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R17m Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University laptop tender ’delayed by management feud’

A file picture of students at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University protesting outside their campus. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

A file picture of students at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University protesting outside their campus. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 17, 2021


Pretoria - A leaked forensic report into a R17 million Covid-19 tender for purchasing laptops for students at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) has revealed that it was marred by delays caused, in part, by an ongoing feud among top managers.

According to the report, tension between the deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Eunice Seekoe, and the then acting vice-chancellor, Professor Olaken Ayo-Yusuf, was among factors that caused delays in the delivery of laptops, resulting in students taking to the streets in June last year.

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The report, compiled by SizweNtsalubaGobodo Advisory Services, noted that the laptops were purchased for students to “ensure continuous learning” after the institution closed following the imposition of level five lockdown under the state of emergency in March last year due to Covid-19 outbreak.

The protesting students complained that two months of academic studies were lost while they waited for laptops.

Their protest was staged after Seekoe was removed from heading the procurement process, this after a bid adjudication committee declined her questionable budgetary presentation that had concluded without the involvement of the supply chain management and was not supported by Ayo-Yusuf.

Professor Eunice Seekoe.

The report on quotations lacked information about the number of students in need of the gadgets.

The supply chain management subsequently took over the procurement process with Ayo-Yusuf’s blessings that an external company, Purchasing Consortium of South Africa, be roped in to assist in procuring the laptops.

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Two service providers – Esizwe and Sizwe – were appointed to purchase 2 850 laptops for students and 100 for staff, at a cost of at least R17 million.

However, the service providers’ contracts were terminated based on a legal opinion and after they had missed delivery deadlines.

Ironically, the students also demanded that Seekoe be reinstated as project leader.

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Professor Peter Mbati, who took office as the new vice-chancellor on the day of the protest, heeded the call and appointed Seekoe as chairperson of a bid evaluation committee.

Dr Ayo Yusuf

Seekoe’s return, however, did not speed up the procurement process, as she was implicated in changing evaluation criteria out of keeping with the supply chain management policy.

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For example, on July 2, 2020 the bid evaluation committee convened to evaluate 13 suppliers that had submitted proposals, and only one service provider, U-Swipe Telecoms, met the minimum functionality threshold of 70 points.

Under Seekoe’s leadership, the report showed, the bid evaluation committee increased the lead time from four to seven days, to accommodate more bidders to meet minimum functionality scores.

As a result, two service providers – Wesive Technologies and GTM Computer Surgeons CC – met the 70 points threshold.

A report prepared by the evaluation committee on the processes followed was again rejected by the bid adjudication committee, citing that “there was no consensus among the evaluation members”.

In another meeting, held on July 23, the evaluation committee recommended the appointment of Wesive to the adjudication committee, which approved it.

Sizwe, which was initially charged with delivering laptops for 100 staff members, was brought back when the university could not secure a deal with another contractor, Thamani, owing to high prices.

According to the forensic report, the evaluation committee under Seekoe “rendered the second internal procurement process futile”.

The report cited that lack of “cohesion” at management level was one of the factors that had caused procurement delays.

One of the instances reflected in the report was when Seekoe criticised Ayo-Yusuf for not appointing her as chair of the evaluation committee.

Seekoe believed she was entitled to chair the committee by virtue of her department of teaching, learning and community engagement being the end-user of the project.

In one of the emails, she wrote about her “bullying” experience at the hands of Ayo-Yusuf. She had told the university’s executive management committee that she was excluded as the project leader because of her “gender”.

Ayo-Yusuf, who is currently deputy vice-chancellor responsible for postgraduate studies and innovation, wrote back: “It is rather unfortunate that our colleague resorted to bringing a governance committee of council into management matters of who should be making an appointment to the evaluation committee.”

He said his decision not to appoint Seekoe as the evaluation committee chair was based “mainly on the provisions of the supply chain management policy”.

The report found that Seekoe was not “well acquainted with the policy in respect of who should appoint bid committee members”, recommending that she underwent training to familiarise herself with the policies.

Contacted for comment, Ayo-Yusuf said: “The issue is being handled by Council and my position in response to the report was submitted to council. I have no further information. If you need any more information, it will be best to reach out to Dr Pule, our communication director.”

Seekoe did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. Part of the recommendations was that disciplinary actions be taken against Seekoe.

Incumbent vice-chancellor Mbati said he had noted tension between Ayo-Yusuf and Seekoe upon assuming office, according to the report.

Last October, Mbati was approached by a group of disgruntled deans who wanted him to act against her.

The Pretoria News was reliably told that the deans complained about their frosty relationship with Seekoe, accusing her of treating them with disrespect.

The deans were aggrieved that their meetings with Seekoe were “stressful” as she shot down their viewpoints at every turn.

Her conduct, they claimed, had caused low morale among the staff, affecting their “productivity and psychological well-being”.

Contacted for comment, Mbati said: “The investigative forensic report is under consideration of Council and I therefore cannot comment on the report.”

He was also mum on his meeting with the deans last year.

The Care Sciences dean, Professor Sebi Lekalakala-Mokgele, declined to comment when asked about her participation in the meeting.

Pretoria News