The Limpopo textbook blame game

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EduSolutions, the company under scrutiny for the textbooks delivery fiasco in Limpopo, has distanced itself from the scandal and blamed the crisis squarely on the Department of Basic Education.

The company on Sunday also denied reports that wide political connections - allegedly including President Jacob Zuma and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga - had accounted for its being awarded the multimillion-rand textbook delivery tenders in Limpopo and three other provinces.

“We have nothing to do with the mess in Limpopo. We are the victims of slander and misunderstanding,” said EduSolutions director Mateli Mpuntsha.

Stung by damaging reports for its role in the textbook saga, the company held interviews with the media on Sunday and used the opportunity to absolve itself from blame in the debacle.

This came as pressure mounted on Motshekga to resign for her inept handling of the Limpopo textbook mess.

Weekend reports detailed how the ANC’s national executive committee had turned against Motshekga, with some senior members of the party’s most powerful body calling for her axing.

On Sunday, the party’s youth league reiterated its call for Motshekga to quit.

“The ANC has committed itself to prioritising education. Never, therefore, must tenders, service provider issues or bureaucratic bungles deny young people - our future - an opportunity to be educated,” the ANC Youth League said.

Mpuntsha said EduSolutions was willing to co-operate with the Hawks if an investigation was launched.

He also showed the media a letter the company had written to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, asking for an investigation.

“We don’t sell books, we are not publishers, we are not the suppliers. All we are is the management agent that buys on behalf of the government from publishers, and manages the distribution and deliveries.

“The prices are determined by the department and the publishers. We are completely not responsible for the crisis there,” Mpuntsha said.

The company produced a document that appeared to detail a series of budget cuts that it said had hampered it from meeting its contractual duties in the delivery of textbooks.

The document seemed to show that the initial budget of R581 million was first reduced to R413m, then to R372m before it was slashed to R261m.

The budget was eventually cut to R249m after the provincial education department was placed under administration with four other departments in December.

Mpuntsha said the budget cuts were brought about despite EduSolutions having processed the orders from the schools and forwarded the list of textbooks to the department for approval before November 11.

“The requisites (orders) were revised several times without informing the schools about the changes. The schools’ expectations remained the same as at November 2011,” the document reads in part.

Mpuntsha said this partly explained why the Mary Metcalfe report had not found any wrong doing by EduSolutions.

EduSolutions spokesman Themba Ndhlovu would not say what the value was of the three-year contract, which was awarded in August 2010, but media suggestions have put it at R1 billion to supply textbooks to 4 000 Limpopo schools.

However, the textbooks started arriving in schools only last month, after a court application by the NGO Section 27.

A memo compiled by senior counsel Pat Ellis for the national department found that the tender was “neither fair, transparent, competitive nor cost effective”.

Mpuntsha denied reports that the company had inflated its costs.

He also denied reports that Zuma’s relationship with EduSolutions - and in particular with its CEO, Shaun Battlemann - had had an influence on its getting the textbook delivery tenders in Limpopo, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

While not denying that Battlemann was the “champion” of Zuma’s education trust, Mpuntsha said EduSolutions’ contract dated back to the years before Zuma became the president.

“(It is an) unfortunate assertion that… if a person can be seen in a picture with the president, then they are in a corrupt relationship.

“It upsets us. Why is it that we keep arguing in this country that black people, once they are successful, are receiving kickbacks?” Mpuntsha asked.

Ndhlovu added: “Much against popular belief that we are politically connected, we are financially competent and functionally competent.”

Battlemann said he had agreed to serve as the champion of Zuma’s education trust after he was approached two years ago, before Zuma became the president.

“I have never met the president, but I accepted the role to raise funds (through his trust)… Where was the president at that time?”

Ndhlovu said EduSolutions had excelled in the four provinces, where it had won tenders to deliver textbooks, as evinced by the Metcalfe report, which failed to find wrongdoing on the part of the company.

“The report doesn’t talk about EduSolutions,” he said, also expressing the company’s interest to tender, if it were to be awarded a contract in the future. - The Star


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