A written response to a parliamentary question by the Democratic Alliance (DA) has revealed that KwaZulu-Natal’s (KZN) Department of Education is sitting with an employee debt just shy of R600 million.
According to the shocking reply, by MEC Kwazi Mshengu, and his Head of Department, Dr Enoch Nzama, a staggering R593 511 897.45 is currently owed to the Department as a result of debts which include;
• 92 805 bursary debts – all of which are three years and older – as a result of non-compliance with conditions
• 42 159 412 employee debts as a result of funds owed by staff currently within the system – a figure which equates to 25% of the DoE’s total number of 100 000 employees in KZN
• 548 377 243 ex-employee debts – which contributed to the bulk of the balance – and which has increased by R7.3million during the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year and;
• 2 696 109 debts relating to suppliers and schools, where the DoE overpaid them.
The figures do not come as a surprise to the DA given the manner in which KZN’s Education Department has been run for years now. The tragedy though is that this staff debt, if fully collected – and more specifically if prevented in the first place – is money that could fix hundreds of collapsing school roofs and pit latrines in our province.
With almost R550 million the result of ex-employee debt, the DA will be taking steps to find out how this was allowed to happen under the Department’s accounting officer, Dr Nzama. Meanwhile, the 70 826 State Guarantee debtors also means that the DoE is trying to recover money from people erroneously paid after leaving their employ – yet another serious indictment against the HOD.
Of significant concern to the DA is that there are 605 cases – totalling R8.4million – where persons owing the DoE have defaulted on payments during the last 90 days. The reasons for this are cited as leave without pay, late terminations and tax debts.
This while the MEC and his HOD have admitted that the Department is unable to provide a timeframe for the recovery of the debts. One of the reasons is due to some of the debts existing from 2004. Paying lawyers endless sums of money to pursue debt that may have exceeded the two-year prescription period in law needs to be looked into. If this practice is ongoing it needs to stop.
While there are some efforts being made to collect the outstanding monies, including monthly meetings, reports and even a task team, it is clear that this problem continues to grow out of control.
The DA firmly believes that all individuals who owe the Department money need to sign an acknowledgement of debt binding them to repay the money in whatever terms of agreement are reached. Without this mechanism, delay tactics by those no longer within the DoE’s employ will eventually lead to instances where they escape paying their dues.
Furthermore, it needs to be determined whether such a document has been signed by all who owe money, how much of this debt has been prescribed and how many have not signed such a legally binding document.
The DA will continue to monitor this situation closely and will submit follow-up parliamentary questions in order to establish ongoing collection rates. It is clear that far too much has been allowed to go on under Dr Nzama and his political handlers.