Uproar over R404m tablet deal linked to Iqbal Surve

Provincial education department MEC Fundile Gade has defended the R404m tablet loan deal
COURTING CONTROVERSY: Provincial education department MEC Fundile Gade has defended the R404m tablet loan deal
Image: SINO MAJANGAZA

Eastern Cape education MEC Fundile Gade has lashed out at those questioning a deal that will see the department leasing 55,000 tablets for grade 12 pupils at a cost of R404m over three years.

Gade held a media briefing on Friday to address the R538m agreement the department signed with Sizwe Africa IT Group.

Of the R538m,  R404m would be spent on leasing the tablets, their maintenance and other related accessories and products such as data SIM cards, while R133m would  be paid over three years for virtual classrooms or broadcasting studios in 12 education districts and at the department’s Zwelitsha headquarters.

The department entered into the  agreement with Sizwe Africa IT Group — a subsidiary of AYO Technology Solutions company linked to controversial, politically connected businessman Iqbal Surve — by piggybacking on a contract the company had with the economic development, environmental affairs and tourism department.

The provision, while legal and meant to be used in cases of emergency, means the contract was not advertised for competitive bidding.

The department has faced severe criticism over the deal, with it initially being said to be worth R160m.

Earlier in 2020, Weekend Post’s sister paper The Herald reported that the department had come under fire from black business leaders in the province who felt sidelined by its decision to award the e-learning contract without putting it out to tender.

The DA has also taken issue with the deal, earlier this week saying it would be laying a complaint with the public protector.

On Friday Gade said it was unfortunate that when a black-owned business entered into contracts with government the deal was treated with suspicion but when government did business with white-owned companies that was treated as a genuine deal.

Gade was joined at the press conference by  superintendent-general Themba Kojana, deputy director-general Ray Tywakadi and director of asset management Nandi Tembo.

Gade claimed the issue had never been about price, saying the department’s detractors aimed to scupper the entire project.

“It was a political question so that we do not respond to the systematic structural problems that have plagued the people of this province for decades, hence the underperformance in the past.

“Now that government is responding and beginning to pick up and become a beacon of hope, now we must be told to stop. Let’s separate cheap politics and facts,” he said.

Tembo said the decision to lease the devices instead of purchasing them outright had been taken after the department’s financial position was considered.

“We did our market analysis and cost benefit analysis between the two procurement models, which is your lease procurement and outright purchase procurement model.

“We considered the financial resources of the department.

“It is not a secret that the department is experiencing severe constraints as far as finances are concerned.

“In the past we used to do outright purchase for any goods and services that we needed but now we were forced — because of these constraints as far as finances are concerned — to think creatively to see how we could still continue delivering services with these limited financial resources,” Tembo said.

The lease procurement option, Tembo added, was also advantageous as the department did not have to pay upfront.

“The payment is staggered and that gives the department a breather to be able to spread its financial resources, so we could be able to cater for other priority projects.  

She added that maintenance costs would also be covered.

“If the tablet has a fault we are able to refer it to the lessor and say this tablet we are renting from you has this malfunction now — please repair it.”

Tembo said R9.7m would be paid for the devices a month, which meant the department was paying R204,47 per pupil per month.

She said the department would pay R48,45 per pupil for 4G of data, which normally cost more than R300.

Tembo said leasing the tablets meant the department would ultimately save R53m. — Additional reporting by Daily Dispatch 

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