Unscrupulous suppliers who deliver substandard personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitisers to schools must be exposed and blacklisted, Members of the Standing Committee on Appropriations told the Department of Basic Education (DBE) recently during a virtual meeting where the impact of the recent budget adjustment on the department’s ability to carry out its mandate was discussed.

Members of the committee said the government cannot work with people who want to maximise profit at the expense of the lives of the learners and teachers. Such suppliers should be blacklisted and even charged with murder. Their concern follows reports that some companies contracted by the department were providing PPEs and sanitisers that didn’t meet the health standards for the prevention of the corona virus.

Some of the sanitisers supplied are just water, far below the 70 percent alcohol requirement. It was alleged that the fake sanitisers are common in the Eastern Cape’s Alfred Nzo District.

The committee also condemned the “hijacking of contracts” and called on the department to involve the police. This practice, which is common in rural areas, is when contractors who had lost the bid or at times didn’t even apply, disrupts the project and demands a 30 percent stake from the winning bidder. Members of Parliament called this sabotage of service delivery and proposed that police should be involved to deal with such incidents.

Responding to a question about why the department was importing stationery from China and why items as small as pencils and rubbers can’t procured in South Africa, Basic Education Minister Ms Angie Motshekga said there were only three stationery companies supplying South Africa and they do not have adequate capacity to serve the needs of the whole country.

“The department must also help the process of igniting local manufacturing. Every time we import it contributes negatively to the economy, let’s buy RSA products,” said committee Chairperson Mr Sfiso Buthelezi.

The department was also questioned about recent reports that the Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Education was planning to spend R400 million to lease tablets for learners. MPs wanted to know why the department was leasing the equipment instead of buying the equipment.

Minister Motshekga said national department could not take responsibility for that decision by the province. “We are not able to take responsibility. I am equally shocked and disgusted about the tablets reports. The Premier and MEC have instituted an investigation on the procurement of ICT equipment in the Eastern Cape province,” the Minister told the committee.

The department’s Director-General, Mr Mathanzima Mweli, told members of the committee that the department was buying masks locally and no longer in China, as was the case at the beginning of the corona virus outbreak. “We have now stimulated manufacturing activities that had closed down or were going to close. We are now buying our masks locally,” said Mr Mweli.

H also told the committee that the cuts resulting from the budget adjustment was going to impact negatively on infrastructure and a number of projects that were supposed to be rolled out this year will be put on hold.

Sakhile Mokoena.
23 July 2020