A former senior government official who helped plan the rollout of information and communication technology (ICT) in schools and an offshore company incorporated in a well-known tax haven are among the beneficiaries of the Gauteng education department’s (GED) controversial smart boards tender worth at least R357-million.
News24 can reveal that Mallele Petje, the GED’s former head of department, is a shareholder in the company that won the GED’s recently-awarded tender for digital smart boards.
The smart boards are to replace white boards in Gauteng schools.
Petje also chaired a government committee that formulated an early blueprint for the use of technology in local schools.
The tender, which has come under fire amid allegations that it had been rigged to favour the winning bidder, was awarded to a company called Modlin e-Learning Solutions in August this year.
David Modlin, Modlin’s CEO, this week informed News24 that 51% of the company’s shares are owned by Borofa Consulting, a locally-registered company.
British Virgin Islands registration
According to Companies and Intellectual Property Commission records, Petje is Borofa’s sole director.
Petje says he is Borofa Consulting’s only shareholder.
The remaining 49% of Modlin’s shares are owned by Intelligent Solutions Investment Limited, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, a well-known tax haven.
Before Petje left his post as GED department head in 2008 to become the province’s director general, he chaired the heads of education departments committee’s (Hedcom) ICT sub-committee.
At that time, the ICT sub-committee was busy drafting government’s plans for the large-scale rollout of ICT equipment such as PCs and laptops in government schools.
In 2008 Petje told the website IT Web that the Hedcom ICT sub-committee was busy with “the process of analysing the options available for the rollout [of ICT products in schools].”
Committee discussed smart boards
He also said the sub-committee was “mainly [focussed] on [the] procurement and financing” of the rollout.
It is not clear whether the sub-committee he chaired envisaged or recommended the use of smart boards.
However, a document titled “The Need for an eEducation in South Africa”, which was compiled by auditing firm KMPG for the national department of education in 2009 and in which Petje’s role as chair of the ICT sub-committee is outlined, does refer to the use of smart boards in classrooms.
Under the heading “ICT can be used to present and navigate through instructionally designed materials”, the KPMG report refers to “content rich” educational material that had been “designed for access through television sets or interactive whiteboards”.
The document also references the Nepad e-Schools Project, which saw the installation of ICT hardware, including “one interactive whiteboard”, in each of the six South African schools that formed part of the project.
Petje says it would be “far-fetched” to suggest that he has now benefited from government spending that may have been informed by the recommendations of a sub-committee that he chaired.
‘I can’t remember’
“The sub-committee didn’t take any decision, it could only submit recommendations for consideration by the council of education ministers. Whatever decisions they would have taken would possibly have filtered through education departments when I was not there,” said Petje.
“My own view is that the Gauteng education department would possibly have taken a position that would have been informed by their own research, which, having left them a few years ago and as far as this tender is concerned, I wouldn’t have been privy to,” added Petje.
According to the former department head, the ICT sub-committee he chaired may very well have considered the use of smart boards in classrooms.
“I guess we would have looked at a range of devices that are possible in the use of technology within education. I can’t remember if smart boards were mentioned, but we would have possibly referred to the use of all forms of devices that make learning possible within the context of education,” said Petje.
The DA has recently submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) request to the GED to obtain all documents related to the smart boards tender.
In a recent press release the party claimed that it had been “informed that the department could have saved millions of rands had the ICT tender been awarded to an alternative service provider”.
Offshore investment ‘historic’
In a written response to questions in the Gauteng provincial legislature at the end of October education MEC Panyaza Lesufi stated that 196 smart boards have been installed in 21 schools across Gauteng this year.
According to earlier reports, the contract involves the purchase of 1 800 smart boards.
Modlin says the tender process was “fair and open and the tender was awarded in accordance with the Gauteng Department of Education’s formal tender process”.
Modlin says the offshore investment in Modlin E Learning Solutions is “historic”.
“Initially the shareholding…was held by a United Kingdom partner of mine, but his equity was acquired by me in around 2012,” explained Modlin.
Oupa Bodibe, a spokesperson for the GED, did not respond to News24’s queries.
By Pieter-Louis Myburgh for News24