Bill for staying out of jobs tops R24m

THE cash-strapped Education Department forked out R24-million in salaries to suspended officials during a 36-month period.

Between April 2009 and March this year, 100 officials were suspended from the department for a litany of offences.

This amounts to an average of R240 000 paid to each official to stay at home.

The Herald delved into the department’s last three labour relation profiles in the provincial authority’s audit reports to calculate the figure.

Each suspended official sat at home for an average of 174 days.

Reasons for the delay are usually due to hearings being postponed because suspended employees are on “sick leave” or the representatives of those being accused ask for more time to “consult”.

Some of the officials resign, but only after a lengthy suspension.

The figure includes salaries of employees ranging from junior clerks to a deputy director-general – a second-in-command to a department head.

And this comes as the department has almost 200 “displaced” officials doing menial work at various district offices across the Eastern Cape. These include teachers who were forced to abandon their posts because of conflicts between staff and community members.

In some cases, qualified teachers are used as drivers, despite a shortage of teachers in the province.

The suspended officials receive their salaries while awaiting the outcome of their disciplinary hearings.

It is not clear how many of the 100 suspended officials were fired or retained by the department.

The suspensions related to a raft of allegations, ranging from poor performance to misappropriation of funds.

At the top of the offences list was absenteeism, fraud and financial mismanagement.

Scopa chairman Max Mhlathi criticised the department’s leniency towards corrupt officials.

He said officials were charged, found guilty, and then suspended with full pay for more than a year.

“There is chaos in the department and it is an absolute disgrace that black education should collapse at a time when a black government is in power.

“This did not happen during Bantu education. This is totally unacceptable,” he said.

Department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani failed to comment.

In one case, the former chief executive of a Further Education and Training (FET) college, Cwayita Zituta, allegedly transferred R1.3-million into her brother’s bank account.

Simple enough, but she was caught and currently faces criminal charges.

The more astute officials divide procurement tenders into segments of less than R250 000.

For example, a furniture tender valued at R1-million will be chopped into five chunks – all less than R250 000.

This ensures that a paltry compliance check is followed and allows officials to approach companies for the quotes.

Normally, tenders are advertised and bidders would approach the department. With officials looking for quotes, fictitious com-

Other officials create “ghost” teachers and pocket the extra salaries by getting the cash deposited into their bank accounts.

For this scam, the official must either have a crooked contact in the department’s human resource directorate, or must work there him or herself.

They register false names on the government’s payroll system or attach names to non-existent “ghost” schools.

After the ghost school and ghost teachers have been added to the department’s database, money is budgeted for the school and transferred into an official’s bank account.

The most infamous case involving a “ghost” teacher scam involves former childhood development head Pankie Sizani, the wife of former education MEC Stone Sizani.

She was alleged to have defrauded the department of more than R2.5-million and the SIU opened a criminal case. But the police investigation into Sizani was dropped.

In one case, a Mbizana District finance official, Abegail Tokwana, transferred R1.4-million into her sister’s bank account.

She made several unauthorised payments to her sister’s entity, trading under Chemself 7 CC during a period of a year.

She stole between R50 000 and R350 000 at a time without any work being carried out.

Both women were arrested, but only Tokwana was jailed, for five years, in March.

Other times, officials are alleged to simply double or even triple the original payments meant for a service provider.

One of the department’s chief directors, Nosipho Skenjana, is alleged to have authorised double payments to 17 schools across the province worth R3.5-million, according to the SIU report. At the last minute, the payments were doubled but were later stopped.

Skenjana was suspended and reinstated in June. “I never did anything. There is nothing like that. I can’t talk to you,” she said.

Officials also change the bank account details of registered suppliers on the department’s database.

This ensures the payments are redirected to the officials’ own accounts. Companies are also paid for work without ever submitting an invoice.

This means officials authorise payments without following the proper channels.

Sometimes, the department is also careless. Two officials were caught dipping their hands into the coffers in 2003 but were promoted in 2007. They faced internal charges because they failed to disclose their previous convictions.

Both officials were dismissed.

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