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The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has been granted a preservation order to freeze the bank accounts and assets of 14 service providers implicated in the Gauteng Education Department’s R431 million schools decontamination project.

The preservation order, valued at R40.7 million, was on Thursday granted by the Special Tribunal following an application by the SIU.

Initially, the application was for the preservation order to freeze accounts with the sum of R6 million and assets with an estimated value of over R4.7 million belonging to seven companies, five individuals and two family trusts.

In a statement, the SIU said the order includes assets such as two Mercedes Benz V Class, Landrover Range Rover Sport, Haval H6 and Toyota Avanza.

The action follows an investigation into allegations of unlawful procurement of services by the provincial Education Department to decontaminate, disinfect and sanitise schools.

“The collaboration with the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) is very effective, and the FIC — assisted and based on the information presented by the investigating team — issued intervention directions under Section 34 of the FIC Act to place a hold on R30 million of the funds received from the Education Department.

“This was after seven service providers began dissipating the funds received from the department, upon receipt.

“A portion of the funds were transferred to multiple beneficiaries who have, in turn, disposed of them,” said the SIU.

The order prohibits Fikile Mpofana Pty Ltd, Insimu Projects Pty Ltd, Insimu Consulting Pty Ltd, Insimu Medical Group, Mangaliso Pty Ltd, Lisondalo Pty Ltd, Zenaldo Consulting Pty Ltd, Sigwile Bright Mhlongo, Fikile Eugenia Mpofana, Lindokuhle Bridget Mkhize, Njabulo Mabaso, Richard Mweli, Shuphula Family Trust, and Madangu Family Trust from dealing with the funds held in the bank accounts and assets.

The SIU said it would in the next month launch “review proceedings” in the Special Tribunal, as well as seek an order against the service providers to pay back all profits as consequence of their appointment.

The SIU said its investigation has revealed that the procurement process conducted by the department was “manifestly” unlawful.

The department paid over R431 million to service providers pursuant to a process that was “haphazard, unfair and littered with procurement irregularities”.

“The department obtained a deviation under Treasury regulations to conduct the procurement process without inviting competitive bids.

“The department did so on the basis that emergency procurement was warranted, given the urgent and pressing need to appoint service providers to decontaminate schools exposed to COVID-19.”

The SIU said the request for the deviation expressly stated that the department would “appoint accredited service providers from the Central Supplier Database (CSD)”.

The SIU investigation revealed that the department failed to comply with the express requirement of the deviation.

“The vast majority of service providers that were appointed (173 out of 280) were not accredited and were not on the CSD. On this basis alone, the SIU will argue before the Special Tribunal that the procurement process was unlawful and falls to be reviewed and set aside,” it said.

Furthermore, the SIU said its investigation revealed that the procurement process was not cost-effective.

“The service providers were not paid per square meter of the area cleaned. Rather, a senior official in the department appears to have arbitrarily decided to offer a fee of R250 000 to R270 000 for the decontamination of primary schools; R250 000 to R290 000 for secondary schools; and R250 000 to R300 000 for district offices.

“The fees bear no relation to the work done by service providers or the cost of material used. The selection and appointment of suppliers was done in a haphazard, unfair and inequitable manner.”

Ordinarily, the SIU said, the department’s Supply Chain Management division would select and appoint suppliers. In this case, however, the SIU probe revealed that the SCM division was not involved in the selection and appointment of service providers.

Some of the names of service providers appointed were received via WhatsApp from officials in the department. The service providers were appointed without first checking whether they were accredited or appeared on the CSD, the SIU investigation has revealed.

Though there are legal outcomes, the SIU investigation into the affairs of the Education Department continue.

The SIU said evidence pointing to criminal conduct will be referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), as well as the Hawks in the South African Police Service (SAPS) for further action.

SAnews.gov.za

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