DUMPED FILES DISGRACE: WEEKEND POST

“It’s a smokescreen to hide corrupt activities so they can’t be detected. They would rather get a disclaimer than be exposed.” — Edmund van Vuuren.

VITAL documentation detailing payments and transactions worth possibly billions of rands made by the Eastern Cape Department of Education have allegedly been dumped in eight shipping containers outside the department’s sprawling Zwelitsha headquarters.

The containers are surrounded by piles of rubbish and it has been claimed they have been infested with rats.

The discovery of the department’s astonishing “filing system” by Weekend Post yesterday comes only days after the auditor-general announced that payments worth billions of rands cannot be accounted for by the provincial education department.

An investigation has revealed that in addition to the containers some of the department’s human resources paperwork – including confidential staff records – is also being stored at a school next door.

When visiting the site yesterday Weekend Post was shown a row of eight blue shipping containers situated next to a parking lot at the complex.

Piles of rubbish were stacked up against one of the containers which sources revealed contain payment vouchers and other important financial documents required both by the auditor-general as well as the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which is investigating corrupt officials at the department.

The damning provincial auditor-general report was read at a portfolio committee meeting in Bhisho this week when it emerged there was little or no paper trail for payments worth billions made by the beleaguered department.

The department received a disclaimer – which is served when financial records cannot substantiate expenditure – from the national auditor-general for the year 2010/2011.

So far this year the department has no records to back up 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.

A staggering R75.46-million was found to have been “fruitless and wasteful expenditure”.

DA education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren yesterday lashed out at the department, which last received a clean audit 15 years ago, saying chaotic financial records filing was at the root of the crisis.

“These documents should be put in a safe place, but we have found that a lot of them are stored in shipping containers at the Zwelitsha head office. There is no filing system and they are just thrown in there and it is apparently infested with rats.

“That is why no documents can be found on money spent,” Van Vuuren said.

“The SIU reported in September that documents they require are not forthcoming and that officials are not adhering to filing and archiving practices, which means charge sheets can’t be finalised.”

Furthermore, district offices also lacked storage facilities, he said.

“The files, which contain financial documents regarding payments made to teachers which should be forwarded to the department, are just dumped everywhere.”

Van Vuuren said in some instances poor record keeping could be “a smokescreen” for corruption.

“It’s a smokescreen to hide corrupt activities so they can’t be detected. They would rather get a disclaimer than be exposed. A lot of senior officials are doing business with the department. So this is not only incompetence, but also the purposeful withholding of information which is tantamount to fraud.”

Van Vuuren also laid the blame for 15 years of unsatisfactory audit reports on a “leadership vacuum” in the department.

“The problem is that no action has ever been taken and no investigation has been made into why the managers withhold documentation for audits.

“There is absolutely no accountability.”

An Education Department insider who spoke to Weekend Post on condition of anonymity confirmed the filing system was a shambles.

He said there “was no space in the building” for document storage and that the department used neighbouring Themba Labanthu High School for storage. He said despite a “concerted effort” to train administrative officers in 2006 and 2007, officials ignored the systems that had been put into place because they were “too lazy”.

“There was extensive training at the time and there was a very good information management trainer here, but when she left she was never replaced.

“It is the same at the district offices. People hide behind [the excuse] of under-staffing, but the people who are there stick documents next to their desk or ignore them instead of filing them.”

He said the Education Department needed “an entire building with proper staff” to keep proper financial records.

“Until we do that it will be a shambles.”

UDM MPL Jackson Bici, who serves on the education portfolio committee, said all material required for auditing should be kept in “locked filing systems”.

“It is a feeble excuse that they cannot produce what is required by the auditor-general. It exposes the department to a lot of fraudulent activities because the AG can’t establish where the money has gone and the worst thing is that no one is held responsible.

“How can you keep documents in bins with no one caring what happens to them?”

Education Department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani admitted the department had “a challenge” regarding filing.

“The fact is that our records are decentralised to our 23 district offices. We want to keep everything at the head office (in Zwelitsha) but we also expect our district offices to have proper filing systems so when the office of the AG requires evidence of expenditure we are able to provide it.”

Pulumani said there was no space in the Zwelitsha building, but that a new building was “planned” for information processing purposes.