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Wasteful, irregular, dangerous and probably corrupt: Gauteng’s Covid-19 splurge continues, this time in schools

Panyaza Lesufi, Gauteng MEC for Education. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

Up to now the feeding frenzy of Covid-19 corruption in Gauteng has focused on the Department of Health. But the third Gauteng Expenditure Disclosure report, published last week, suggests that officials in the Department of Basic Education might also have got in on the act.

In the first two Expenditure Disclosure reports the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) was a relatively low spender. By the end of August it had recorded spending of only R13,089,983. But in the September report the DBE notched up R96,157,456 on the “sanitising of buildings”.

The expenditure disclosure report (available here on the Gauteng government website) does not yet include the essential annexures which break down spending by department. However, to try to understand how the GDE could have run up such a big bill, we requested and obtained them from the Provincial Treasury.

Covid-19 Expenditure Disclosure Report – April to September 2020

They show that R98-million was paid to 28 different companies who were contracted to “sanitise” buildings in preparation for the return to school after the hard lockdown. One company, Insimu Projects (no available website found), received R13.9-million for this. Two other companies with similar names and the same directors, Insimu Medical Group and Insimu Consulting, received R11.9 million and R4.6 million, respectively.

Contacted for comment, Steve Mabona, spokesperson for Gauteng’s Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, responded in detail to justify what appears to be such a large amount of money. His response provides information on the number of schools, offices and total space occupied by the GDE, its value and the number of learners.

However, the crux of the GDE’s argument is that the decontamination, disinfection and deep cleaning was:

“…in preparation for the opening of schools on the 8th of June. This disinfection involved 2,207 schools and the 38 admin buildings. The case management strategy in the beginning was based on the understanding that after a person(s) had tested positive, the facility would have to be decontaminated, disinfected and deep cleaned.    

“The work was generally only paid for in the September month. The overall costs are linked to activities since the resumption of schooling in June. All the costs incurred from the beginning of August (as advised by the Dpt of health) only included disinfection and cleaning. The invoices have only been paid in September as they were delayed as a result of Covid restrictions, certification and verification processes with the schools.”

Mabona also stressed:

“Service providers were appointed from the CSD taking into account their speciality.”

This, however, doesn’t seem to square with the annexure’s list of the 28 companies who on 29 September each received a “sundry payment” totalling R96-million. Based on the company names – Favoured Street Properties, I Call The Shots, Insimu Consulting, Netvision Energy Savers, to name but a few – at face value it is hard to see what qualifies them as cleaning or disinfection specialists.

Finally, whether all these costs were accrued months ago is also difficult to determine as all the transactions listed are without an order number, or order date. So, at face value these costs still seem vastly inflated and potentially irregular.

There might be 2,207 schools in Gauteng but given the fact that all these schools had lain empty throughout the hard lockdown it is hard to see why they required deep cleansing when schools reopened in June. After seeing the GDE response, Wits University’s Professor Shabir Madhi put it like this: 

“If the schools were closed for weeks and the virus doesn’t survive for more than three days in the environment, the last place to ‘decontaminate’ would be the schools, where there were no humans for the past few months! The virus does not fly – it needs people to move!”

But sanitising and decontaminating school buildings also went against the advice of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19, as well as the Scientists Collective who write for Maverick Citizen, which had warned against the use of chemical defogging in general, but also specifically in schools. In the words of the government’s advisers:

“Fear amongst the community and healthcare workers has resulted in a panic response to Covid-19, which has been exploited by commercial companies, marketing non-validated disinfection methods for surfaces, buildings and humans and in some instances spraying of outdoor spaces such as in taxi ranks, and open streets. At best, these systems are unnecessary; at worst are detrimental to human health, the ecosystem and environment and essentially not proven to be effective for Covid-19 containment.”

R98-million is a lot of money for a department that pleads poverty for fixing basic school infrastructure and which failed at the very same time to provide meals to learners. Faranaaz Veriava, the head of education at SECTION27, questioned the expenditure “especially when this is money originally earmarked for school infrastructure that had to be reallocated”.

So at this stage, what we have is another set of red flags that seem to suggest that the scale of the Special Investigating Unit’s investigation into Covid-19 procurement might have to be extended – yet again.  

Covid-19 Pest control

Another extraordinary discovery tucked away in the Gauteng Expenditure Disclosure report is a payment of R328,457 by the Gauteng Department of e-Government for “sanitising hard copy documents at the DMC (Document Management Centre)” apparently at a cost of R1,824.70 per unit. The “lucky” company was Finesse World Wide and the manufacturer it sub-contracted Mzanzi Pest Hygiene and Cleaning.

An explanation requested from and timeously provided by the Gauteng government is published in full below:

The Document Management Centre (DMC) is the Gauteng Provincial Government’s document management service and records keeping facility. It receives and records approximately 4,000 human resource and financial mandates (packaged documents) per day from all GPG departments and entities for processing. These documents are hand delivered daily from 105 entities for central processing at department of e-Gov. The department also had a records storage facility used to store records which was in the process of being transferred to a new storage centre during the same period. 

The disinfection services had to be sourced immediately after lockdown as precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infections. This was due to the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that the virus remained on paper for more than 48 hours. The disinfection was to protect employees from possible infection. Secondly, the department was moving documents to a new facility which as a standard required sanitising of all records. This meant about 19 million records had to be sanitised.

An axed member of the MAC contacted for comment had the following to say: “Based on 19 million documents needing to be attended to and assuming five minutes per document, it would take approx 10,844 days to complete the task – 24/7. Also, the WHO never suggested that the virus can be transmitted via paper.”

What else is there to say?

Over to you, SIU. DM/MC 

Official MAC advisories and Scientists Collective guidance on making schools safe and appropriate methods of disinfection can be found here, here and here.

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All Comments 6

  • This kind of stark naked full monti corruption porn demonstrates the utter disdain the government has for its people and especially its poorest/ Most vulnerable/ disempowered. It’s a disgrace.

  • The ‘document sanitization’ beggars belief. At The Vine School, which received not a cent from government for Covid-19 sanitation, we reopened our school library in July. We simply place all returned books in quarantine for a week before our 60-year old librarian processes them. 100% safe and no expense. Just wait a week.

  • Well done Mark for exposing this mutation of a virus called corruption ! I wonder who will get the next lucrative contract for disinfecting this department and its spokespeople ? One hopes not a company called ‘truth’ which does not even have a website !

  • Insimu Projects MAAA0912349 R13,907,600
    Fikile Mpofana MAAA0868807 R11,693,000
    Insimu Consulting MAAA0933150 R11,518,299.
    So R37M went to three companies. Two with a similar name. I also note from my brief google research, that Fikile Mpofana is a recruitment and training company (where did they gain the expertise in building sanitisation?) that cites Insimu Medical Group as one of its clients. Grrr!!!!

  • I know this is focussed on health. But is somebody looking at who got the contract to “deep cleanse” the Johannesburg Library and all its branches and who got the kickback. The libraries have been closed since March and the “cleansing” is nonsense. So what is going on there.

  • Why are we surprised? Logic, honesty and thinking are words that will never be associated with Africa and certainly not South Africa. This is infuriating to say the least but nothing to the contrary will be found. Is this ever going to improve? If any of us holds his breath regarding improvement he’s dead!!
    I’m not a pessimist but a realist, which means I’m actually an optimist with a lot of reality experience!!