A public hearing has revealed shocking developments within the Limpopo Department of Education, where supply chain officials and companies contracted to advertise tenders have been doing as they please without any consequences meted against them.
The provincial Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) heard that some officials signed off tenders at their own discretion, disbursing monies that were not approved by the head of the department (HOD) and the chief financial officer (CFO).
Scopa members also questioned how a scholar transport tender was not advertised for 21 days in line with public finance rules that apply across all government departments.
To make matters worse, it transpired that three officials connected to the signing off of the tender were not disciplined simply because a director within the department forgot to issue them with the charges they faced.
MEC Mavhungu Lerule-Ramakhanya and her HOD Onica Dederen blamed the department’s dysfunctional processes on forgetfulness, incompetence, and lack of knowledge.
“What actually happened was that the chief director clearly indicated that these officials did not receive the letters, which were signed by the HOD and were supposed to be transmitted to the three officials in his directorate. One of his directors had not actually preferred those charges to the three officials.
“As the report clearly indicates, it was an omission from one of the officials because that section is really busy and the official really forgot to prefer those charges and hand over the letters to those officials,” said Dederen.
Dederen explained that the letters were finally handed over following the department’s previous appearance before Scopa, where action was demanded against the officials.
“Those letters were handed to the three officials and after that, two officials acknowledged receipt. As we indicated, the third official passed away. The two officials were given warning letters.
“You also clearly indicated that we are saying that the implementing agency did not advertise the tender for 21 days and that we should take the blame. Yes, we do take the blame, but what happened here is that by the time we realised they had done it, that was already a done deal. That is why we are saying that any implementing agency cannot advertise any tender without the department having okayed it,” Dederen said.
The department was not done shocking the Scopa members, who asked to explain why they failed to charge Sekhukhune District officials who awarded a number of bids exceeding R500 000 without going to tender.
“The other issue, in terms of Sekhukhune District, yes, maybe let me just say that we did not charge the officials. What actually happened was that when we had engagements with these officials, we realised that they did not really know that if they only adjudicate on one quotation they have to request a deviation from the accounting officer.
“Because of the fact that we thought it was not a deliberate action that they really did, we then felt that instead of us [taking] punitive measures, we have to assist them in understanding how this process works,” Dederen said.
Scopa member, Tshilidzi Maraga, questioned why the Sekhukhune officials did not know the law that governs the work they do.
“Your response is that they were not aware, but are they not trained? In other words, didn’t you induct them or is this not incompetence? Honourable MEC, you have to tell me the truth if you think your HOD is [fit] to be in office. What we have here [indicates] that your HOD should have gone to pension by now due to her age and leave the office to the youngsters,” said Maraga.
Another committee member, Rudolf Phala, labelled the department’s responses “scandalous.”
“What do we call this Honourable Maraga, a scandal? Don’t you call it a scandal when the HOD sits here and says we have sent letters to the officials and the officials raise their hands and say, ‘We did not receive those letters.’ In English, it is a scandal. Now that they say they have solved that now, but they discovered that there is an official who did not send the letters to the officials, what happened to the official who sat on the letters? Ignorance of the law is punishable in law,” said Phala.