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KZN education officials suspended for mismanagement of sanitary-pads project

The KwaZulu-Natal department of education has suspended three senior officials who were flagged by a forensic investigation as having been responsible for mismanagement of the sanitary-towel programme. 

This was announced by MEC of education Kwazi Mshengu at a media briefing on Thursday. The forensic investigation found there was an oversupply of more than two million sanitary pads; 388 650 packs of sanitary pads were not delivered to the district offices and head office; another 64 269 packs were not delivered to schools; and that these packs cost more than R4-million.

The department launched a pilot project in 2016 and R20-million was set aside for selected schools in quintiles one to four. The intention was to supply learners in grades four to 12.

Mshengu said that in April 2017 the department approved the purchase of 953 122 packs of pads at a cost of more than R54-million; in August 2017, a second order for the same number of learners at the same cost was approved. Between 2016 and 2017, the department spent R129 799 654 on sanitary towels.

However, Mshengu said teacher unions and other civil society organisations raised an issue with the over-supply of the pads and that said they were being delivered to schools that were not deserving. He said allegations of flouting processes and procedures led to the commission of a forensic investigation. 

In 2018, the Mail & Guardian reported that at least two teachers unions had warned that the project of distributing sanitary towels to learners smacked of corruption. 

The National Teachers Union (Natu) and the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in the province called for the department of basic education to conduct a forensic investigation into the programme. 

At the time, the unions said sanitary towels were piling up in staff rooms and principals’ offices because of oversupply. Natu president Allan Thompson said because of the oversupply teachers were giving the sanitary pads to all learners, even those in grade R.

Mshengu said the forensic investigation recommended that disciplinary action be taken against the deputy director general for institutional development (support branch), the chief director for social enrichment programmes and the director for special needs education. “These officials were identified as responsible for the mismanagement of the project, resulting in oversupply and financial loss to the department.” 

In a statement on Thursday, Natu’s Thompson said the union will take the matter to the office of the public protector because it felt the investigation by the department was a “cosmetic exercise exercise designed to cover the misdemeanours conducted by the officials and politicians in KwaZulu-Natal”.

Secretary of Sadtu in the province, Nomarashiya Caluza, told the M&G that the union welcomed the report but felt that the investigation left certain things “hanging”. She, however, said the union hopes  the suspended officials will be subjected to a fair process.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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