Limpopo officials blow R25m on phone bills

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(File photo) Limpopo Education MEC Dickson Masemola. Photo Dumisani Sibeko

The secret is out. Limpopo Education MEC Dickson Masemola contributed to his bankrupt department’s “pathetic” state of affairs – and an unauthorised expenditure bill of R2.2 billion last year, and R25 million a year on phone bills.

 A report blames him and other top officials in the department for not acting act against budget abuse and the constant deviation from protocol.

There was no oversight by department head Morebudi Thamaga, chief financial officer Martin Mashaba, the MEC or senior management, which directly led to unauthorised expenditure, said the report.

The 47-page report, which The Star has seen, was penned by the department’s former administrator, Dr Anis Karodia, who was fired by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

Karodia’s report lifts the lid on the bankrupt department and puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of a culture of nepotism – “family ties and friendships from the very top” – and clock-watching.

The report noted that the structure of the department was “top heavy and cumbersome”. Some senior managers had no relevant qualifications and landed their plum jobs on the basis of “political patronage”.

Karodia said the department’s financial systems were in a state of “decay, morass” and did “not speak” to the delivery of educational priorities. The report blamed poor systems, poor monitoring and ”serious” dereliction for the mess.

There was “woeful” planning, execution and management, compounded by poor service delivery, the report said.

The department contravened the financial laws by splitting orders – officials divided a multimillion-rand tender into smaller ones of less than R500 000 each to avoid putting it out to competitive bidding.

 The report said staff captured staff allowances on the BSA IT system (used to capture goods), rather than Persal (used to capture staff information) to evade paying personal tax.

Constant budget deviation was the norm, due to the lack of financial leadership.

The karodia report was delivered at the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) during its four-day fact-finding mission to Limpopo in March. The Star previously reported that Masemola and Karodia had clashed on the sidelines of the NCOP gathering over the report and subsequently fell out.

Motshekga removed Karodia from his position two months later.

The report said the department spent about R25m a year on cellphones and landlines. It said that phones and 3G cards were “an abused commodity”, and a clear indication of the “rot” that had set in at the department.

The document said the department issued 1 806 cellphones which cost R1m a month and paid about the same for its landlines.

“This means that the cellphone and landline usage per year is in the region of R25 million,” the report said.

‘‘This is an indictment. There are lower-down staff that run cellphone bills of R5 000 per month and continue to abuse their allocations each month with no punitive action. There is no oversight at all,” the report added.

Karodia said he was forced to cut off some cellphone lines because of abuse. He reinstated them after implementing a policy of capping usage and putting cellphones on soft lock when limits were exceeded, the report said.

It was envisaged that for any over-usage exceeding seven months, the department would deduct the money from the responsible staff in a phased manner, he said.

Karodia warned that the abuse of 3G cards would also be investigated.

Pat Kgomo, the Limpopo education spokesman, dismissed Karodia’s report as baseless, “unsubstantiated allegations”.

“The MEC challenged the authenticity of the report and the unsubstantiated allegations presented by Dr Karodia… Up to date, those allegations were never substantiated.”

The provincial education department went bankrupt in September, did not pay for textbooks for this year’s pupil intake, and was placed under administration in December by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Thousands of pupils are still without textbooks and learning material, seven months into the new year.

Two forensic auditing companies have since found evidence of rampant maladministration that includes financial mismanagement, tender fraud, and the looting of the department’s coffers by various officials.

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