The Gauteng department of education has fired back at the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the province after the opposition party claimed R1 billion in irregular expenditure was incurred by the department in the last financial year.
According to department spokesperson Steve Mabona, the party misread the recently released financial report, stating the department only incurred R14 million in irregular expenditure for the 2019-2020 year as disclosed in its financial statements.
Mabona went on to dispute a previous claim that the R431 million the department spent on cleaning and decontaminating schools last year was irregular. This was because the 2020-2021 financial statements had not yet been audited. Mabona added that an investigation was underway into the massive cleaning bill.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, DA MPL Khume Ramulifho released a statement castigating the department over R1 billion in irregular expenditure flagged in the 2019-2020 report.
“The Gauteng department of education [GDE] has incurred R1,030,657,000 in irregular expenditure for the 2019-2020 financial year. This information was revealed in the department’s 2019-2020 annual report,” the statement read.
“According to the auditor-general, effective steps were not taken to prevent irregular expenditure amounting to more than R1 billion. This irregular expenditure is as a result of non-compliance in respect of procurement and contract management.”
Ramulifho went on to criticise senior management at the department for failing to ensure compliance with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and Treasury regulations. He noted there were a number of allegations of procurement irregularities, financial misconduct, fraud, and theft relating to prior years.
Responding to these criticisms, Mabona said the department welcomed public scrutiny as crucial in revealing and addressing maladministration.
“That said, it is important for critique to be measured, substantiated and avoid slander of reputation through use of emotive terms that obfuscates rather than clarify the issues.The DA’s statement is replete with a few errors and deliberately mislead the public.”
The first error, he said was the DA’s lumping together of audit outcomes for different years to reach the figure of R1 billion.
Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said: “It is unfortunate and reckless for the DA to lump together historical issues and mislead the public by not providing a disaggregated report. The alarmist and sensational figure of R1 billion can only serve to tarnish the image of the department and represent a basic misreading of audit reports. This is nothing other than political grandstanding and opportunism.”
The department also denied it failed to take remedial action against irregular expenditure.
“Far from it, the department has progressively improved management of public funds and to substantially reduce irregular expenditure. The department is proud of the steady improvement towards a clean audit,” said Mabona.
He said the R14 million in irregular expenditure was the result of a failure by officials to adequately follow procurement procedure. The department was “determining” whether there was untoward behaviour by any of its officials, Mabona added.
The rest of the irregular expenditures, he said, referred to historical or legacy issues.
“It should be noted that irregular expenditure resulted from procurement procedural issues.”