Honourable Speaker, Fellow South Africans… I greet you with the universal greeting of peace, As-salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.
In undertaking the school visits which produced the report before the house today, honourable members witnessed first hand the symptoms of a flailing and failing department. The report itself serves as an indictment of MEC Gade and the management of the department of education in the Eastern Cape.
It is little wonder that the SG of the Department issued an instruction note on the 5th of June instructing principles to, amongst other things, disallow public representatives like the Honourable Members of this House from exercising their constitutional right and responsibility of oversight over the executive.
Nevertheless, I must credit the portfolio committee of education for standing firm and ignoring the unconstitutional attempts to stymie our efforts.
As we reflect on the horror contained in this report, it is incumbent on us to interrogate how we got here. On the 23rd of March, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation and announced a 21-day national lockdown effective from midnight 27 March through to 16 April. This was in response to the advent of the covid19 pandemic and included the closure of schools.
At that very point, it would be obvious to anyone that schools would need to be reopened after the 16th of April or at some point thereafter. It would also be obvious that when schools do reopen, the virus would still be prevalent as the lockdown was only meant to flatten the curve of its spread so as to prepare our health facilities. The common sense thing to do would have been for the department of education to begin preparing for the inevitable reopening of schools in the midst of a pandemic. As this report reveals, common sense is perhaps not so common in the department tasked with educating our children.
The Department could have and should have immediately began preparation on the procurement of PPE, water and water tanks, temporary sanitation facilities and made plans regarding scholar transport. Instead, it sat on its hands for over a month before waking up to begin any preparations in this regard.
Perhaps I’m not being completely fair, the department didn’t do nothing in that time, in fact they were hard at work rushing through an illegal procurement of leased tablets and sim cards from ANC crony Iqbal Surve’s Sizwe Africa IT group to the tune of R160m.
When the department finally woke up to the need to prepare for the safe reintegration of learners, they proceeded to completely botch it up. The procurement of PPE is a prime example. The department initially initiated a central procurement that was meant to arrive in the 12th of May, 1 day before the initial planned opening of schools which was set for the 13th of May at the time.
After the opening of schools were pushed back, we were told that this procurement was hijacked by the department of health and that the procurement of PPE will now be decentralised to a district level which was then further expanded in many instances to a circuit level.
What followed was an abject failure in management which resulted in 3197 schools being unable to open on the 8th of June when schools were finally due to except learners due to still not receiving PPE for their learners. This being well over two months after the closure of schools. At that very same point, there were still 716 schools without water and nothing was done for schools with unsafe or unsuitable sanitation.
What ensued was nothing short of a scramble as many schools opted to go at it alone having been failed by the department.
When PPE did finally arrive at schools, report fled in of the inferior quality. There were no quality control mechanisms to hold suppliers accountable to with schools not even know which standards the items should meet when accepting them.
Now here is where the largest scandal appears. This delayed and chaotic procurement of PPE, with reports of substandard quality, was done at way beyond market value. This was revealed in MEC Gade’s response to my oral question to him yesterday where he confirmed that the amounts paid were the amounts specified in National Instruction Note 5 which provided the following costs per item:
Cloth Mask 3 layer – R25,00
Thermometers with batteries – R 2595,00
Sanitizer 25 liter – R 4665,00
Gloves – R90,00 (box of 100)
Aprons – R297,00 (box of 100)
Germ killer 25 liter – R4665,00
In paying these unit costs, the MEC and his department have acted grossly irresponsibly. Paying R4665 for a 25 L hand sanitizer or germ killer when the same thing can be done on Takealot for R900 is absolutely criminal.
Paying R2595 for a thermometer gun when the same thing can be bought for under R600 from almost any supplier is equally criminal. There is already a scarcity of resources in the education department, paying five times the market price for PPE is downright shameful. Especially given that the money is taken from the department’s infrastructure budget.
MEC Gade and his department have proven that they cannot be trusted with the safe return of our children to school. I have written to Premier Oscar Mabuyane twice to request that his office step in to oversee the work of the depart yet I have still not received any response. As schools continue to complain about the support received from the department, the number of infections in schools rises and the death toll increases, the Premier can no longer turn a blind eye. The lives of our children and educators are literally at stake.