By Sne Masuku for IOL

Black publishers and stationery service providers in KwaZulu-Natal have criticised the provincial Department of Education for awarding its R263-million stationery/textbook contract to one company to distribute these items to all public schools in the province. They claimed they were being put out of business.

The publishers and service providers, who own medium and small businesses, had previously serviced Section 21 schools. They alleged the new central procurement system tender awarded to one company in 2014 had expired in 2016, but the contract had been renewed for the past two years “illegally and uncompetitively”.

Complaints by the Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) Forum, comprised of representatives of the affected businesses, threatened legal action against the central procurement system and planned to challenge the legality of the tender. Should this matter end up in court, it would be the fourth procurement tender of the provincial department taken to court.

The department’s Nutrition Programme, the Scholar Transport Programme and the sanitary pads tender, worth millions, were some of the tenders suspected of irregularities, with some going to court.

Last week, the forum lodged a complaint with the provincial portfolio committee on education. The service providers asked the committee to escalate their matter to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga after their requests for a meeting with department officials were allegedly ignored.

Most schools had waited nearly a year for the department to give them funds for books and stationery.

Later in the year, the department, through a circular, advised schools that quotes which had exceeded 20% of the catalogue price including VAT, transport costs and other costs, would be migrated to the central procurement system using the service provider appointed by the department.

Service providers which supplied Section 21 schools with their stationery lost business when the department migrated their orders with private service providers to a company it had appointed.

“We are questioning why the department was so eager in doing business with a company that does not have a valid contract.

“The department is deliberately delaying payment of Section 21 school funds to take away business from us. The intention is to create a new monopoly in the Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) business,” said Mandla Shangase, the interim LTSM Forum chairperson.

According to the South African Schools Act, Section 21 schools which chose to order through private service providers had a right to do so.

This time, schools were told not to confirm their orders before they received a written confirmation from the department that the funds had been transferred.

A multidisciplinary task team appointed by Motshekga is currently investigating allegations of misappropriation of funds levelled by the National Teachers’ Union against the provincial department.

Department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said any contractual obligations that the department may have with service providers remained confidential.

He said the department would never be involved in unlawful activities because they believed in good governance and transparency.

No stationery for Limpopo schools

The department of education says delay in the delivery of stationery is mainly due to the appointment of a new supplier.

The academic year began on a bad note due to some schools in the Tzaneen area having not received all their Learner and Teacher Support Material (LTSM).

Hudson Ntsanwisi Secondary School only received textbooks for Grade 12 before the school holidays and the other grades still have not received theirs by Wednesday, Letaba Herald reported.

Meanwhile, Ben Vorster High School received theirs, but they did not receive their writing journals on the first day of school.

The department of education spokesperson, Naledzani Rasila, said the delay in the delivery of stationery was mainly due to the appointment of a new supplier, following the expiry of a three-year contract that supplied stationery to all government schools in the province.

“Delivery of textbooks, in the form of top-ups, on the other hand, has been delivered to all the schools that have made their orders in time. However, mop-ups continue in schools that did not place their orders in time to ensure that teaching and learning goes on unhindered. Schools and their management teams will be updated at all the time through their circuit offices and districts,” Rasila said.

He further said that they were monitoring closely the delivery of learner support material and that they would like to apologise to the school community for any inconvenience that might have been caused by this delay.

“We are working around the clock to ensure that delivery is completed by the end of January,” concluded Rasila.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) is having none of that.

They said they were irked that the MEC of education, Ishmael Kgetjepe, had once more distorted the truth and covered up the incompetency of his department around the delivery of textbooks to schools in Limpopo for the new academic year.

“As the academic year commences, our learners and teachers will remain in the starting blocks waiting for textbooks and learning materials, which most of them cannot afford to purchase. We will write to MEC Kgetjepe to determine this and request an update regarding the textbooks delivery across the province as well as a time frame of completion,” said DA member of parliament and Provincial Spokesperson on Education, Jacques Smalle.

So far, 1 000 schools have been covered, mainly in Vhembe and Capricorn. Mopani, Sekhukhune and Waterberg are still yet to receive their learner support material.

Some of the schools in Mopani which did not receive their learner support material include; Magoza Secondary School, Matsambu High School, Mavumba Primary School, Lephepane Primary school and Dududu Primary school.

Source: www.citizen.co.za

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