EC education officials who allegedly stole money for textbooks to stand trial in May

Four Eastern Cape education department officials and an Eastern Cape businessman are expected to be tried for corruption in May next year.
Four Eastern Cape education department officials and an Eastern Cape businessman are expected to be tried for corruption in May next year.
Image: 123RFEvgenyi Lastochkin

Four Eastern Cape education department officials will finally get their day in court after they allegedly stole R59m meant for schoolbooks in a corruption case dating back to 2014.

Department deputy director-general Raymond Tywakadi, deputy director for the department’s IT support services, Tyronne Fourie, former chief education specialist in the Learner Teacher Support Material Unit (LTSM), Noxolo Valencia Gwarube, and former department superintendent general and head of department, Mthunywa Lawrence Ngonzo, are expected to stand trial next year from May 23 to 27, the Eastern Cape magistrate's court decided on Monday.

They will appear alongside their co-accused, businessman Johannes Hermanus Bouwer Smith, a trustee and representative of the Siegesmund Trust.

According to Eastern Cape National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Anelisa Ngcakani, the five have been charged with corruption, fraud, attempted fraud, theft and contravention of the Public Finance Management Act. They were released on R5,000 bail each when they made their first court appearance on May 17 2021.

The case stems from 2014 when the department decided to centralise the supply of supplementary resource material comprising mostly of IT equipment and photocopiers.

Ngcakani said the decision to centralise meant that schools would no longer procure this equipment from the State Information Technology Agency, but that the department would now implement its own processes to procure this equipment for schools, a first for the department.

Gwarube, Ngonzo and Fourie allegedly decided that the Learner Teacher Support Material Unit (LTSM) — which Gwarube headed — would procure the equipment. This is despite the LTSM Unit allegedly not having a budget allocated for such purchases.

So, instead, the officials allegedly shifted 80% of the provincial textbook budget and channelled it into the procurement of the equipment, flouting procurement processes under the pretence that schools were adequately resourced with textbooks. 

“Gwarube was in charge of this project and allegedly never obtained permission from the National Treasury for the budget to be shifted. It is alleged that Ngonzo was aware of the budget split but failed to rectify it,” said Ngcakani.

The department then held an exhibition at the Border Conference Centre in East London where exhibitors were asked to display catalogues containing supplementary resource material equipment to possibly supply schools with equipment in the future.

Siegesmund was one of the exhibitors and was required to pay an upfront exhibition fee to the conference centre, the same as all the other exhibitors.

“The total amount received as fees exceeded the costs charged by the BCC and the BCC allegedly approached Gwarube as they wanted to pay over the excess amount of R120,486 to the [department],” said Ngcakani.

However, Gwarube allegedly diverted the R120,486 received from the conference centre into an account to which belonged to Smith.

“Siegesmund was allegedly not registered as a supplier on the database of the department and had little to no experience or expertise in the supply of IT goods and services,” said Ngcakani.

Yet, Siegesmund was appointed as a supplier, an action that allegedly flouted the supply chain legal framework.

“It is alleged that Gwarube accepted gifts from Siegesmund. These were 26 laptop computers and a Samsung Galaxy mini S4,” said Ngcakani.

Ngcakani said during mid 2014 the department distributed a catalogue to schools in the province containing IT goods which were selected from the exhibition and schools were encouraged to identify their needs from the catalogue and to submit them to the department.

“After the suspension of Ngonzo on July 1 2014, Gwarube allegedly submitted a memorandum during August 2014 to Tywakadi, the then newly appointed acting HoD,” said Ngcakani.

“The purpose of the memorandum was to seek permission for the release and processing of purchase orders with a total value of just over R209m for the procurement of goods including the information technology goods identified by various schools in the catalogue,” she said.

“It is alleged that the memorandum did not conform to departmental standards in that the normal supporting documentation proving that a regular and lawful procurement process was followed, was not attached,” she said.

She said Tywakadi allegedly signed the memorandum despite these shortcomings.

Ngcakani said Siegesmund supplied the department with R59m worth of IT equipment and Fourie allegedly signed off the request under the pretence that it was for school textbooks.

“This was allegedly done to gain access to the text book budget,” she said.