Today I have opened a criminal case against the Department of Education relating to the awarding of a R160 million contract with Sizwe Africa IT Group, to supply the department with an e-learning platform and tablets for Grade 12 learners.
The case has been opened against the Department of Education, and the Head of Department, Superintendent General, Themba Kojana.
Education MEC, Fundile Gade, initially refused to answer questions around the controversial R160-million contract during an Education Portfolio Committee meeting on Wednesday, saying he does not want to discuss procurement processes or contracts that have been awarded, or any issues that have appeared on social media, challenging those who had issues with the contract, to go to court.
The reaction of the MEC was totally uncalled for, and even members form his own party lambasted him for his comments. But the MEC’s request has been noted, and this is the first step in getting the matter before the courts.
At the heart of the matter is the awarding of a contract without the matter going out to tender.
Instead, Sizwe Africa IT Group, which is a subsidiary of well-known ANC ally Iqbal Survé’s Ayo Technology Solutions, was contracted to the Department of Education, through the means of a Transversal Term Contract, based on an existing contract with the Department of Economic Development Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT).
This procurement process has been fast tracked under the umbrella of the Covid-19 measures, yet the tablets which are being procured, will only be available after the matriculants are back at school, providing little if any interim relief.
Further, during the Portfolio Committee meeting, MEC Gade admitted that the matter was not Covid-19 related.
According to procurement regulations (Treasury Regulation 16A6.6), piggy backing on another department’s contract can only be done under strict conditions, including that “it is necessary for the goods or services to be same, and not merely interrelated”.
The contract between DEDEAT and Sizwe Africa IT Group, is as “a service provider to provide operating lease or asset finance solution of movable assets for a period of five (5) years”.
Download DEDEAT contract
This has nothing to do with e-learning and is clear evidence that the scope of the new contract is not the same.
In previous cases where this shortcut has been challenged, the courts have stated that “the contract price must be same, and that the relationship will be governed by material terms of the first appointment”. This is also clearly not the case here.
What is extremely concerning is that, of the R160 million, R123 million has been identified for the purchase of 55 000 tablets for the Grade 12 learners, at a cost of roughly R2 250 per tablet.
A quick internet search has shown three cost effective alternatives, ranging from R1 200 to R1 500 per tablet, yet the Department chooses to pay Sizwe Africa Group at least R1 000 more per tablet.
This matter must be brought before the court as a matter of urgency, and if the contact does not comply, the law is clear in that contracts concluded contrary to procurement legislation and regulations are wholly invalid and cannot be allowed to stand
I will now be writing to provincial treasury, to request that the contract be placed on hold and I will also be writing to Premier to plead for him to urgently provide constitutional training to MEC Gade so that we can urgently rectify his constitutional delinquent tendencies for the sake of education in the Eastern Cape.
We cannot allow the hijacking of the Covid-19 crisis by individuals looking to shortcut due process for their own self enrichment.
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