After the presidency announced that it had asked the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to launch a probe into the troubled Eastern Cape education department, the Mail & Guardian discovered that it would only be probing one incident: the awarding of a tender to the Siegesmund Trust.
Against a myriad allegations of corruption and maladministration that has earned the department the reputation of the worst province in the country, the recent news has shocked civil society.
Daniel Linde, deputy director of public interest law firm Equal Education Law Centre told the M&G on Sunday: “When we looked for the terms of reference for the SIU’s investigation, we were very concerned to find that the only proclamation … relates only to procurement from one particular entity.”
“There are wide ranging allegations about maladministration at state and school level in [the department] including very serious incidences of money being stolen that was meant for learner nutrition, and teaching and principal posts being bought.”
He said it was “dubious” that the presidency announced a broad investigation into potential maladministration in the province, “but it turns out that this isn’t happening”.
The long-standing rot in the department has been the focus of countless court actions and media exposes. In 2011, it reached a destructive enough level to warrant a section 100 intervention in which the basic education department (DBE) took over the province’s administration. The public protector investigated the failure to provide workbooks to the province on time in 2012 and 2013 because of the lack of “functional co-ordination structures” in the province; and the Auditor-General’s 2014/2015 report said the department was being investigated by the police and the Hawks over irregularities in contract management for furniture and catering at school hostels.
On June 24, President Jacob Zuma signed a proclamation authorising the SIU to investigate, among others, “serious maladministration … improper or unlawful conduct by employees … and unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public money” by the department. The exact terms of reference were, at that stage, yet to be confirmed.
On Friday, SIU spokesperson Ayanda Maki confirmed to the M&G that its investigation would be “limited to the Siegesmund matter at this stage”. She referred to a July 10 proclamation, signed by Zuma, which said the SIU would investigate “the procurement of goods and services from Siegesmund Trust by or on behalf of the Department and payments made in respect thereof in a manner that was not fair, competitive, transparent, equitable or cost –effective…”
A January 19 article in The Herald said a tender was awarded to the Siegesmund Trust and Macmillan SA for learner teacher support material, without following the correct processes. Education researcher for the Public Service Accountability Monitor, Zukiswa Kota, said after Zuma’s initial announcement, “it was not unreasonable to assume that the focus would be on a range of issues that had been identified by national and provincial intervention teams – and not merely a single procurement case”.
But the decision to limit the investigation to the Siegesmund Trust was “questionable”. “Given the gravity of the many challenges in governance and financial management faced by the department – this is questionable,” she said. “If an objective of the investigation is to uncover fundamental problems in the department with a view to channelling corrective action – an investigation with such a restricted lens will have dubious efficacy.”
Linde said the state had mislead South Africans.
“Thousands of South Africans are demanding transparency and responsiveness to corruption [but] in this case it appears that the state has preached a responsive approach, but has in fact pulled the wool over our eyes.”
Neither the presidency nor the department of basic education responded to questions by the Mail & Guardian at the time of publishing.