Senior EC officials suspended over suspected misuse of funds for school assistants

Eastern Cape education officials have been suspended after allegations of misused funds.
Eastern Cape education officials have been suspended after allegations of misused funds.
Image: REUTERS

Three senior Eastern Cape education officials have been suspended and face disciplinary action for allegedly misusing a provincial allocation of R841m for the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative.

The funds, meant to pay education assistants and general assistants at schools, were allocated to the province by the national government to implement the second phase of the programme which started in November.

The “discovery of discrepancies” during the payment processes led to the suspension of the three officials last week.

They are alleged to have overpaid some schools participating in the programme, which sees assistants helping at schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The implicated officials are also alleged to have made payments to schools not participating in the programme as well as not paying some of those which participate.

The money was intended for the appointment of 26,877 education assistants and 13,439 general assistants.

The first phase of the programme began in 2020, and was followed by complaints from many education assistants who were not paid on time.

Payments for 2021 have not yet been paid in full to the assistants, despite the release of funds.

The department said the outstanding amounts would be paid this month. 

A disciplinary process has been instituted against the three officials “for failing to perform their duties in as far as the wrong payments to schools”.

“This consequence management process is meant to allow for smooth investigations internally.

“Furthermore, the department will subject the transfer payment system to forensic investigation too.”  

The department said in a statement: “School governing bodies, school principals and circuit managers have been instructed to ensure that any payment received should be used for the intended purpose, which is solely for the payment of stipends for education and general assistants as per the grant framework. 

“Governing bodies and principals of schools that received overpayments have been instructed not to use the surplus for other purposes ... and the non-participating schools that received payment erroneously are urged not to use the money until further notice from the department.”

Provincial education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima, who could not say how much money had allegedly been misused, said they could not name the officials implicated, but DispatchLIVE understands those suspended are senior officials from the finance, budget and payment sections.

Mtima said: “We want the investigation to be concluded soon so that if any wrongdoing is established by the investigation, the disciplinary process can start within 60 days of the suspension.”

He said the department had paid some schools through their governing bodies and “we are going to continue doing so through the runs scheduled for the month of January”.

“The investigation will inform us of what happened and it is too early to say that we have been defrauded.”

When the department engaged with the provincial treasury over the transfer of funds for the assistants, it was told that a legal process of gazetting such transfers needed to be followed before the payments were effected.

An insider told DispatchLIVE that treasury had “red-flagged the payments and ordered the bank, which the department uses, not to release payments to participating schools. The list that was submitted for payment had ghost education and general assistants”.

Chris Mdingi, provincial secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers Union, said they wanted justice to take its course.

“As the union, we will always side with the oppressed and marginalised in the education sector.

“If there is evidence against those implicated, action must be taken. We would like to see this matter resolved as speedily as possible.”

Mdingi said the importance of education assistants at schools, particularly those short of resources, “cannot be overemphasised. We have long been calling for their services in our schools for efficiency in teaching and learning”.

Provincial Treasury spokesperson Pumelele Godongwana said R298 million was transferred to provincial education in December for the payment of EAs and GAs.

“There were concerns from the part of Treasury during the verification process of the payment by Department of Education. In consideration of the payment system agreed upon by the department, our concerns included that a correct amount must be paid to the correct beneficiary. These are normal engagements in the day to day running of the business of government. What is important is that we are able to find each other, and at the end, eliminate inefficiencies,” said Godongwana.

DispatchLIVE


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