Durban - KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Mbali Frazer and head of department Nkosinathi Ngcobo have apologised over the purchase of boats to ferry pupils, admitting the transaction in 2016 had been undertaken without thorough research.
This, the department conceded on Tuesday before the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa). The engine-propelled boats have been deemed to be unsuitable to ferry pupils as the rivers in which they would have been used were too shallow.
The MEC and the HoD told Scopa the department was now consulting other departments, including Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) and Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Edtea) for the possible transfer of the boats.
According to the department, if they were taken over by Cogta, they would be used when carrying out rescue missions in the event of disasters such as the recent floods, or in tourism-related activities by Edtea.
Ngcobo told the committee the purchase of the boats had become an audit issue over the years, after it had been established that only one of the eight purchased was being used.
“We are committing that by end of November we will have finalised the transfer of the boats,” Ngcobo told the committee.
Imran Keeka, DA MPL and KZN spokesperson on education, had raised the issue of the boats earlier this week.
He said that the boats have been “lying unused and rotting away, since 2017, on the Natal Sharks Board premises” and called for action to be taken.
Scopa chairperson Maggie Govender urged the department to consider selling the boats, noting it was cashstrapped and needed all the money it could get.
The department also indicated it was going ahead with its efforts to recover R362 million from employees, as the staff debt item had been one of the key matters raised by the auditorgeneral during the 2022/23 audit.
The money owed to the department included salaries that staff continued to receive after leaving the department. According to Ngcobo, the department had identified staff who were owing and had asked them to sign letters acknowledging debt owed and undertaking to pay.
The approach, the HOD told Scopa members, enabled the department to recover debts from staff pensions. However, Ngcobo insisted that despite all the measures they were taking, they were still experiencing operational challenges, as they had a funding shortfall, which meant some positions were left vacant.