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Special Tribunal orders Covid school cleaning companies to pay back profits after R6m job ballooned to R431m

The Special Tribunal has reviewed and set aside the Gauteng education department's decision to appoint 49 companies to decontaminate, disinfect and sanitise schools during the pandemic. File photo.
The Special Tribunal has reviewed and set aside the Gauteng education department's decision to appoint 49 companies to decontaminate, disinfect and sanitise schools during the pandemic. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

The selection and appointment by the Gauteng education department of companies to decontaminate, disinfect and sanitise schools was done in a haphazard, unfair and inequitable manner.

This saw the cost of the services balloon from an estimated R6.1m to R431m spent.

The Special Tribunal made these findings on Thursday when it reviewed and set aside the department’s decisions to appoint 49 companies for the task in 2020 after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The judgment also ordered that each of the 49 companies, upon being called by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to do so, submit a statement and debatement of account in respect of their appointment to determine the profits they made.

After the determination of profits, and upon written demand by the SIU, the companies will have to pay the determined sum within 60 days with interest.

The SIU contended the department’s procurement process contravened the express provisions of an emergency granted in terms of Treasury Regulation 16A6.4.

After the country was placed in lockdown in March 2020, plans were made by the department to prepare for the partial reopening of schools from June 2020.

The department adopted specific cleaning protocols for schools in which a Covid-19 case was reported. They included shutting down the school for decontamination, deep cleaning and sanitising. The department procured service providers for the task.

To meet the anticipated high demand for these services, Hudson Baloyi, the department’s chief director: physical resource planning and property management, requested from the head of department permission to deviate from normal procurement processes to appoint service providers.

The head of department approved the deviation.

Among the SIU’s grounds of review were that the fees paid to these entities were arbitrarily decided and bore no relation to the work done or the cost of materials.

Service providers were paid between R250,000 and R270,000 for primary schools, R250,000 to R290,000 for secondary schools and R250,000 to R290,000 for district offices.

A number of companies contested the SIU’s standing to review the department’s decisions and challenged the tribunal’s right to intervene in the decisions to appoint them.

Some contested the tribunal’s jurisdiction to hear the review application.

The tribunal dismissed the point that it had no jurisdiction. It said the tribunal was not only a court but a court with a similar status to the high court.

The tribunal also ruled the SIU has standing to review the department’s decisions.

In her judgment, judge Lebogang Modiba said the emergency procurement failed to comply with the approved deviation in a number of respects.

These included that the department’s supply chain management division was not involved in the procurement process, and that the companies were not accredited in the Central Supplier Database to provide the procured services.

It said the minimum price determined by Baloyi and the total cost incurred by the department was higher than that for which approval was granted.

“The estimated cost of the service is R6.1mn. The department has spent R431m in the procurement under review,” Modiba said.

TimesLIVE


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