Durban - The top brass of the Education Department in KwaZulu-Natal has promised to crack the whip on underperforming officials in an attempt to turn around the department.

MEC Mthandeni Dlungwane and newly-appointed head of department, Vusumuzi Nzama, made the commitment after coming under a barrage of questions when its finances were scrutinised by members of the standing committee on public accounts.

The department obtained a clean audit with matters of emphasis, but the improved audit outcome has not pleased lawmakers, because the department was found to have repeat audit findings dating from five years ago.

The lawmakers have blamed the weaknesses in the department on officials who did not perform their jobs as required, resulting in massive failures in internal controls.

However, Nzama said non-performing officials would now face the music where there was evidence of wrong doing on their part. “That area is what we are to focus on strongly, and deal with it head-on, instead of ­allowing it to remain unattended,” Nzama said.

He also said irregular expenditure would not be tolerated. “I’m not making any statement, but I’m saying where there is evidence, this remains our responsibility. We have to deal with it,” Nzama added.

Dlungwane said the department, under his leadership, had already taken action against senior officials, including a chief finance officer and supply chain officials, who were suspended on some allegations.

“There are actions and decisions taken when we were new. We hope to get your support,” he told the lawmakers.

In his report, the auditor-general found the department did not take effective steps to prevent R283 million in irregular expenditure, and that the department did not settle its debts within 30 days.

The performance agreements of senior managers were also found to have been not dated, and that officials did not disclose conflict of interest, among others.

IFP MPL Lourens de Klerk said the R283m in irregular expenditure was a result of contravention of the supply chain management laws.

“Eighty percent was picked up during the auditing. It seems there is a serious problem,” De Klerk said.

He also said it came as no surprise that there were cases of conflict of interest among officials, because they were only given warnings, and no further action was taken against them.

“People are charged for less things. People are not being held responsible,” De Klerk said, adding that it took months to discipline officials in the department.

ANC MPL Sipho Nkosi demanded to know of action taken or contemplated against responsible officials.

“The thing that frustrates me... money has gone to the sea instead of serving the people,” Nkosi said, adding that this all happened when there were infrastructure backlogs.

NFP’s Erickson Zungu said it appeared that officials committed stupid mistakes continuously. “They continue to do business with the department and you find nothing has been done. It is one of the worrying factors,” Zungu said.

But acting deputy director-general, Nathi Ngcobo, said the regulations in the public service now prohibited officials from doing business with the State.

He said all officials were also required to disclose their financial interests as opposed to the past when only senior managers were required to.

Scopa chairwoman, Maggie Govender, said Dlungwane would need a new broom to sweep strongly in the department if the repeat findings were to be halted.