It is not clear exactly when Minister of Communications Dina Pule will be cross-examined by Parliament’s ethics committee chaired by ANC MP Ben Turok, but it is expected to begin after the Easter break. Just before Easter the ethics committee will gather a multi-party sub-committee to prepare for the hearings.
The committee will consider allegations of a conflict of interest involving the minister and last May’s Information and Communications Technology Indaba in Cape Town. It was reported that Pule’s romantic partner, Phosane Mngqibisa, allegedly benefited financially from the staging of the event.
DA communications spokeswoman Marian Shinn reported the allegations that Mngqibisa received R6 million in management fees. This arises from a probe carried out on behalf of MTN by law firm Werksmans and an affidavit by conference organiser Carol Bouwer. These have been submitted to the ethics committee. Shinn said: “It is becoming increasingly evident that Minister Pule not only puts pressure on a number of telecoms companies to sponsor the indaba, but used undue influence to ensure that her partner was appointed in a management role, which enabled him to withdraw money from the main organiser’s bank account,” she said.
The allegation is that the minister used her position to encourage companies to invest in the indaba, which indirectly favoured her partner. In addition, it is alleged that Pule’s instruction that the state-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech should manage the control system for digital terrestrial television, also benefited Mngqibisa.
The last high-profile parliamentarian to be investigated by the ethics committee was ANC MP Yolanda Botha in 2011. She was given a fine for not disclosing her interests and also for misleading the committee. She did not disclose a R1.2m loan to renovate her Kimberley home from a company which won Social Development Department property leases.
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel may be facing more than just a problem of staff leaving his department – his own policy and job may be on the line, opposition parties suggest.
Haniff Hoosen, the ID’s economic development spokesman, said while Patel had been hit with resignations by staff in his department, he did not believe there was “a political willingness in the ANC and the cabinet” to support the New Growth Path (NGP). “Patel’s problems are a lot bigger than just a shortage of staff. I am afraid even his own department is not taking his plan seriously.”
His IFP colleague Mario Ariano-Ambrosini believes that the department is adrift.
While acknowledging that the NDP (National Development Plan), the brainchild of Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, was “the overarching vision of government”, the Economic Development director-general Jennifer Schreiner described the NGP as the “key economic sector programme backed by strategies like Industrial Policy Action Plan (Ipap) and others”.
Far from being sidelined, the job drivers of the NGP, “in particular infrastructure and the productive sectors… remain the key cornerstones of the economic programme of government.”
While a number of top officials have resigned – including Saul Levin, a chief director who works with development finance institutions; Zweli Momeka, the chief financial officer; and Bernadetta Tabane, the legal section head; and last year the first director-general Richard Levin left to join the Public Service Commission – Schreiner said the department had actually grown in numbers.
“The minister has given a directive for the development of a plan for building the capacity of the department for delivery on the NGP, the Ipap and the NDP through careful screening of job applicants, training of existing and new staff, improved work allocation and performance management, and strengthened management.”
So that is settled then.
A little-known company called Dac Systems, in Bryanston, Johannesburg, will publicly launch a digital system that enables teachers to teach and interact with pupils using electronic devices.
The launch is this weekend at Brescia House School, which has tested the system that is built on Microsoft software and educational programmes with collaboration from hardware providers Dell and Nokia.
This being the digital age, the solution “Always-on-learning” is configurable and deployable within a week and interested institution can subscribe to a trial within minutes, according to Aldo van Tonder, the solutions executive at Dac Systems.
St David’s Marist in Sandton is another Dac client which intends to roll out the system which enables the creation of study groups, discussion forums, set up of assignments using the system on a device in a situation that is not time-bound.
The system allows parents to control the use of the devices and monitoring their school accounts. Dac Systems, a turnkey information technology services firm, intends to distribute the technology as far as Kenya this year.
These anecdotes are an illustration of how schools under the independent education system have already crossed the threshold into the digital space beyond the use of electronic whiteboards, where lessons are distributed and learning is imbibed via media tablets.
The government also runs a programme to connect public schools to the internet, but it may be long before chalk and blackboards become a relic of the past.
The latest crisis threatening to stymie advancement of public school learning is not textbooks, lack of classrooms, poor pay, or an understaffed education force.
Ironically, the teacher’s union is protesting a proposed multibillion-rand biometric system that could catapult teachers’ clock-in into the digital age.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Donwald Pressly and Asha Speckman.