KZN Education Adjustment Budget: The ability to self correct will be the true test of leadership

Issued by Dr Imran Keeka, MPL – DA KZN Spokesperson on Education
17 Sep 2020 in Press Statements

It sounded all good when the country was told there would be a R500 billion rescue plan – to cushion the Covid-19 fiscal blow – along with contributions to the solidarity fund. The reality, however, is that this money had to come from somewhere. KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) contributed some R6.2 billion to this figure and we now know that investigations are underway to determine how much of this money allegedly ended up in the pockets of connected comrades. This while our children now bear the brunt of the crooked ways of shameless rogues.

The R517 million cut against Department of Education (DoE) grants, possibly arising out of a “donation” that allowed some individuals to fill their pockets, has left millions of KZN learners without proper resources, including classroom furniture. Then there are the school roofs, windows and doors which remain broken windows, the cracked walls, poor quality chemical toilets, broken static tanks.

There is also not enough money for desk shields – and as a Legislature delegation heard during recent oversight visits – not enough hand sanitizer in one district. This is shameful! The DA is also extremely concerned by Education HOD, Dr Nzama’s comment to the province’s Education portfolio committee that there were only two or three desk shield suppliers in KZN. This while there is not even enough furniture to ensure proper physical distancing. This cannot be believed under any circumstance.

Meanwhile, in the Harry Gwala District, there are still mud schools in the year 2020. This disgraceful. Is the accounting officer/ HOD going to feign ignorance as is the case so often about so many matters? And what about MEC Kwazi Mshengu? This is shameful! On 8 August, the MEC also told us that water could not be delivered to schools in Umkhanyakude because there was no diesel for the tankers. Again, this is shameful and the question must be asked – who stole the money for this? The DA is also aware of officials in Nongoma who are charging residents for water.

The Department’s R120million sanitary towel tender – and the alleged skulduggery that took place – remains firmly on the DA’s radar. During a recent portfolio committee meeting, the DA proposed that the HOD too should be suspended until he is cleared of any complicity. The suggestion was vehemently attacked by an ANC member. We then heard, publicly, that the HOD may be involved in keeping with the DA view. MEC Mshengu has challenged the members to report it to authorities.

The DA has already written to Premier Zikalala – and today we say it again, as we did a few weeks ago. This Department’s accounting officer can no longer continue to feign ignorance around matters happening in such large volume and over such a long time – right under his nose. In terms of the law, he is accountable and it is for this reason that he too must be suspended until such time as he is cleared, if at all.

This issue represents an opportunity for both the Premier and his MEC to show true leadership through self-correction – an area where the ANC continues to under-perform. And before they accuse the DA of not recognising the suspension of some DoE officials, allow me to welcome those steps but allow me to also express our concern around the matter of some suspended officials who have quietly returned to office.

Speaking of reporting matters to authorities, the DA welcomes the fact that the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) has not ignored our call to probe the DoE’s possible involvement in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) fraud. This despite the Premier’s attempts to sweep everything under the carpet with his own forensic investigation report. Now we will see what will emerge from a proper investigation.

If anyone paid attention to the Premier’s so-called disclosure about PPE purchases, they would have noted that under the DoE even Ilanga Newspapers is listed as a supplier of items. Then there are other companies such as African Grey Trading, Upward Spiral, Lion Head Projects, Sebenzani Trading, Makatini Siba and Office Code enterprises which the DA believes also need to be put under the microscope of the Competition and Consumer Commissions for possibly ripping the DoE off. In the event that this happens, they should also come clean if they were told to inflate prices.

Not only has the Auditor-General made some scandalous findings against the DoE but this Department recently appeared before SCOPA, where I am reliably informed that those who appeared lied through their teeth – under oath! I am also told that the matter is now being queried. The question is – how can the DoE’s leadership stoop so low? This is not a scurrilous attack by the DA, it is a matter of record. Whether there will be any consequences – or whether this will be yet another scandalous matter swept under the carpet – remains to be seen.

We also know how the National Schools’ Nutrition Programme (NSNP) R1.7 billion is allegedly abused through a patronage network to win votes inside and outside of the ANC. Why then are the DoE’s most senior officials and leaders within this Department immune from any form of answerability? The MEC must tell us whether there will be any self-reproof, or answerability before answerability so to speak. This will be the true test for the leadership of this Department after its preaching about clean governance.

The DoE is also likely to see over-expenditure of around R943million, with the result that it may end up with large-scale accruals and a Treasury first charge. If the looting of the state coffers through various rackets wasn’t so open there would be more money to make sure our children have a fully resourced, quality education. When asked how it will mitigate against this over-expenditure and what revised business or expenditure plan it has, the DoE basically told us that they have a plan about a plan.

Our province also has a shortage of some 5.4 million text books, with Grade 8’s worst- affected. A principal who we met in Vryheid recently, actually thought that sharing text books and such shortages was the norm. Meanwhile, we are told that there is no money to replace these 5.4 million text books. If there was sound political leadership and no embezzlement from the state purse, as is so shamefully obvious now more than ever before, then we wouldn’t have MEC Mshengu telling us in writing that there is no money or not enough to go around. The question must be asked – who are the political handlers in this instance?

We recently saw the MEC unveil 183 much-needed DoE vehicles. The DA welcomes this, it is critical that replace the aging fleet. Of concern though is that a public impression may have been deliberately created that they are there to augment the existing fleet, when this is not the case. This is duplicitous because people may think they will be getting more in terms of service delivery, when in fact if the old vehicles are auctioned off and the net result will be a zero.

Despite its scandalous image, the ANC-led government cannot be allowed to resort to smoke and mirrors to bolster its tarnished image. If anything, Covid-19 has exposed the rot, right from the top. As Members of the Legislature we have responsibility to ensure that we all contribute to a capable state and that we do this honestly in order to best serve the people who elected us into office. The National Development Plan states: A developmental state needs to be capable, but a capable state does not materialise by decree, nor can it be legislated or waved into existence by declarations. It has to be built, brick by brick, institution by institution, and sustained and rejuvenated over time. It requires leadership, sound policies, skilled managers and workers, clear lines of accountability, appropriate systems, and consistent and fair application of rules.”

KZN is clearly moving in the opposite direction. The people of our province must say no to corruption and get rid of it at the ballot box.