MEC stalls over high school funds row

Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has allegedly failed to act against some people who reportedly knew about the financial irregularities at the school. (Oupa Nkosi)

Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has allegedly failed to act against some people who reportedly knew about the financial irregularities at the school. (Oupa Nkosi)

Conflict over the squandering of millions of rands at Johannesburg’s Glenvista High School continues to smoulder, as some parents allege that, despite several damning audits, Gauteng’s education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, is protecting people who have been incriminated in the reports. 

“The MEC is making it seem as if he has taken action against the perpetrators, but some of the people who knew about these dodgy dealings are still on the school governing body (SGB),” one parent, who sat on the SGB from 2012 to 2014, said last week. 

The parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said the current chairperson, Prince Maluleke, and another current member, who had both been on the SGB since 2012, knew about the financial irregularities and did not do enough to stop them.  

But both men have denied what Maluleke, who is sheriff of Boksburg and a part-time adviser to the justice minister, labelled “baseless allegations”. 

Lesufi announced last month at a press briefing that a forensic investigation into the school by the auditors KPMG revealed it to be the “worst, corrupt school I have ever come across”. 

The investigation covered the years 2012 to 2014 and said funds from the school’s staff loan account had been used for payments for the levies of an individual’s holiday home, installation of a carport and hunting fees, and air travel tickets for an individual’s private use had been paid for from school funds, which Lesufi said amounted to “millions”. 

He told the media that he would be opening a criminal and civil case against the former principal and former SGB.  

Principal suspended
The Mail & Guardian has also seen a notice to parents dated September??11 saying the “[department] has placed the school principal Mrs De Jongh on precautionary suspension effective from 14??September 2015”. 

“The suspension is as a result of the findings and recommendations of the KPMG report,” the notice said.  

According to the report, “the principal received payments for accounting classes that she did not provide which was in contravention of her employment contact”. 

Yolinda de Jongh’s former office said only Maluleke, as SGB chairperson, could respond to questions about this decision. 

Maluleke told the M&G that De Jongh was “put on precautionary transfer to the district office for a period of 90 days pending a disciplinary inquiry”. 

The former model C school, in the south of Johannesburg, has about 1?350 pupils and an annual budget of about R24-million. 

The whistle-blowing parent told the M&G that he was elected to the SGB at the beginning of 2012 and soon sensed there was “something seriously wrong with the financials”.He discovered “gross irregularities” including “illegal investments and unauthorised, multiple bank accounts”. 

Ignored
“I tried to raise it with the SGB but I was ignored, so in 2013 myself and another parent told the department what we had found … the department then instituted a forensic audit by law firm Bowman Gilfillan.” 

Maluleke was elected SGB chairperson a few months later, in February 2014. The next month, the SGB discussed the report, which they had by then received from the department. 

“At that meeting, only six findings, including illegal investment accounts and unauthorised bank accounts, were discussed, which was confusing because we reported many more issues than that,” the parent said. 

Maluleke allegedly then misled parents in a school newsletter of July 2014, saying: “I am pleased to report that there was no finding made of any financial irregularity or impropriety against any individual, the SGB or school.” 

The recent KPMG report described this incident as Maluleke “failing to provide correct and accurate information to the parents”. 

But Maluleke said this week that he had only been given a summary of the report and the reason for his statement to parents was based on this limited information as well as his understanding of the law.  

“If you read the report, you will notice that there is a finding against two former SGB members that they failed to recuse themselves when matters in which they had an interest were discussed. This, in my view, constitutes a breach of their fiduciary duties … and is treated differently under our law to someone who has defrauded or stolen money from the school.
That is the context under which I made that statement and stand by it.” 

He said the KPMG auditors “never gave me an opportunity to comment on the allegation and hear my side of the story. Accordingly, I have … challenged KPMG on this specific finding [and] they have undertaken to meet with me to discuss my concern.” 

Meanwhile, the parent applied under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, as an SGB member, to get the full Bowman Gilfillan report, and finally got it from the department in September 2014.  

Inadequate
The report, which the parent sent to the M&G, says the department “should consider the removal of the SGB members” for, among other things, “inadequate management of financial affairs of the school” and that “the issue of cover quoting [relating to debt collection services] be referred to the [police]”. 

During the period that was investigated Maluleke was on the SGB’s executive and financial committee and the other current SGB member was an ordinary SGB member, the parent said. 

“They knew about these irregularities and didn’t report them to the department and today they are still on the SGB. “Why is the department allowing this?” 

Unsatisfied with the department’s “inaction” following the Bowman Gilfillan report, the parent said he then approached the presidency, the public protector and Corruption Watch for help. 

The department responded to this by launching the KPMG investigation at the end  of 2014. 

“The KPMG report confirmed that unauthorised payments were made to some educators and admin staff and the SA Schools Act says this money should be recovered from the SGB members who took that decision, not from the educators,” he said. 

“The estimated value [of these payments] alone is R3-million.” 

“These kinds of payments continued into 2014, without consulting the full SGB, when Maluleke became chairperson,” the parent said. 

No mention
“Even though Maluleke was also implicated in the KPMG report for misleading parents, the MEC made no mention of this to the media but implied that it was only the former SGB members and principal who did anything wrong.” 

Maluleke said he was never involved in any unauthorised payments and was never implicated in the reports for any financial irregularity, “and to suggest otherwise borders on defamation”. 

A former parent, Bobbi Magagula, said she discovered financial irregularities at the school in 2012, including “the lack of a proper asset register” and “donations to the school not being included properly in the financial statements”. 

Maluleke’s knowledge of these irregularities and his inadequate action against them made him unfit to still sit on today’s SGB, she alleged. “I can’t understand why the MEC has not removed him. I definitely believe the MEC is protecting him for some reason.” 

A second former SGB member, who also asked to remain anonymous, claimed he discovered alleged financial irregularities during his tenure and also maintained that Maluleke “should not be in his position because he knew about these irregularities and didn’t do enough to stop them”. 

Maluleke said he had “done a lot and still has a lot to do to improve governance at the school, hence my continued chairmanship”. 

“I also believe that I have the confidence of the SGB members, educators, leaners and parents to continue as a leader of the school.” 

On August 15, Lesufi launched the SGB financial support project in partnership with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants. 

A departmental press release said the project aims to “capacitate SGBs with financial management and reporting skills” and will see a total of 53 chartered accountants being seconded to schools to provide SGBs with support “in terms of providing basic tools and skills that will allow them to properly oversee their school’s financial affairs”. 

Repeated requests for comment from the Gauteng education department have gone unanswered.

Victoria John

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. Read more from Victoria John

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