News | South Africa | Government
The Eastern Cape department of education has refuted claims that their multi-million rand tablet contract for e-learning was unjustifiably inflated, saying the deal amounts to paying only R204 per pupil monthly.
The province and its education department are under fire for signing a R404 million deal with service provider Sizwe Africa IT to lease, over three years, 55 000 Samsung tablets for their pupils, instead of simply buying the devices at a much cheaper price.
This deal comes after Sizwe Africa IT in May received a discounted R133 million from the Eastern Cape education department for the procurement and setting up of studios for developing virtual classrooms.
Sizwe Africa IT is a subsidiary of AYO Technology, which is owned by businessman Iqbal Survé. The deal was allegedly pushed through despite a competitive bidding process, using special Covid-19 emergency allowances.
In total, Sizwe Africa IT received R538 million for the tablets and virtual studios, which the department claims saved them a total of R53 million.
At a media briefing called by the province’s education department to provide clarity on the critiqued deal, the department was adamant the contract was all above board.
The department’s director of logistics and disposal management Nandipha Tembo explained that it would have cost an additional R13.8 million had the tablets been purchased instead of leased.
She said the department and Eastern Cape government had previously purchased goods and services, but due to the province’s financial constraint, leasing would free-up finances which would be used on other projects.
To justify the controversial procurement, Tembo compared leasing with the outright purchase of tablets. In her analysis, she said that the benefits of leasing were that it did not require an upfront bulk payment, the costs of the leased devices included delivery, installation and maintenance and any risks associated with owning the devices are directed to the lessor.
“We did our market analysis and cost benefit analysis between the two procurement models … We considered the financial resources of the department. It is no secret that the department is experiencing constraints in as far as finances are concerned. As the department and the government, we used to do outright purchase for any goods and services. But now, we are forced, due to the constraints of finances, to think creatively and innovatively to see how we can still continue to deliver services with the limited financial resources,” she said.
According to the presentation by the department, the R404 million covers the costs of the Samsung Galaxy A tablet, the Samsung Knox Security which tracks and traces the device, a screen protector and pouch, the 2Enable App used to access online content, 4GB of data, setup costs, maintenance and delivery. This would cost the department R204 per month per learner for three years.
It is unclear why the department is paying an additional fee for Samsung Knox, which comes pre-installed on Samsung devices and does not cost anything to install or operate. While a premium, enterprise edition of the software exists, this is not available for these tablet models.
Had the department purchased all the items outright, it would have totalled R418.7 million, she explained.
This claim, however, is contradicted by simply searching for the retail prices of the specific tablets and accessories, which cost almost half as much as the department claims.
Slamming those who criticised the Eastern Cape’s solutions to e-learning, superintendent general of the eastern cape Themba Kojana said critics did not question similar initiatives by other provinces but instead painted the Eastern Cape government as corrupt.
“What we wanted was a solution, which cost us R404 million, which is R204 a month. What I would not love is to drag this government through is to give a rural child something inferior, because that person does not deserve that. When this government provides, then this thing must be stopped. The key narrative is that there is corruption. But then demonstrate corruption with R204 we are giving to each and every child,” Kojana ranted.
While President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a clear instruction on Thursday to the Special Investigating Unit on Thursday night to pursue, investigate and prosecute those who conducted corrupt deals during the pandemic, the Eastern Cape tablet saga was however not on their list.
SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said he only heard about it in the media.
“I am not aware of those allegations and we have not received any allegations as yet. If anyone makes allegations and it makes way to us, we will deal with it,” he told The Citizen.
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