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Firing Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga over the Limpopo textbooks crisis is “not even a question that arises at this stage”, but there will be “consequences”, President Jacob Zuma’s office has said.
Zuma appointed a task team on Wednesday to investigate the causes of the debacle.
Limpopo school pupils had not receive textbooks six months into the year and textbooks from the previous curriculum that could have been used in the interim had been destroyed – a situation the ruling ANC itself has described as “a matter of shame”.
Zuma’s announcement came a day after he met Motshekga to discuss the crisis. They agreed on the establishment of the task team and other remedial action.
Zuma’s office said in a statement that “all who have played a role in delaying or stopping the delivery of books should be held accountable and face the consequences”.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said on Wednesday the team would investigate to prevent a recurrence of the scandal.
Opposition parties, the Congress of SA Students and members of the public have called for Motshekga to face the music.
Maharaj, however, said dismissing the minister was “not even a question that arises at this stage”.
The crisis has led to the fast-tracking of legislation to guide national government interventions in provinces under section 100 of the constitution.
Maharaj said the textbook debacle had shown no procedures were in place for such interventions.
The task team was an “interim intervention” while draft legislation was being prepared.
Zuma has directed the Presidency and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs to make drafting this “crucial legislation” a priority.
The five members of the team appointed by Zuma are Deputy Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene, who is to chair it; Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty; Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Obed Bapela; Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Yunus Carrim; and Public Service and Administration Deputy Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.
Their assignment brings to three the number of national government teams sent to Limpopo to deal with the education shambles.
Others have been the national intervention under section 100 in five of the province’s departments, including education, that were near collapse, and the appointment of Professor Mary Metcalfe, former director-general of higher education, to audit the delivery of textbooks.
A Treasury report showed education in the province was in disarray. The department:
* Had not properly managed its supply chain systems.
* Had not ordered pupil training support material in time.
* Had accumulated unauthorised expenditure of R2.2 billion.
* Had 2 400 excess teachers and 200 ghost teachers.
* Was projected to exceed its budget by R293 million.
* Had not transferred funds to certain schools last year, flouting national norms and standards and making it difficult for the day-to-day running of the schools.
Motshekga’s handling of the situation since has led to calls for her head.
It is understood that she was warned last year by the then-chief financial officer of the Limpopo Department of Education, Solly Tshitangano, of irregularities with the contract with textbooks supplier EduSolutions.
Her office responded to the warning with a letter saying the matter was “receiving attention”.
According to Anis Karodia, appointed by Motshekga as administrator to fix the mess in the Limpopo department, the minister insisted on sticking with the contract despite his efforts to pull out of it.
Motshekga has since blamed him for the failure to meet a court deadline of June 15 for the delivery of the books and says she has fired him for this reason.
Karodia denies he was fired. He says he returned to retirement when it was indicated Motshekga was to redeploy him to the Eastern Cape. Before this, Motshekga had written to him praising him for his work in Limpopo, he said.
Maharaj said the task team would begin its probe immediately.
The team’s objective was to investigate the causes of the breakdown in textbook delivery and make recommendations.
Section 27, the NGO that was among a group of organisations that went to court to compel the department to deliver textbooks, welcomed the team’s appointment, saying it was a sign the issue had been taken seriously.
“We are happy our call for accountability has been taken seriously,” Section 27 spokeswoman Nikki Stein said yesterday.