many of those who received irregular payments had agreed to turn state witness.

Asked to comment on the Hawks probe, as well as her suspension, Sizani said yesterday: “I don’t want to comment at this stage. There will be a time when I will comment, but not now.”

Education district head Nyathi Ntsiko referred The Herald to the provincial office, while Sizani’s manager, Justice Tutu, said: “Unfortunately, I cannot comment, as Pankie’s case is still ongoing.”

Stone Sizani, who resigned as education MEC in 2002 and is also the former provincial chairman of the ANC, did not respond to voicemail messages.

Education portfolio committee member and DA education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren said the committee had been briefed by the department on the issue.

“We were told by the department that this had been going on for four months and that 99 ghost teachers were involved.

“They said the official in the district had been suspended. These people (who were recruited), we were told, ranged from hairdressers to people working at supermarkets, and had their names attached to the payroll,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter who it is. Whoever is involved in fraudulent activities should be suspended with no pay and all the missing money should be recovered in full.

“This should be a lesson to others who get caught with their hands in the honey pot.”

Department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said yesterday it was the department’s policy not to comment on issues that were subject to investigation by the police.