The Eastern Cape education department will fork out more than R400m on leasing 55,000 tablet devices for Grade 12 pupils which will be returned after three years.
Initially the contract, which the department entered into with Sizwe Africa IT Group by piggybacking on a contract the company has with the economic development and environmental affairs and Tourism (Dedeat) — was said to be worth R160m.
However, education superintendent-general Themba Kojana told the portfolio committee at the legislature last week that the contract amount was R404.8m. No reason was given as to why the figure had ballooned by R244m.
Kojana and education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani could not be reached for comment on Monday as their phones went straight to voicemail. Education MEC Fundile Gade’s phone rang unanswered up until print deadline.
The DA says it will approach the public protector, advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, to ask her to investigate the contract and the education portfolio committee will meet again next week to “interrogate” it.
The tablets project is part of the education department’s e-learning programme — a project sharply criticised by unions, who say the provincial government should first get the basics right by building schools, employing teachers and eradicating the sanitation backlog before going digital.
Kojana said there were 77,900 Grade 12 pupils enrolled for 2020, and 55,000 would receive tablets and sim cards with data. These, he said, were pupils from the poorer quintiles one, two and three while 17,000 needy pupils from wealthier quintiles four and five would only receive the data sim cards. The remaining matrics are understood not to need the help of the department.
In his parliamentary response, through a document titled ICT investment in schools presentation, Kojana broke down the R404.8m costs as:
- R192.4m for the 55,000 Samsung 32GB Galaxy eight-inch LTE tablets;
- R95.9m for their sim cards;
- R31.6m for maintenance over three years;
- R18m for kickstand cases;
- R13m for on site delivery;
- R5.9m for Samsung Knox (normally pre-installed security features for personal and enterprise);
- R4m for its apps;
- R2.4m for setup costs;
- Engraving R659,450;
- R60,390 for screen protectors and ruggedised pouches; and
- VAT at 15%.
Kojana told the legislature that, had they bought the devices instead of leasing them, taxpayers would pay R418m.
As of July 15, Kojana said 30,000 devices had been delivered. This is despite the department getting into the contract with the company in August 2019.
DA MPL Yusuf Cassim on Monday said the complaint to Mkhwebane’s office, which he hoped would be filed by Tuesday, would be against Kojana and Gade.
“The unit cost quoted for a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8-inch tablet is given as R5,396.40. The same tablet sells for R3,279 on Takealot.
“Based on this value, the department would save R2,115.40 per tablet, which translated to in excess of R116m savings on the tablets alone, if they purchased them on the open market.
“The same Samsung tablet could have been purchased as a Wi-Fi only option, together with a 4G router, at an even lower cost of just R2,400, or close on R165m in savings.
“In procuring the tablets themselves, the department would also actually own the assets, and not have to give them back after three years,” Cassim said.
Asked why the department decided to piggyback on the Dedeat contract instead of inviting competitive bidders, Kojana said this was done to “shorten bureaucratic processes” which sometimes take months for tenders to be awarded.
However, the issuing of the tablet devices was only rolled out in June — nine months after piggybacking on the tender.
Cassim said: “Had this gone out to tender, the entire process could have been concluded within three months, and the competitive bidding process, handled correctly, would have resulted in a value for money deal for the department. We will not stand for corruption for any reason. Those responsible for allowing this deal to be approved have a lot to answer for.”
Education portfolio committee chair and ANC MPL, Mpumelelo Saziwa on Monday said they were still “interrogating” the contract.
He said he has been tasked by the committee to source more information regarding the contract from the provincial treasury and Dedeat.
“We want to do our own due diligence to see if such contract meets all the requirements of a contract not put on open tender. We will consult with stakeholders involved as there is a lot of things we need to tie up in this,” said Saziwa.
He said they meant to further discuss the contract later this week, but could not get a slot, forcing them to reschedule the meeting for next week.