Education MEC still avoiding questions on irregular Sizwe Africa contract

Issued by Yusuf Cassim, MPL
Shadow MEC for Education

Education MEC, Fundile Gade, is still refusing to appear before a special sitting of Education Portfolio Committee to answer questions on the irregular R160 million contract with Sizwe Africa IT Group, six weeks after his initial refusal to be held accountable.

If the MEC is adamant that the procurement was all above board, why is he hiding? Surely if there is nothing untoward about the contract, then there would be no harm in answering questions from the committee?

MEC, when will you come out of hiding and answer the committee!

In an Education portfolio committee meeting held on 21 May 2020, the committee resolved to urgently meet to discuss its response to the contempt displayed by the MEC, after he refused to answer questions put to him about the contract.

He even refused to answer after legal advisors of the Legislature and the Chairperson of the committee, Mpumelelo Saziwa, instructed the MEC to respond.

The MEC has apparently refused to answer, on the basis that the matter is sub judice, as the Democratic Alliance have opened a criminal case against the Department and its Head, Superintendent General Themba Kojana, on 15 May 2020 for awarding the contract without going to tender.

The contract was given to Sizwe Africa IT Group, which is a subsidiary of well-known ANC ally Iqbal Survé’s Ayo Technology Solutions, through the means of a Transversal Term Contract, based on an existing contract with the Department of Economic Development Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT).

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”, which in this case it clearly was not.

In a detailed legal opinion, given to the portfolio committee by Advocate Koleka Beja, it is clearly stated that the rule of sub judice was never intended to protect members of the executive, nor to erode the mandate of the Legislature to conduct oversight of the Executive.

Advocate Beja states that there is no legal basis to the argument that the Department of Education’s defence on the criminal matter opened by the Democratic Alliance would be prejudiced by the Department responding to questions posed by the Portfolio Committee.

The ongoing blatant disrespect shown by the MEC in refusing to answer, certainly raises questions of his constitutional knowledge in the workings of the Legislature and its procedures, and his responsibility to the people of the Eastern Cape.

I have now written to the hon. Saziwa to remind him of his oath to hold all parties accountable, including the MEC, and to request that he convene the urgent meeting that was promised six weeks ago.

At a time when we are facing the worst economic crisis of our generation, we cannot allow unscrupulous individuals to get away with helping themselves to public money.

Those funds belong to the people of the Eastern Cape and should be managed to get the best value for money, with their best interests of the people at heart!