Johannesburg - The government’s intervention team in Limpopo has scrapped a R320m textbook tender that was controversially awarded to a company controlled by former government officials.
Anis Karodia, head of the basic education department’s intervention team, terminated the contract with EduSolutions.
EduSolutions also has major contracts in Gauteng and other provinces.
Pupils in Limpopo are still without textbooks, months into the school year – a situation that this week saw the national government taken to court.
In a letter to EduSolutions, which was included as part of a court application heard in Pretoria this week, Karodia also says the contract was illegal and invalid.
The move vindicates claims made to City Press earlier this year in which Solly Shitangano, a former general manager in the province’s education department, alleged that the contract was riddled with procedural and legal problems.
Shitangano had blown the whistle even before the department was put under administration and informed the public protector, premier Cassel Mathale and President Jacob Zuma’s office of his concerns.
But he was dismissed by the department on charges of gross negligence and gross insubordination, among others.
The letter of termination, which was sent to EduSolutions on April 26 by Karodia, instructed the company not to proceed with any procurement of books.
The letter was included as part of the state’s response to an action brought by rights organisation Section27 and the National Association for School Governing Bodies.
The organisations asked for – and subsequently won – a court order in the North Gauteng High Court declaring the state’s failure to deliver textbooks to children in Limpopo a violation of their constitutional right to an education.
The court ordered Limpopo to supply the books.
EduSolutions was the key contractor for the purchasing and delivery of the school books in the province.
Karodia’s letter also revealed that the contract had begun to be scrutinised in March and that the intervention team had sought legal advice from the Treasury to find a way to terminate it without risking a lawsuit.
“The entire tender was allocated to a private company at an exorbitant tender price, which has compromised the department.
"The company is under investigation, and we are not allowed to procure from the said company,” said Karodia in a March memo to staff. City Press has a copy of the memo.
Last June Neo Africa, appointed by the then head of the Limpopo education department, Benny Boshielo, found in a forensic investigation that the contract awarded to EduSolutions was sound.
EduSolutions, a subsidiary in a burgeoning empire called African Access Holdings, got nearly R20m upfront in the three-year deal, which was signed in October 2010.
The tender was for procuring and delivering textbooks for an effective four years, and allowed EduSolutions to negotiate discounts with textbook suppliers. EduSolutions would split the profits from the discounts with the state.
Online company records show African Access directors include Mogopodi Mokoena, a former Gauteng director general, and Joy Matsebula, a former acting director in the office of the presidency.
Others include Mateli Mpuntsha, a former director in the communications department; Thabo Mpama, a former chairperson of the state training authority for IT; Shaun Battleman, the Black Management Forum’s top entrepreneur for 2011; Moosa Ntimba, a former chief financial officer of the Government Printing Works; and Seth Phalatse, a non-executive chairperson of BMW.
Shitangano argued at the time Boshielo approved the contract that there was no evidence that the mandatory competitive bidding had taken place.
No cost analysis had been conducted prior to it being advertised, he said.
This week Boshielo maintained his earlier comments that the contract was awarded legally and referred further enquiries to the department.
Shitangano said he had been vindicated and that his previous employers had been proven wrong.
He said that he was already challenging his dismissal in the Labour Court.
Anti-Corruption Task Team spokesperson Marika Muller said the matter had been referred to them, but as it was a new matter, the organisation was unable to comment.
EduSolutions was approached for comment, but had yet to reply by the time of going to press.
- City Press