Close to a billion rand has been set aside to cover potential costs for the controversial Sizwe Africa lease agreement for computer tablets for grade 12 learners that have been gathering dust at schools since the beginning of last year.
A recent Education Portfolio Committee meeting revealed that the Department had been forced to raise a contingent liability in excess of R972,7million to cover the contract, despite the initial cost being R538 million.
While this fiasco continues to haunt the Department and saps much-needed resources, it still battles to provide textbooks and stationery.
Since May 2020, the Democratic Alliance has consistently contended that the procurement was done illegally when the Department insisted on handpicking the supplier, ANC crony Iqbal Surve’s 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.
While the court case drags on, the tablets have been gathering dust at schools and will soon become obsolete.
The Department also finally provided the committee with a copy of the lease agreement. For two years, the Department ducked and dived, refusing to make the lease agreement available despite the Democratic Alliance tabling of parliamentary questions and directives being issued by the portfolio committee for it to do so.
A cursory reading of the contract lays bare what was being hidden.
Under the opening sections, the department had an option to cut its losses and void the contract. Instead, they chose to double down and engage in expensive litigation, which has already cost taxpayers R2.5 million.
Under section 6, interest is levied at prime plus 2%, calculated daily from the due date of payments agreed to.
With interest compounding, the Department’s liability will continue to mount and will cost taxpayers more in interest than what was already an inflated price for the tablets.
The committee also learnt that of the 54 963 tablets distributed to Grade 12 learners in 2020, 8333 had not been returned. The Department will have to foot the bill for these tablets as well.
Download committee responses
In presentations made to the committee back in 2020, the Department cited repair and replacement costs associated with purchasing tablets as reasons for leasing, even though it would have cost half the price to purchase them.
In the deliberations, they told the committee that under the terms of the lease agreement, Sizwe would be responsible for any repairs or replacement of the tablets. This has now proven to be a lie, as sections 10 and 12 of the lease agreement lay these costs at the door of the Department.
The DA will be calling on the new HOD, Mahlubandile Qwase, to institute an investigation into this entire contract, as it is now apparent that the committee has been lied to repeatedly.
To date, not a single person has been held accountable for this outrageously corrupt endeavour which will inevitably drain resources which should be spent on ensuring every learner has a textbook per subject, every classroom has a teacher, and every school has a sufficient budget to maintain their infrastructure.