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Durban - Fourteen employees of the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department, including six school principals, have been dismissed for illegally benefiting from meals intended for impoverished pupils.
Another 18 staff, including high-ranking officials, remained suspended and 70 more were to be probed for corruption relating to the government’s R1 billion feeding scheme, members of the provincial legislature heard in Pietermaritzburg on Friday.
At a meeting of the portfolio committee on education, chairwoman Linda Hlongwa was given a report detailing how the poverty alleviation initiative – on which 2.2 million children in KwaZulu-Natal depend – had been exploited as a cash cow.
For fear of compromising the cases which had been referred to the police, the document was confidential and not to be distributed or discussed, head of department Nkosinathi Sishi instructed.
The department had not yet calculated the financial impact of the corruption, he said.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the feeding scheme provides one hot meal a day, usually a protein such as sugar bean curry, pilchard stew or soya mince; a starch such as pap or rice; and a vegetable – except every second Monday, when fruit replaces the vegetable.
The budget allocation is R3 a day per high school pupil, and R2.50 for primary school pupils.
The MPLs were first told last year of how principals were helping themselves to food, or doubling as suppliers.
The Mercury then reported that MEC Senzo Mchunu had disclosed how a principal had been caught while on his way home with bags of uncooked ingredients.
Seven months ago, two high-ranking officials were the first in a series of feeding scheme related suspensions.
The Mercury was reliably informed that one of the pair was a director in the department, and the other, from the Uthukela district (Ladysmith), had recommended certain suppliers to the director in exchange for kickbacks.
In August, the department suspended the 2012/13 process to appoint food suppliers as it redrafted the policy. Previously, the power to identify and appoint service providers rested with school governing bodies.
Prospective suppliers now have to respond to newspaper adverts.
Evaluation committees in all districts in the province scrutinise applications before submitting them to the department’s head office.
Successful bidders are no longer allocated more than 3 000 pupils.
However, some education staff have still managed to get a finger in the pie.
Feedback from district officials revealed that in Amajuba (Newcastle), a primary school teacher had acted as a supplier.
In more than one district, principals had refused the services of the new suppliers.
ANC MPL Sipho Nkosi asked that claims by 15 schools in the Umkhanyakude district (Jozini) that their pupils had not had a meal since the start of the school year be looked into.
In two districts, 11 schools were without food for the first week of the term.
The department said these problems had been speedily resolved.
It was also considering if independent bodies should handle the awarding of contracts and that animal protein such as maas or pilchards be served twice a week instead of just once.
Meanwhile, speaking on teacher training, Sishi told the committee “we are really in trouble at this point in time” in terms of the number of teachers who had the “above average” assessment skills necessary to teach the current curriculum.
Sishi said the Higher Education Department had to account for the poor quality of teachers being produced.