R180m owed for school supplies

Pressure: Books and other teaching aids arrived at schools on time, but purchase orders have not yet been made. (Madelene Cronjé, MG)

Pressure: Books and other teaching aids arrived at schools on time, but purchase orders have not yet been made. (Madelene Cronjé, MG)

A cash-strapped ­Eastern Cape education department asked publishers to ­“deviate” from government procurement procedures to supply books and other materials worth almost R180-million. Now the publishers are struggling to get paid.

The apparent flouting of government purchasing rules was requested by acting head of department Ray Tywakadi in a letter the Mail & Guardian has seen. The publishers were asked to supply the supplementary learning material before purchase orders were placed.

Usually, and in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), learning and teaching materials are ordered from publishers before delivery for procurement to be regular.

In his letter, dated December 19 2014, Tywakadi told publishers the department “gives its commitment to issue the official purchase order by no later than 30 April 2015 and will complete payment by 31 May 2015”.
Yet in the first week of June, neither of these has happened.

The letter lists 32 suppliers from which the books were to be obtained. The total value of supplies stood at almost R180-million, and ranged from R59 000 to R21.9-million a company.

These were not core textbooks but supplements – generally referred to as “resources” in schools – that enhance learning and teaching in the classroom. Included in these are illustration charts, workbooks, atlases, maps, dictionaries, scissors and crayons.

“This request to deliver is hereby forwarded to you, as the official purchase order cannot be issued at this time. The Eastern Cape department of education has therefore recommended that a deviation be adopted for the supply/delivery of supplementary resources to schools. This is an official request to you to deliver or supply the product or service,” wrote Tywakadi.

Tywakadi asked publishers to “fast-track delivery in order to ensure that schools receive their resources shortly after reopening in January 2015”.

The M&G has learned that a number of publishers took the gamble and co-operated with the department’s request, but others opted not to deliver until the department issued proper orders.

The materials were subsequently delivered to a warehouse in East London and then transferred to schools across the province.

Publishers who heeded Tywakadi’s request now face the threat of not being paid millions of rands they are owed because they delivered without the purchase orders. In turn, some of the publishing companies are contemplating legal action against the department if they do not get paid.

This is the latest problem concerning maladministration in a department that has been trying to find its feet after three years under national administration. In 2011, when national government took control of the department, it cited long-standing inefficiency and maladministration.

Making the situation worse for the publishers, the department has now in effect slipped into administration again, following a move last month by the provincial government to strip Tywakadi of his accounting officer powers. Sizakele Netshilaphala, from the provincial treasury, was appointed the new accounting officer.

Tywakadi, Netshilaphala and departmental spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani ignored the M&G’s several attempts to get comment from them over a two-week period. This included phone calls and emails.

In what seems to be Netshilaphala’s inaugural letter to staff in April, she warned “all … that it is imperative to ensure that proper procurement processes are followed and planned timely”.

A publisher, who asked not to be named to protect his company, said: “We still don’t have purchase orders for the stuff that we’ve delivered.

“At this point in time our representatives are still negotiating with the new accounting officer, who’s got the financial powers, that they just honour their commitment and place purchase orders with us.

“We can’t get paid because we don’t have purchase orders even though we’ve delivered. Now we’re in a situation where we’re trying to get the purchase orders so that legal action doesn’t take place.”

Another publisher, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “They can’t pay us because there are no orders, although we’ve delivered.

“We delivered in good faith, but now we can’t be paid because we’re told the process flouted PFMA. Tywakadi’s letter to us is allegedly illegal in terms of the PFMA.”

Johannesburg-based David Modlin, owner of Modlin e-Learning Solutions, which supplied software and dictionaries, confirmed he has also not been paid. “It is a shambolic disaster,” he said. “We delivered in good faith, but now we can’t be paid because we’re told the process flouted PFMA”

Bongani Nkosi

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