EduSolutions boss: We gave Limpopo what it wanted

Why was there such a delay in getting textbooks to Limpopo’s schools?
We were not given the approval to order textbooks in Limpopo. We now hear national treasury saying they made the funds available. So must I still sit here today and blame the lack of funds? I’m not sure. I don’t know who’s to blame. But definitely what I know is that we are not to be blamed. Our approach is to reverse these stubborn challenges in education.

Basic education director general Bobby Soobrayan said last week that EduSolutions did not hand over pupil and textbook numbers because it had not been paid and knew its contract was going to be cancelled. Is this true?
We always co-operated. We have evidence that shows we gave all the data to Allan Subban [basic education department director of evaluation of school performance]. The department used the data we provided to make decisions and announcements about the situation in Limpopo.

When the minister made comments that her department saved the provincial department millions by cutting down the order for textbooks, she was basing that on the data we had provided and the instructions we had carried out on the directive of the department. In January … the minister was able to go to the media and make statements about the savings she and her department had made. Her statement was based on the information provided by EduSolutions.

Was EduSolutions mandated to collect pupil data for textbooks?
Our mandate was to procure and distribute learner and teacher support material to all schools in Limpopo. Successful delivery on this mandate depends on the existence of correct information about schools.

The provincial departments are supposed to give data about schools, the number of learners, teachers, the subjects and all such information to the service provider upon appointment. This data is often inaccurate and incomplete. We go through a lot of effort to clean the data. This is critical, because if the data is incorrect the project fails before it starts. We then use this data to collect textbook and stationery orders from schools.

Why was it in EduSolutions’s interest to provide the data if it knew its contract was going to be cancelled?
Until April 26 we were under the impression that our contract was still in place. We continued to work in good faith. It was in our interest too to give it to them, because it would have ensured the placement of orders and delivery of books to learners. This is what was always primary in our interactions with the department.

We were ready in August last year to place orders for textbooks, but the provincial education department could not give the go-ahead for us to place orders with publishers because they had budget problems. Each time we revised the budget based on their instructions, they ordered us to cut even further. We were helping them to get to a level where they could afford to buy textbooks.

The department was going to pay EduSolutions R320-million to get textbooks to schools, but claimed it saved money by spending only R120-million in the end. Is this not proof that the cost of your contract was inflated?
Schools order material according to what their requirements are. The most reliable data is that from schools. We cannot use data from anywhere else but from schools.

Yes, it’s true that at times schools order more than what their allocations allow.

The final order that was placed was not done according to what schools wanted. The order was cut to accommodate what the department could afford. If a school ordered 50 books, for example, the department ordered only 30. All of this happened without communicating with schools.

The department was being economical with the truth on this matter. In fact, this was not a saving but a reduction of the orders in order to fit the available budget.

What is your comment on allegations of incompetence and a corrupt relationship with education department officials?
There are two issues that Soobrayan is correct about. The first is in saying EduSolutions doesn’t have a contract with his department. He is disputing the allegations that he has an untoward relationship with EduSolutions.

The intentions of those trying to link Soobrayan to us are malicious and designed to portray our company in a bad light and rubbish our excellent track record.

[Second], there is no untoward relationship with the family of [former department official and subsequently EduSolutions executive Salama] Hendricks either.

We are not the only company that is contributing to the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust. Why are we being singled out? These allegations of [nepotism] are not worthy of our comments because they are insulting to us … Are you suggesting that the president has no values – that he would drive to Limpopo to influence an awarding of a tender?

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.
Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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