BILLIONS GO UNACCOUNTED: DAILY DISPATCH

“The unavailable documentation is tantamount to fraud” — Edmund van Vuuren.

THE embattled Eastern Cape department of education has failed to submit crucial documents to the auditor-general to back up payments worth billions made during the last financial year.

This was revealed yesterday when chief financial officer Philisa Mdikane came before the portfolio committee on education in Bhisho to present her department’s 2010/11 report.

The report was tabled in the absence of education MEC Mandla Makupula and head of department superintendent-general Modidima Mannya.

Mdikane yesterday for the first time also presented an audit rectification plan to turn around the sorry state of the department’s financial affairs.

Provincial auditor-general Singa Ngqwala has urged such a plan as long ago as the 2005/6 financial year, saying it was the only hope for the embattled department, which last received a clean audit in 1995/96.

The department was awarded a disclaimer for 2010/11 for not submitting crucial financial documents for audit.

According to yesterday’s presentation to the portfolio committee, the department failed to provide records for the following payments:

R2.62-billion to compensate employees;

R2.95-billion for capped leave owed to employees;

R859.72-million for goods and services;

R107.74-million for business transactions made to officials’ relatives; R1.44-billion to schools; R1.2-billion for conditional grant funding;

R128.59-million for housing loan guarantees; and

R132.33-million for claims against the department.

The department further made payments amounting to R75.46-million which were found to be fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

Mdikane said the department had failed to provide the documents due to poor filing systems, vacant posts not being filled, and poor management of human resource functions at district offices.

In an audit committee report, the department said it had been faced with leadership and continuity challenges, with at least three superintendents-general – Professor Harry Nengwekhulu, Ronnie Swartz and Mannya – appointed in the year.

Political parties yesterday said officials would be held accountable.

ANC provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane said the ruling party acknowledged problems within the department, but that this would not be tolerated. “The managers who have not submitted the documents will have to account for this. We have put the department under a microscopic view.

“The five-a-side teams [intervention teams consisting of national ministers and provincial MECS] are working closely together to assist the department.” Mabuyane said there was no leadership vacuum in the department.

“It was unfortunate that there were officials who pulled the department apart, with some aligning themselves to certain individuals and creating an impression that the centre doesn’t hold.

“We stepped in and stopped that kind of anarchy.”

DA spokesman on education Edmund van Vuuren said it was clear there was no accountability in the department.

“Managers refuse at will to provide the necessary documentation for audit purposes. As the DA, we feel very strongly that these managers should have been charged and subjected to disciplinary action.

“Sadly, in most cases no action has been taken and these managers believe they are untouchable. The unavailable documentation is tantamount to fraudulent activities.”

He said they were not optimistic that the department’s plan to turn around its finances will work.

“The department has major capacity issues and has not complied with the recommendations made by the AG.

“We are of the view that audit outcomes will only improve if the internal processes and systems are beefed up efficiently.”

COPE provincial leader Sam Kwelita said the latest report vindicated their position that the department has “literally collapsed”.

Kwelita said the national government should not have allowed negotiations on the takeover of the department through section 100(b) of the constitution.

“The ruling party should be embarrassed about these continuing surprises that the department loses unaccounted-for billions.

“Imagine what is going to happen to the R6-billion they want from the national government for infrastructure if they continue to lose billions of rands this way.”

Kwelita also doubted the turnaround plan would work.

“It’s not a question of capacity any more, but of lack of political and administrative leadership in the department.” — msindisif@dispatch.