‘Education Mafia’ in control

EASTERN Cape education is controlled by a corrupt clique that uses blackmail and intimidation to run the beleaguered provincial department and line their pockets. A two-month investigation by The Herald also revealed claims that female officials are pressurised to have sex with “top dogs” for favours or promotions during out-of-town junkets.

The clique, dubbed the Education Mafia, has infiltrated a number of the department’s 28 directorates, with some members holding key positions.

This allows them to manipulate tender procedures and financial planning, influence policy discussions and stymie internal investigations.

And the power-hungry group has allegedly drawn up a “hit list” of education officials they want fired for standing in the way of their bid to take full control of all directorates for corrupt activities.

Eastern Cape education deputy director-general Sithembele Zibi believes he is on that hit list, and has spoken out publicly about his corrupt colleagues.

“There is a powerful clique trying to do away with people standing in the way of them getting their hands on the department’s hefty budget. They want to remove people who are blocking their access to the money.

“I am part of a targeted group on a hit list to be removed from the department. My job is on the line, along with others in supply chain management, because we are in control of huge amounts of money.”

Zibi has been suspended numerous times over the years by the department, which he blames on the clique.

“It is all part of the plan to get rid of me because of my stance on corruption.”

The clique also allegedly uses women – mostly interns – to seduce officials into pilfering state funds.

The female officials are sent to take advantage of their male counterparts through the use of sex. If an official is married, the affair is used as blackmail.

Other officials on the alleged hit list also occupy powerful positions that handle large chunks of the department’s multibillion-rand budget.

Chief director of vocational education services Khayalethu Ngaso and chief director for supply chain management Mthobeli Gaca say they, too, are on the list. Both officials said the clique was “dead set” on getting them fired through “trumped-up” charges.

Several high-placed officials have told The Herald that four people control the clique, with a former MEC and former superintendent-general allegedly using their political clout to encourage supply chain management officials to award tenders to specific companies. Other bigwigs in the clique work in the department’s finance division and on the legislature’s education portfolio committee. Their names are known to The Herald.

“You don’t mess with these guys. They are everywhere and have been doing it for years without ever being mentioned in the media or being caught out,” according to an insider, who said that while he worked in supply chain management last year he had been approached by one of the four members to ensure a lucrative tender was awarded fraudulently.

“They tried to lure me into their criminal behaviour but I refused.”

Ngaso said he was approached in 2009 by the clique to sign off on a R40-billion student residence project.

“They wanted me to sign off on it with hardly any information or going out to tender. They also did not want me communicating with the provincial Treasury and Public Works Department.”

Ngaso said he refused and was suspended a few months later, officially because he failed to discipline his secretary after she forgot to itemise 50 diaries.

He was suspended for two years with full pay at a cost of R876 000. The residence project eventually fell by the wayside, Ngaso said.

The former supply chain official and Ngaso believe they were suspended because they refused to toe the line and award tenders to shady businessmen connected to the clique.

“It is a massive web of deceit that will never be fully unravelled,” Ngaso said.

Gaca said he had been suspended for simply requesting a lifestyle audit on himself and colleagues. Charge sheets and internal documents back up his claim.

“Instead of the department authorising it, I was suspended for being too honest.”

Gaca said when his suspension was lifted the department’s supply chain directorate was in chaos. “It makes you think, if this was the point all along,” he said.

Another source said the hostile drive that forced the national intervention team out of the province last year was orchestrated by the Education Mafia.

“They needed time to clean their tracks and ensure there was no evidence linking them to corruption,” he said.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s intervention team only resumed administration duties in the department after being ordered to return by parliament.

Cabinet invoked Section 100 1(b) on the department on March 1 last year. After months of an internal battle for control, Motshekga’s department won in July.

Even premier Noxolo Kiviet and her executive tried to kick out the intervention team, although there is no indication they are linked to the Education Mafia.

SA SA Democratic Teachers’ Union provincial secretary Mncekeleli Ndongeni said there were also people who pulled strings from outside the department.

“The politics of this province is dirty and very ugly,” he said.

He said investigations were carried out but then buried.

“I don’t know who is sitting on this information because I find it hard to believe that the SIU has unearthed nothing.”

Nehawu’s Queenstown deputy chairman, Sandile Nyalambisa, said the constant probes into “certain individuals” were always cleared which eroded trust between officials.

“People are being investigated but are allowed back into office while being investigated. Nobody, not even the MEC, can say when these will be finalised.”

Auditor-general Terrence Nombembe has revealed that almost 90% of senior managers in the department were in business with the provincial administration.

In total, officials or close family members scored R978-million worth of tenders during the 2010/11 fiscal year.

Eastern Cape legislation does not prohibit officials or family members from securing tenders but the provincial administration is busy crafting a policy to ban tenderpreneurs. If implemented, the policy will bar civil servants from doing business with the provincial departments.

The department also failed to adhere to the Promotion of Access to Information Act by ignoring a request from The Herald to supply the names of companies that secured tenders this year and last year. Only one of the five divisions responded.

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