Education Department shifting blame by criminalising pupils over tablet scandal

Education Department shifting blame by criminalising pupils over tablet scandal

The Eastern Cape Education department’s woes are deepening, as they are still trying to get back tablets distributed to Grade 12 learners under the highly irregular Sizwe Africa IT contract, now valued at more than R538 million.

These tablets should have been retrieved from learners in October last year, following the court interdict, when the learners were still at school, but now they have created a mess.

The Department is now threatening learners who have missed the mid-April cut-off date with instituting criminal procedures against them if they have not returned their tablets.

Instead of issuing the class of 2020 matric certificates, the Department is hell-bent on giving them criminal records, over tablets that never actually worked in the first place!

Since May 2020, the Democratic Alliance has consistently contended that the procurement was done illegally, when the Department insisted on handpicking the supplier, the politically connected Sizwe Africa IT Group, by piggybacking the lease of 55 000 tablets at exorbitantly inflated costs.

The refusal to follow the correct procurement processes through the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), as is required by law, saw the Department being dragged before the High Court and an urgent interdict being issued that halted the contract until a full review could be done.

When the contract was suspended and the Department’s appeal was unsuccessful, in October last year, the Department should have immediately taken action to recall the tablets in line with the court decision.

Their failure to act in accordance with the court order is what has gotten us in this mess. The horse has already bolted.

In response to a parliamentary question, MEC Fundile Gade said that Department only started recalling tablets in December.

See IQP response

This is in blatant defiance of the court ruling. Ultimately, those responsible for creating this mess, should be held responsible. If anyone should be facing criminal charges, it is the officials that signed off on this bogus contract to redirect taxpayer funds to ANC connected cadres in the first place!

The ANC MPLs who sat in the Portfolio Committee meeting last year, justifying the contract and pushing it through, despite mounting evidence that it was irregular at best and blatant corruption at worst, should hang their heads in shame.

The Department has also blatantly defied the Education portfolio committee and its chairperson, Mpumelelo Saziwa, who has repeatedly requested updates and instructed the Department to give a complete account of the tablet debacle. No such report or updates have been forthcoming!

I will now be writing to Saziwa to request a special portfolio committee meeting be held to discuss the implications of the latest developments, and request that the Department also provide details of the cost implications, should the contract be set aside.

Under an honest, capable government, this situation would not have arisen, as the tablets would have been sourced through an open tender, following the prescribed legislative requirements, to ensure the best possible deal for taxpayers and learners alike.

For the same amount of money, the Department could have purchased three times the amount of tablets outright, and given these to the learners to keep.