EDUCATION FRAUD AND CORRUPTION: MANDATE OF SIU MUST BE STRENGTHENED

The mandate of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) currently investigating corruption in the Department of Education in the Eastern Cape should be strengthened in order to summons any official, any time, to provide them with the necessary information and relevant documentation. The unit needs clout to do its job.

The department has no fraud prevention plan in place and the Risk Management Unit is almost non-existent. This needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency if the looting is to stop. What is needed is the political will from the ANC-led provincial administration to ensure that this department is placed back on track. The problems have been identified, so please, do something!

The more cases are dragged out due to uncooperative officials, the more these corrupt officials entrench themselves in illegal activities.

It has been alleged that 90% of officials at Head Office are doing business with the department.

So far 40 senior officials have been suspended as result of the SIU investigation.

The SIU was tasked through proclamation on 30 July 2010 to commence with an investigation into fraud and corruption into the provincial Department of Education. This started off with only eight staff members which has grown to 28 due to the magnitude of the investigation.

• Some of the investigations being conducted are:The awarding of tenders involving the scholar transport system.

• The awarding of tenders involving the school nutrition system.

• The general procurement management system in the department.

• The transfer payment system to schools and the salary payment system in the department.

• The general utilisation of the Early Childhood Development budgets, including the appointment of Early Childhood Development practitioners.

• The general operations and tender process associated with the Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) unit in the department.

The SIU has referred a number of cases for disciplinary hearing. In the most instances dismissals were effected. Some of the cases are:

• Irregular appointment of Grade R Early childhood Development practitioners – a criminal case docket of fraud and corruption was opened and handed to the SAPS and NPA to attend to.

• An officials has been charged for various counts of financial misconduct, inter alia, transferring R1,3 million into her brother’s account.

• An official was charged and convicted for submitting double subsistence and travel claims. He was dismissed.

• An official who has been subsequently dismissed, had captured and authorised payment to the amount of R1,4 million to a company which is in her sister’s name.

• Two officials were dismissed who used fraudulent information for promotion purposes. These officials applied for promotion without stating that they had previous convictions.

The SIU has encountered a lot of resistance, namely:

• Officials are uncooperative when approached for assistance;

• Officials are hardly ever available to be interviewed;

• Appointments are ignored;

• Documentation required is not forthcoming;

• Non-adherence with regards to departmental policies about filing/archiving of documents.

• The DA finds it deplorable that the Department of Education can allow such a gross lack of accountability.

As a result of the above limitations, charge sheets cannot be finalised, resulting in a lot of time wasted. This is impacting negatively on the progress of the SIU.

As stated earlier, about 90% of officials are doing business with the department with the majority not having declared their interests. It is obvious that there is a syndicate operating in the system which affects all sections within the department. There is collusion within offices, but it is very difficult to prove. For example, quotations will be received from service providers and officials will be informed accordingly and they, the officials, will then submit lower quotations under a fictitious name which will then be accepted.

It has also been found that corrupt activities are flourishing because the department has no fraud prevention plan in place and the Risk Management Unit is almost non-existent. There are only three officials, sometimes assisted by ordinary clerks, who have no risk management experience or capabilities, that must police the Head Office and 23 Districts with a budget of only R750 000.

The DA finds it totally inconceivable that an understaffed Risk Unit can effectively monitor and prevent corrupt and fraudulent transactions within this department that has a budget of R24,6 billion. This unit need more legal expertise, investigators and officials with accounting skills. This unit should be populated with the urgency required.

The collapse of Risk Management is a recipe for total disaster.

The DA finds it unacceptable that officials are not cooperating with the SIU, and has already asked a parliamentary question as to how the department intends to negate this trend, which is a major hindrance in the conclusion of many cases.

The DA is also of the opinion that because of the volume of work more investigators are needed and we will recommend to the Legislature the appointment of such investigators.

Education is the foundation of opportunities and should as such never be denied to the masses. All possible efforts should be made to put this department right.