MAVERICK CITIZEN INVESTIGATION

Gauteng Department of Education spent R431-million in three months on unnecessary ‘deep cleaning’ and ‘decontamination’ of schools

By Mark Heywood 26 January 2021
Caption
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi. (Photo by Gallo Images/ Sharon Seretlo)

Between June and August 2020, the Gauteng Department of Education spent more than R431-million on sanitising schools. This money was paid in sundry payments to hundreds of companies, many of which appear to have no expertise or prior involvement in the cleaning industry. To make matters worse, it was for a form of ‘deep cleaning’ and ‘decontamination’ that was not required or recommended by either the Department of Health or the Department of Basic Education. Maverick Citizen went looking for answers.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation into Covid-19 wasteful and corrupt expenditure.

On 8 November last year, Maverick Citizen reported that the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) had spent R98-million on decontaminating schools for Covid-19 in September 2020. At the time, departmental spokesperson Steve Mabona justified the large expense. He said it was necessary to allay fears of teachers, unions, SGBs and parents. He also explained that the cost was very high because of the large portfolio of buildings occupied by the GDE. 

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

Mabona added that the work was only paid for in September because invoices had been delayed “due to Covid-19 restrictions, certification and verification processes within schools”. 

However, what Mabona did not explain was that the R98-million was only a small fraction of the costs the GDE had incurred. Since then the Gauteng Government Expenditure Disclosure report for October 2020 reveals that a further amount of R260-million was paid for “sanitising of buildings” in that month alone. This was made in 947 separate “sundry” payments, each in the region of R250,000, many to the same companies. 

When Maverick Citizen tried to get further explanation from the GDE about the additional R260-million we were initially stonewalled. Mabona referred us to his response on 6 November and declined to acknowledge two further emails.

Premier David Makhura also overlooked a question about the costs in a media briefing on 12 January.

Eventually, in a WhatsApp message Panyaza Lesufi, the MEC for Basic Education in Gauteng, responded: “I was and I am still not aware of that cost. Will ask the HOD [Edward] Mosuwe who deals with such matters to respond to you.” 

The day following Lesufi’s intervention a full report was sent to Maverick Citizen. Shockingly, this report which is compiled by the Infrastructure Management Directorate in the GDE, reports that the amount spent on sanitising schools in only three months (between June and August 2020) has amounted to a total of R431,274,959. 


According to the GDE report suppliers were paid at the following rates:

The report provides a full list of all the companies that provided cleaning services and the amounts they received and states that:

“Service providers were appointed from the CSD (Central Supplier Database) considering their speciality. Appointments based on capacity and availability (24 hours turnaround time) through the emergency procurement processes using the emergency procurement process during the first portion of the pandemic as allowed and adjusted by the National and Provincial Treasury.”

However, very few of the companies listed in the report appear to have any prior specialisation in disinfection. There is also no indication as to exactly what or when each company performed its service.

As a result, last week Maverick Citizen contacted MEC Lesufi with further questions and the suggestion that he report it to the SIU. On Sunday we received the following response from Mabona: 

“MEC Lesufi is taken aback and will study a report compiled by the HOD and CFO to determine immediate action to take and which appropriate institutions of the state to use accordingly.”  

Is it a justifiable expense?

As the MEC starts his own investigation, we have been doing our own over the last few days. The question is: could there possibly be a justification for spending R431-million? 

Below are our findings and conclusions.

The GDE report states that “Making school environments safe by decontaminating, deep cleaning and sanitising the affected area(s) combats airborne contaminants” and was a “critical dimension for school reopening and recovery”. To test this Maverick Citizen tried to find out what the real costs of sanitising schools is by speaking to several school principals.

A principal of a 1,000 learner quintile four (an explanation of the division of schools into quintiles can be found here) primary school, who asked not to be named, said the GDE’s support to his school had been limited to providing two cloth masks per learner (when school reopened in June) and 25-litre barrels of hand and surface sanitiser once per month, at a ratio of approximately one barrel per 100 learners. 

“The rest we do ourselves”, he said. 

A principal of a large 1,200 pupil no-fee secondary school on the East Rand reported that the budget for sanitising is managed entirely from the district office: 

“They supply sanitiser and masks for teachers and pupils (two cloth masks each and five 25-litre barrels of sanitiser every three months).” Otherwise, the school uses ordinary cleaning materials paid for out of its norms and standards budget.

The principal said that on the one occasion when a student had tested positive a private company, Bidvest he recalls, came in to fumigate the school. “They came with machines and chemicals and sprayed classrooms.”

By contrast, the principal of a private school in Gauteng told us: 

“We did all the sanitising ourselves. We had two staff dedicated all day to all high touch surfaces like doorknobs and also sprayed every classroom and desk after school. We had stations throughout the school and spray bottles in each class at printers, etc.

“We also supplied all staff with personal hand sanitiser that gets refilled as and when.” 

She estimated that, “the average spend per month on alcohol sanitiser alone is R10,845 this not including soap, paper towels in every bathroom”.

Another of the arguments made by the GDE was that in decontaminating schools it was responding to the demands of teacher unions who “said they will only allow teachers back into classrooms once schools have been decontaminated deep cleaned and sanitised”. GDE head, Edward Mosuwe, explained that the GDE was under “constant pressure from SGBs all over the province” and had to respond immediately. 

Mosuwe also argued that the GDE was acting in a context where scientific knowledge of the transmissibility of Covid-19 was in its infancy; and where government labour regulations sometimes gave conflicting directions regarding measures to ensure safety in the workplace. He admits “we may have been taken for a ride initially” but insists that since September, spending has been reined in.

We looked into these defences and found the GDE’s claim is not supported by the law. To assist Maverick Citizen, a labour lawyer combed through the regulations issued by the Departments of Health, Basic Education and Labour. She found that all three departments were consistent in requiring cleaning of surfaces with disinfectants “that contains at least 70% alcohol and complies with the recommendations of the Department of Health”, but at no point did any government department make decontamination or “defogging” a requirement. 

The DBE issued statements to this effect on 11 March, 29 May and 22 June; the Department of Labour on 29 April and a Consolidated Direction on 1 October. 

The net effect of these guidelines is that ignorance of the science or the law really is not a defence.

In fact, on June 10 2020 (just as the GDE was beginning its spending binge) the Department of Health issued a categorical statement on ‘cleaning and decontamination of workplaces’ which makes specific reference to including “educators/teachers and administrative personnel and scholars returning to school or higher education institutions” and states:

“The Department of Health does not endorse or require ‘deep cleaning’ that involves fumigation, demisting or fogging. Nor does the Department of Health require such a ‘certificate of cleaning’.”

All of this reinforces a comment made by Wits University’s Prof Francois Venter, the director of Ezintsha, who says “There is no reason to disinfect schools. There is absolutely clear guidance on this, which has been in the public domain since early last year. It is a gross waste of money and potentially dangerous.”

Education specialist and senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg, Professor Mary Metcalfe, described the R430-million as “astounding”. She pointed out that “there are Standard Operating Procedures for everyday sanitising surfaces”.

Metcalfe also warned that “this is only information about Gauteng; this is a national challenge that requires much better management, better procurement and better supervision, as other provinces may be even worse.” DM/MC

This is an ongoing investigation. Up to this point, the audits of the office of the Attorney General have not looked at the contracts and costs of sanitising schools. In addition, the SIU has focussed on PPE procurement by the Department of Health. The prima facie evidence of wasteful and possibly irregular expenditure suggests this will have to change.

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All Comments 32

  • The clue to further investigation is the role and demands of the unions.
    It’s general cause that they run the country, and most certainly every educational department in the country, bar WC.

    • Indeed, PB, this country is run by the militant and ignorant trade unions and taxi bosses. These two are completely unreasonable most of the time, and have the ruling party in their pockets.

  • We need a fumigator of the morality of those who requisition and the contractors (who, no doubt, give backhanders). The millions spent on cleaning could have been spent on better resourcing school. It’s a disgrace.

  • Well, the competition goes on and on:
    “SANDF lost 40% of dubious COVID-19 medicine because it forgot fridge doors open” (My Broadband)
    The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) spent R229 million on unregistered COVID-19 medicine from Cuba, and then lost 40% of the consignment because they forgot that the cooling rooms’ doors were open……….By the way, it was ‘miraculous Cuban medicine to kill 100% of any corona virus’. Remember the Cuban ‘doctores’ paid (generously?) by the SA Government in a “revolutionary pact”were brought here to
    control the pandemic.

    • Cuba has (or until quite recently had) a sophisticated Biotech industry researching and producing vaccines and other medicines. Worthwhile taking a look at their industry, and who they collaborate with

      • The drug in question is Interferon, whose efficacy and safety in use against Covid has not been proven nor investigated. Naturally, as we (not we as such, but the ANC) are supposed to cooperate with our ‘camaradas in Revolution’, it was just a logical step…..

  • Perhaps lesufi should do the honourable thing – acknowledge that his department is dysfunctional and a cesspool of corruption – then resign. Oh I forget – there is no honour in the anc.

  • Very disappointed with the rampant greed of government officials and the lack of consequence. I would like to see a full list of all the service providers detailing date of registration, directors/owners details and their field of expertise.

  • It is like a broken record…….emergency procurement = large scale corruption. And what will the likely consequences be for the recipients and their enablers within the Supply Chain Management of the GDE? Nothing! Even though this is easily proven – the cash can be traced and those approving the payments easily identified.

  • I find this so frustrating. It reflects a broader pageantry of governance; a governance culture where nimble, efficient and innovative thinking falls by the wayside in favour of grandiose solutions provided by opportunistic private actors. Who benefits? Maybe the corrupt state official, definitely capital thriving off a failing state, but certainly neither the teachers nor the pupils nor the broader public. I can only imagine what R430-million could do in vastly improving public school facilities in Gauteng.

  • The true SA national sport – stealing from the taxpayer and destroying a country with so much promise, enabled and abetted by none other than our disgraceful and corrupt to the core anc government. Vultures, swindlers, hyenas, parasites and a well-oiled criminal syndicate. Would make the Mafia, Camorra etc. blush at the brazenness, impunity and rapacious greed! We need deliverance!!

  • Maybe Lesufi should spend less time orating from his own vindictive soapbox and actually manage his department as he is supposed to be doing. Also maybe a deep-dive into who owns, or is invested in, these fortunate companies who benefitted from this exorbitant expenditure! Get the banks involved or threaten them with collusion if they don’t co-operate!

  • Another terrible example of wastage, fraud and contempt for civil society and taxpayers. There will, once again, be no consequences as this morally bankrupt ANC Govt kicks in with the usual denial, blame game and whatever else crosses their minds. And yet 30,000 people have been charged for Covid-19 transgressions whilst those “connected” in the ANC just carry on stealing and plundering. How is it possible in any democracy anywhere in the World that a party as rotten and clueless as the ANC holds onto power?

    • Sorry Tim, the idea that South Africa is a democracy is delusional. There is no viable opposition so you are living in a one party state or a dictatorship, take your pick. We have a few brave souls crying out and identifying abuse of power every day but it’s extremely difficult to measure any of the offenders up for orange overalls when they can stonewall any legal attempt to confront them.

  • All else notwithstanding, I have a degree of sympathy for the department in respect of the demands made by the teachers’ unions before they’d let their members go back to teaching. Not renowned for their reasonableness, that lot!

  • Tim, I sense your frustration! Unfortunately they hold onto power with no accountability and absolute impunity as we have masses that are gullible, easily led by the nose and swayed at voting time by blankets, tea shirts and food parcels. One could call them stupid beyond comprehension, but I think it is more a case of being politically immature and not appreciating the power of their vote. In addition, voting based on colour lines and diabolical ruling party that exploits division and racism for its own nefarious ends. One can only hope that a party like Action SA with Herman Mashaba can break the mould and in conjunction with the opposition parties, kick out these Godless and evil monsters that this anc has become. I wouldn’t count on the EFF as they are beyond redemption as well.

  • We can now expect another expose of an accusation of racist behaviour, probably from some private pre-school, that Lesufi will use to deflect attention from the ongoing grand corruption and incompetence. C’mon Lesufi, the public’s waiting!

  • To quote a dear departed educator and role model of mine; They use all their intelligence in cunning”.
    If Lesufi and the anc cohorts put as much energy into fulfilling their Civil Service portfolio’s as they do filling their pockets what a wonderful world it would be.

  • I assume we will soon see a comprehensive list of those officials who have been fired for their involvement in this, soon to be followed by prosecutions.

  • And how much of that did the cadres get??? BEEE quote R250,000, job actually done by white guys company R30,000 ring any bells??? Profit connected BEEE guy R220,000 that’s why government has no money.

  • I predict,
    When the vaccine arrives (when ! ) after the obligatory payment to the middle man, the vaccine needs to be transported under controlled cold chain conditions.
    you can only imagine how many tenderpraneurs are now becoming cold chain management specialists.
    Ask anyone in the cold chain industry what sort of enquiries they are receiving.

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