File photo: Reuters

Durban - A company that scored a R500 000-a-month contract with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education to assess the incapacity or disability of teachers has come under fire – for its own alleged shortcomings.

Thandile Health Risk Management came under the spotlight at a meeting on Tuesday of the provincial legislature’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

The committee was discussing rampant absenteeism and abuse of sick leave by teachers.

Department officials told the committee that Thandile, which has a contract with the national government to assess incapacity or disability of public servants, had been assessing KZN teachers at a cost of R500 000 a month.

But the revelation that the company charged a flat rate for every employee on the payroll - irrespective of how many employees it actually assessed - incensed Scopa chairman Sipho “KK” Nkosi.

He said he saw no logic in a fee being charged for healthy teachers.

“This means that you were paying for me having not got sick for the past 26 years, a healthy person like me,” said Nkosi, a former school principal.

Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni urged Scopa to look into the contract with Thandile.

The committee heard that the company had a huge backlog and was slow in processing some of them, where teachers should have been referred for medical boarding.

Nkosinathi Sishi, the head of the provincial education department, said a meeting would be held with Thandile to identify weaknesses. Sishi said Thandile had competent professionals but could be having a problem with capacity.

“The magnitude of government may mean they have to double their capacity,” he told the committee.

Thandile chief operating officer, Nadine Pienaar, admitted to the Daily News today that there was a backlog in KZN. However, she said this was because, after court action in Gauteng late in 2012 relating to another company, an interdict suspended health risk managers.

”This (legal process) meant that effectively there was no contract (between Thandile and the department) between 1 January and 31 October last year and that created a backlog.”

She said cases such as those highlighted would be dealt with and Thandile would get a directive from government.

Pienaar referred other questions to the Department of Public Service and Administration.

Health risk managers contracted to the government are due to meet the department on Friday to deal with the issue of backlogs.

In Scopa the IFP’s Les Govender argued that principals should take responsibility for absent teachers at their schools. Some of those teachers were opening and operating businesses while supposedly on sick leave, he said.

Nkosi agreed, saying his committee had, on numerous occasions, arrived at schools unannounced and asked principals to account for the whereabouts of teachers.

“The management of staff is part of the principals’ key duties.”

Nkosi said there were cases where teachers were genuinely sick but were not being medically boarded by the department.

One of them, he said, was a principal in Nongoma who had been blind for three years.

ANC MPL, Maggie Govender, said the department should provide the committee with a list of teachers who had been absent for more than a year.

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