Delays and corruption allegations over free laptops for South African students

A cancelled R3.75-billion laptop tender sponsored by the Department of Higher Education, Science, and Technology is in the spotlight due to numerous delays and controversies, reports the City Press.

In May, Minister Blade Nzimande tasked adviser Nqaba Nqandela to lead a task team that would urgently procure 750,000 devices to provide to poor students at South Africa’s higher learning institutions.

Four months later, however, the tender process is back where it started.

The initial tender proposal was rejected by the National Treasury because “the procurement does not meet the definition of emergency”.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) therefore took over the tender process, with Nqandela and National Treasury invited to participate in the bidding processes as observers.

The tender process was again flagged by the National Treasury because numerous important points were unclear, including:

  • Whether the devices would be donated to the students or would remain the property of the Department of Higher Education, Science, and Technology.
  • How the base price of R5,000 had been determined without specifications being provided for these devices.
  • The number of students who required devices had not properly been verified.
  • How the service provider would be selected and appointed.

Last month, the bidding process was cancelled after all 150 bids that had been submitted were found to be defective.

NSFAS has since initiated a new tender process, meaning that four months have been lost.

Nqandela controversy

Additionally, whistleblowers claim that the cancellation of the tender process was due to Nqandela’s influence, including allegations that NSFAS administrator Randal Carolissen had his contract extended due to his influence.

Four days after Carolissen’s contract was extended, the tender was cancelled.

However, department spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said that Nqandela is not responsible for the extension of the contract of the NSFAS administrator.

Mnisi also said that Nqandela did not have any influence in the NSFAS process because he was merely an observer.

COVID-19 tender woes

This is far from the first controversial tender process relating to COVID-19 and the national lockdown.

In August, various reports found that pubs, car washes, property agencies, and even a construction company which belonged to a dead man earned tenders for COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) revealed to Parliament last month that it was investigating R5-billion worth of COVID-19-related government contracts for equipment and services.

SIU head Andy Mothibi explained that this investigation includes alleged unlawful contracts for the procurement of PPE, ventilators, catering services, hospitals, quarantine sites, and wheelchairs.

The SIU is one of nine groups which have been asked by President Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate irregularities regarding COVID-19 contracts.

SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter updated Parliament’s Standing Committee of Public Accounts (SCOPA) on Friday regarding several of these probes last month.

“Many companies were previously registered, but they were not in the PPE business. We found providers registered as pubs, IT companies, car washing companies, and property renting companies,” Kieswetter said.

The tax authority is supporting the SIU investigate approximately 370 cases in the Free State while also investigating 17 tenders worth R1.2 billion which have political links.

Tenders for dead men

DispatchLive previously reported on a case where a company belonging to a deceased East London businessman secured a tender worth around R1 million to provide PPEs to the Eastern Cape health department.

The company’s sole director and owner has been dead for two years, said a family member.

An insider in the department told DispatchLive that there are many similar examples in the province.

“If you dig more, you will find there are ghost companies that got paid millions of rand,” the source said.

“There are companies that were given appointment letters but no work was given to them, yet their names appear on the provincial list as companies that were awarded work.”

COVID-19 corruption is murder

The World Health Organisation (WHO) previously responded to reports of PPE-related corruption in South Africa.

The organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that depriving healthcare workers of PEE equipment is tantamount to murder.

“Corruption related to PPE, for me it’s actually murder. Because if health workers work without PPE, we’re risking their lives. And that also risks the lives of the people they serve,” Tedros stated.

“So it’s criminal and it’s murder and it has to stop,” he said.

Now read: Dead man got R1-million tender to provide COVID-19 equipment

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Delays and corruption allegations over free laptops for South African students