Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane has suspended the head of the department of education, Naledi Mbude, over the delay in delivering textbooks and the forfeiture of a R200m grant meant for school infrastructure.
Mabuyane informed Mbude, in a letter dated April 5, which TimesLIVE has seen, that she has been suspended on full pay “as a precautionary measure pending investigations at the department of education”.
This follows an order by the high court in Makhanda on March 15 instructing the department to ensure all pupils attending public schools in the province be provided with textbooks and stationery by the end of last month.
Pupils have not been provided with top-up textbooks since schools reopened in January. Top-up textbooks are used to replace those lost, damaged or stolen.
The court action was brought by Khula Development Forum, represented by the Legal Resources Centre.
While all learning teaching support materials had to be delivered by March 31, Sunday Times Daily reported on Monday that a snap survey by the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA of 400 schools in the province revealed 113 of those that responded by last Friday had not received textbooks.
At least 26 of the 115 schools that did receive learning material complained about not being supplied with the correct quantity.
The department’s spokesperson Mali Mtima said until Tuesday, 4,855 of 4,932 schools had been supplied with top-up textbooks.
“Deliveries have reached 98.4% with 77 schools remaining,” he said.
He expected these textbooks to have been delivered to schools by midday on Tuesday.
In his letter Mabuyane made reference to a letter he addressed to Mbude dated March 30 and her response dated April 4. He informed her that “to ascertain the veracity of the allegations made, it is important that an investigator be allowed untrammelled access to all documents and personnel.
“The personnel must be free to co-operate with the investigator without actual or perceived fear of reprisal. As the premier, it is my prerogative to place any head of department on suspension.”
He told Mbude he considered her representations but was not convinced her continued presence in the department “will not hinder the investigation”.
TimesLIVE has been reliably informed that in his initial letter to Mbude, Mabuyane focused on the inability of the department to deliver textbooks and on the money lost to National Treasury from the infrastructure grant.
DA shadow MEC for education in the province Yusuf Cassim said in response to questions they raised during a portfolio committee meeting on Monday, Mbude revealed concerning issues in the department.
“Dr Mbude said she had discovered the department had been deliberately submitting manual orders for textbooks and stationery for years, delaying the payment for the said materials until the next financial year due to insufficient funds in the current budget.”
Cassim said this was a violation of the Public Finance Management Act.
“Dr Mbude also informed the committee that the reason the infrastructure budget has been underspent is due to significant irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure she has discovered in the infrastructure programme.”
He said Mbude indicated the department was conducting a full audit of infrastructure projects.
“She revealed audits for two districts had been completed and these had already uncovered several cases where there were huge discrepancies between what was paid for and what was actually delivered.”
She indicated the audit was being conducted because the auditor-general had found the department did not have an asset register, he said.
“Dr Mbude’s responses to our questions earlier this week have given a glimpse into the extent of the rot inside the department.”
In a previous statement, Cassim said the department forfeited R200m of its education infrastructure grant funding because it did not spend the money. This despite the fact that the province has 3,157 schools with poor sanitation, including 1,445 that use pit latrine toilets.
TimesLIVE tried contacting Mbude on three different cellphone numbers but all went to voicemail.