Durban - FOUR Education Department officials have been suspended in connection with the multimillion-rand sanitary towels scandal.
This was confirmed by the department on Wednesday as the much-anticipated forensic report on the procurement of sanitary towels, following allegations of corruption in the project, is expected to be made public on Thursday.
This follows pressure from teachers’ unions for MEC Kwazi Mshengu to release the document.
On Thursday the report revealed that more than two-million packs of sanitary towels were procured as part of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education’s project to distribute free sanitary towels to needy girls unnecessarily.
The forensic report presented by Mshengu on Thursday follows an investigation into the procurement of the sanitary pads project conducted by Phumlani Mkhize and Associates.
Although the exact cost of these were not yet calculated based on how much the department paid the supplier per pack, Mshengu said the department had lost lots of money as a result of the unnecessary procurement of the sanitary pads that were over supplied to schools.
The project was first piloted in KZN and was surrounded by controversy in 2018 when teacher unions blew the whistle on the corruption that left schools with an over supply of pads.
Mshengu said the initial pilot project of R20m in 2016, was expanded in 2017 with the first batch of R44m and the second batch of R54m.
The forensic investigation was launched by former education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana after allegations of corruption in the project emerged in 2018.
Mshengu said the investigation established the 2016 pilot project was not monitored to establish if the project had reached the right beneficiaries.
The second batch was ordered without correcting problems in the first batch.
Mshengu said the investigation found the sanitary towels which were initially meant for needy girls in quintile one and four schools were distributed to quintile five to pupils from well-to-do families who could afford sanitary pads.
“It was no longer about needy girls. It became an issue of all schools in quintile 1-4 and even quintile 5 were getting pads for free. Even girls in grade 4 who were not yet in that stage of using sanitary pads were being given. Some schools were returning them back,” said Mshengu.
He said the investigation found there were no irregularities in the awarding of the actual tender.
The report follows the unions asking Mshengu to follow Premier Sihle Zikalala’s example of releasing critical forensic reports in public.
This week, Zikalala publicly released the report on the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and blankets. The Daily News has been reliably told four officials were suspended following the launch of the investigation into the sanitary towels project.
Funding for the project was initially set at R20 million to benefit 900 000 pupils, but the amount had been increased to R109m.
This resulted in an oversupply, leading some schools to distribute them to Grade R and 1 pupils.
Sources close to the investigation yesterday said the four officials were fingered in the scandal when former Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana launched an investigation in 2018, but their suspensions were kept under wraps.
Unions in the province who blew the whistle on the oversupply of sanitary towels at schools challenged Dlungwana to investigate the allegations.
Reports on the ground at the time suggested gross mismanagement of the project, which was piloted by the department to assist girls who were forced to miss school days while menstruating due to being unable to afford sanitary towels.
The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) accused the department of commercialising the initiative, while the National Teachers’ Union (Natu) complained schools were overwhelmed with sanitary pads and did not have space to store them. Natu alleged the situation was out of control and some boys used them as shin guards when playing soccer.
Provincial secretary Nomarashiya Caluza said Sadtu was aware department officials were fingered in the alleged corruption and were suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
“We had to put a lot of pressure on the department to finalise this investigation. We then requested MEC Mshengu to make the report public and follow Premier Zikalala’s good example when he made the report on the procurement of PPE and blankets for Covid-19 public this week. There was an oversupply of sanitary towels and we alleged that there were people who were taking advantage of the menstruation of our children.
"We welcome the report and the fact that the MEC is going to present his findings in public,” she said.
Natu president Allen Thompson said the union was aware of four department officials who were suspended in connection with the scandal.
Department spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa confirmed the four officials were suspended about a week ago in connection with the sanitary towels corruption. However, he could not say if Mshengu would reveal who the officials were.
“I cannot pre-empt what the MEC is going to say,” said Mlotshwa.