The Committee met for a briefing by the Public Service Commission (PSC) on its investigations around poor maintenance, maladministration, and alleged fraudulent activities in the schools of the Western Cape. The Western Cape Provincial Department (WCED), in attendance, provided comments and responses to the presentations of the PSC. The investigation on poor maintenance in the Western Cape schools was sparked by increasing media reports and upon interviewing school principals, it was found that 20 of 58 were not aware of the Department’s standard operating procedure (SOP) for emergency maintenance. This meant that they had no clear definition of what constituted an emergency maintenance repair before logging a case with the Department. Some of the major factors highlighted by the principals were the delay in response time upon logging a case and the quality of the work that had been done. The Central Education Management System (CEMIS) for logging in required emergency maintenance from schools was said to be responsive and provided feedback to the school principal on the status of the logged emergency. In addition, the Department did try, as to follow up, with the school principal either by email or phone call although this was not always a success.
Members inquired on the reasons behind the misinformed principals and whether the Department was aware of the fact before investigations were initiated. Questions around a clear definition of what an ‘emergency maintenance’ or ‘emergency repair’ was, having noted from the PSC’s report that some school principals had logged ‘a hole in the fence’ or ‘a leaking tap’ on the Department’s system.
The case of alleged corruption/fraud and maladministration at Rhodes High School and Chere Botha School were found to be true. To address these issues, the Department had implemented a few strategies such as the introduction of quarterly meetings between the Department and the forensic services, highlighting potential risks and suggesting preventative measures that could be undertaken. In addition to the quarterly meetings, there were also bi-annual meetings being held between forensic services, directorate internal control and district staff which were responsible for investigating financial mismanagement.
The Chairperson welcomed the Committee, the Public Service Commission (PSC), and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). She said the MEC sent an apology as she was attending another meeting.
Assessment of the Western Cape Education Department’s response to emergency repairs at schools report
Mr Leonardo Goosen, Public Service Commission: Commissioner, presented on the assessment of emergency repairs at schools that the PSC had undertaken. He stated that investigations came after there had been numerous media report about failing infrastructure in the schools of the Western Cape. Upon the investigations, the PSC found that 20 out of 58 school principals in the WCED were not familiar with the standard operating procedures (SOP) for emergency maintenance. Approximately half of the principals interviewed had stated that some of the emergency repairs requested were a result of maintenance not being done in the first place.
He said the PSC had found that 81.8% of the respondents indicated that they had not been contacted within two days of logging an emergency request, despite the SOP for emergency maintenance classifying the response time for two of the highest levels of emergency repairs to be 12 and 72 hours, respectively. The system did not comply with its own standards.
He said 54.1% of the approved emergency maintenance requests had resulted in the contractor starting the repair work within 2 months of approval and that 31% of the principals were completely dissatisfied with the quality of the work. The principals were also dissatisfied with the fact there was no number they could call to get assurance about the maintenance request but had to rely on a digitised system. They had also indicated that they had the capacity to undertake their own emergency repairs with the support of their School Governing Body (SGB).
The PSC recommended that the Department improves on its response time to the logged emergency repairs requests as this was causing a major dissatisfaction. The Department needed to provide means for the principals to get hold of the emergency repairs team, as a supplement to the online logging system. They also had to find a manner in which to accommodate those principals who had indicated that they had the capacity to do the emergency repairs with the help of their SGBs.
[further details on the findings and recommendations on the assessment of emergency repairs can be found on in the presentation attached]
Mr G Bosman (DA) asked to stand in as Acting Chairperson of the meeting as the Chairperson had lost her connection and the Committee unanimously agreed.
He welcomed the first PSC presentation and offered the WCED the chance to respond.
Ms Lesline Mc Glenatendolf, Chief Director: Physical Resources, WCED, welcome the presentation saying it was an accurate representation of the events that had transpired. She said that the Central Education Management System (CEMIS) for logging in required emergency maintenance from schools was responsive and provided feedback to the school principal on the status of the logged emergency. The Department did try as much as possible to follow up with the school principal either by email or phone call, although this was not always the case due to a low number of Departmental officials as opposed to the number of reported cases. The Department was working to improve on this and ensure that it provides better communication between itself and the school principals, but the CEMIS was efficient enough to deal with the emergency maintenance logs.
She said the reported 30% of principals who were not satisfied with the CEMIS were mostly those who expected any problem they logged into the system to be attended to, whether or not the problem constituted an emergency. The Department had a limited budget for making the repairs and could not fix any issue that had been logged into the system. An SOP document was sent to all the principals to be used to determine could be classified as an emergency.
She said the contract for effecting the required repairs was between public works and the contractors, there was no contract between the contractor and the principal of the school, there were no funds being directed from public works to the school or it’s principal. However, the Department was leasing with Treasury to empower those schools that had the capacity to do their own emergency maintenance repairs.
She said the Department was always working towards improving its response time to emergencies, it aimed at getting an official to go inspect the damage to prevent further damage or likely injury to anybody on the premises. She recommended the implementation of feedback between the Department and the PSC for reporting on what needed to be improved in the overall system and for particularly improving the Department’s response time to emergencies.
The Chairperson apologised for losing connection and stated that there had been a power outage on her side.
Mr K Sayed (ANC) asked the Department and PSC on why some school principals were not aware of WCED’s SOPs and what the impact of that on infrastructure could be and inquired on how the Department could be held accountable.
He asked on the prevalence of schools that had not received maintenance within the province and whether the PSC had visited the schools that logged complains about maintenance and if so, what condition were they found to be in. He inquired if then PSC had engaged the WCED with the regards to its system that did not comply with its own standards, and if so, what had been the Department’s response on how it was going to improve on this.
Mr Bosman asked the PSC if there had been any other research done to compare the Western Cape to other provinces and whether the principals indicated that they had a direct line to communicate with the Department on the issues they had logged into the system.
Mr G Brinkhuis (Al Jama-ah) request an update on the fencing that needed to be repaired in Mitchells Plain High School.
The Chairperson asked for some of the reasons the school principals were not aware of the SOPs.
Mr F Christians (ACDP) asked if the Department had not known that principals were not aware of SOPs before PSC investigations. He asked how the Department classified an emergency repair and if there were emergency repairs that needed to take place immediately as a result of a looming danger they could present.
He asked if principals were reporting emergency repairs because they were emergencies or a result of them not taking due diligence to maintain the school in functional order.
He asked if the Department was differentiating between emergency repairs that were due to negligence and those that were posing danger or needing immediate attention.
He inquired on how the Department accounts for delays in response times and the reasons behind the delays, except for those logged in the middle of the night. He asked the nature of cases that qualified for an official to be sent to a school to inspect the logged ‘emergency repair’.
Mr R Allen (DA) asked the WCEDs response with regards to principals stating that they had the capacity to deal with the required repairs themselves.
Responses from PSC
Mr Goosen said the PSC was not sure as to why majority of the school principals were not aware of the Department’s SOPs and stated that there was a need to implement training and induction for the principals on a continuous basis. Principals needed to extend the said induction and training to their management teams as well, so that the knowledge base would not be lost. He said the PSC, from its study alone, was not able to state the prevalence of schools that were not being maintained.
Giving clarity on what was meant by the Department not being able to follow its own standards, he said the Department had set its response time to emergencies as 12 hours, however, there had been cases where it could not provide a response within that time frame. The Department had to work on improving its response time not by necessarily reducing it, but at least by complying to the current one.
Answering on whether the PSC had conducted similar studies in other provinces, he said the PSC preferred to not treat the study as a challenge, where it compares the results of one province with another. It rather preferred to have a benchmark, ‘a measuring rod’, to measure one’s self against and for that reason no studies had been conducted in other provinces.
He asked colleague, Mr Paul Rockman, to elaborate on the question of whether there was a direct link of communication between the principals and the Department apart from the CEMIS.
Mr Rockman, Provincial Director, PSC, said the direct communication system between the principals and the Department was through the CEMIS, which he said was very elaborate, allowing the principals to give details of the damage and upload pictures. The system only fell short on the other side where there was a ‘warm blooded body’ that had to log in the details of the emergency and then hope that the response will eventually come. For that reason, the principals had little faith in the system and that is where it started to collapse. He recommended that the Department should have a number that the principals could call to provide themselves with assurance that indeed there was someone ‘with a name’ that was dealing with the matter on the other side. He added that this kind of follow up was seen as important by the PSC and as a failure on the Department for not having made such available.
With regards to principals not being familiar with the SOPs, he reported that when interviewed, the principals gave different answers when they were asked what an ‘emergency repair’ was. One principal regarded a ‘hole in the school fence’ as an ‘emergency repair’, while another said, ‘a leaking pipe’. According to the Department, emergency repairs were situations regarded as life threatening. As a result, only about 1/3 of the repair requests ever get approved.
Ms Mc Glenatendolf, answering the question on why the principals were not familiar with the SOP, stated that the Department had sent the SOP to all the schools and it had been upon the principals to familiarise themselves with it. She suggested that the SOPs might have not been seen as a top priority document by the principals and said the Department would work towards engaging with the principals in making them more familiar with the document. However, the SOPs had been sent in a circular which was available to all principals.
She said that the CEMIS was able to classify if a logged case was an emergency or not by evaluating whether the school could be able to function without the repair and by assessing the case’s threat to human life. The system then notified the users on the status of the case within 24 hours after which the Department would further explain to the school the reasons why a logged case was not classified as an emergency if that happened to be the status. She added that there was a head office to which the school principals could inquire further on an update for logs and that it had to be noted that the Department worked within a defined budget.
She explained that school fencing did not constitute an emergency according the CEMIS, but the Department had a fencing list to which all logs relating to fencing were appended and those would be attended to in the event where extra funding was made available to the Department. The fencing for the Michelle’s Plain High School fell under this category and therefore had not yet been attended to.
She said that the CEMIS could handle the logs efficiently and did provide detailed responses and that the Department did not have enough human resources to make the logging of emergency repairs human to human type system, but it was available when the need arose.
With regards to schools that were implementing emergency repairs from their own funding, she said the Department was engaging in talks with Treasury to resolve whether funding could be made available for those schools.
The Chairperson welcomed the responses and gave the PSC the opportunity to continue with the remainder of the presentations.
Investigative Report: Complaint Case 9920200731161606 / 1920/02/28/003
Department of Education: Chere Botha School
Mr Goosen, presenting the findings of the PSC on the alleged corruption/fraud and maladministration at Rhodes High School, said that the majority of the allegations that were anonymously reported on 20 February 2020 were found to be substantiated. The allegation that an amount of R26 000 had been paid into the incorrect bank account over a period of five years was substantiated and the PSC was satisfied with the disciplinary action the Department took against the principal, although there had been no evidence of disciplinary action against the Financial Officer of the school, which the PSC recommends.
He said the allegations that disciplinary hearings at the school were being held without the knowledge of the SGB were validated and the principal had not engaged the SGB in the financial decision-making process of the school. However, the process that had been followed by the principal in the appointment of a level one educator to act as deputy principal had been found to be procedurally correct although the PSC concluded that the provisions in WCED 0002/2018, Paragraphs 2.1 (d) had not been intended to be used by schools in the manner that it was utilized by the principal at Chere Botha school.
He said the PSC recommended that the principal at Chere Botha School be re-orientated with regards to her role and function and on the role and function of the SGB as she had to timeously inform the SBG of all financial decisions and the financial control measures which had to be reviewed. This SGB had to be informed in advance when contemplating formal disciplinary hearings and the Department had to clarify the circumstances under which deviations from the terms of the provisions in WCED 002/208, Paragraph 2,1 (d) were valid.
--further details on the findings and recommendations on the investigation can be found on in the presentation attached --
Investigation into allegations of maladministration and misappropriation of funds at Rhodes High School
Mr Goosen, presenting on findings of PSC after its investigation into the allegations of maladministration and misappropriation of funds at Rhodes High School, said the PSC found that the principal’s son had been appointed as an IT Technician for the school despite having no formal qualifications in the related field. When the son vacated the post in 2015, a teacher at the school recommended the appointment of the principal’s friend as an IT Technician and was seconded. The SGB proceeded to unanimously accept the recommendation. During interviews, the SGB found that the principal’s friend had studied IT but never completed his second year of studies, but he was appointed to the position.
He said the school had established the Rhodes High School Trust in 1985 and the school principal, who served on the board of trustees, had received R546 025 in payment from the trust in the period 01/2012 to 12/2016 while the SGB chairperson had not received any payment from the trust account. The District Office had confirmed to the PSC that the trust account did exist and was being administered by the school.
He stated that the minutes of the trust meeting, dated 10 November 2015, indicated that the Section 38A payments that were made available to the school were approved by the trustees. The SGB chairperson’s son had been a learner at Rhodes High and during the year 2015 had received a backdated exemption of R26 368.35 in respect of school years 2012 - 2014 and an exemption of R9 960.00 for the fees in 2015. During 2016 he received exemption to the amount of R10 956.00. The PSC recommended that the backdated exemption of R26 368.35 had to be recovered from the previous chairperson of the SGB.
He said the investigation showed that a bursar of the school had received payments of R10 500 and R7 000 in respect of the 2013 and 2014 financial year directly from the trust account. Upon investigation there was documentation that authorised an annual allowance, however, it indicated that the bursar was authorised to receive R7 000 in respect of 2013 and R9 500 in respect of 2014 and the contract did not allow for receipt of other forms of allowance. The principal’s son had received an amount of R7 500.00 from the trust fund in respect of a raffle on 4 December 2012.
He said a criminal case, numbered 81/09/2020, had been opened at SAPS Mowbray and the case had since been transferred to the Commercial Crimes Unit. The SGB had recovered an amount of R81 730 from the bursar for theft and misappropriation of school funds for the period 2014 to 2017. The recommendations regarding taking further action against the principal had not been implemented because he retired on 31 December 2020.
--further details on the findings and recommendations on the investigation can be found on in the presentation attached --
Response by the WCED
Mr Redewan Larney, speaking on the issues relating to the Chere Botha school, said the Department was grateful for the support it received from the PSC in terms of highlighting corrupt activities at schools. The Department had implemented a few strategies for dealing with the raised issues, the first being the introduction of quarterly meetings between the Department and the Forensic Services for providing updates to both the Department and the districts. The second, for highlighting potential risks and suggesting preventative measures that can be undertaken to avoid those risks.
In addition to the quarterly meetings, there were also bi-annual meetings being held between Forensic Services, Directorate Internal Control and district staff which were responsible for investigating financial mismanagement. The Department had informed the Forensic Services that its district officials were not forensic investigators and hence sometimes it was not easy for them to be able to detect financial mismanagement.
He mentioned that the Directorate Internal Control was looking into the cases of financial mismanagement that had been detected and the Department had vacant posts for handling financial mismanagement which were prioritised so that there could be available resourced staff to attend to schools and figure out what was going on in terms of financial misappropriation.
There had been a new SGB cohort among the schools which was elected in April 2021 and the Department had been actively providing training to them on financial management and how to detect fraud and corruption within their schools. The management team of Chere Botha had attended that training in May 2021 and an upcoming training session was scheduled for 9 September 2021. The training was designed to enable SGBs to be able to figure out what was “fraud, corruption and theft”. The Department was also to implement continuous monitoring of the schools’ financial record officers and the circuit manager; however, it was noted to be of importance that there were annual financial statement reviews of the schools.
With specific reference to Chere Botha School, the circuit manager developed a management plan to address all the recommendations that were made by the PSC. The management plan was on track although there had been delays associated with the election of the new SGB and the fact that schools had to close early as a result of the pandemic. The Department hoped to implement all the key recommendations made by the PSC before the end of the year.
He said that the Directorate Employee Relations of the Department could not institute any disciplinary hearing for the implicated finance officer of Chere Botha School, as she was found to be a member of the SGB. The circuit manager was actively guiding the newly elected SGB in terms of what actions it could take against her.
In terms of Rhodes High School, he said a number of actions were taken by the central district and that he did not agree on some of the findings of the PSC. The trust account was closed and no longer active, as opposed to the PSC reporting that it was still active. The district reviewed the school’s recruitment policy, the school fees exemption policy, and the process of 38A applications. The SGB had also recovered an amount of R81 730, which the investigation uncovered as a result of mismanagement of funds. They also had stated that the case of mismanaged funds was reported to SAPS and a case number, as indicated by the PSC, had been opened.
The Chairperson allowed for a round of questions and comments to either the PSC or the Department, reminding the Members to keep within the scope of the presentation.
Mr Christians said that the WCED had taken appropriate action in terms of dealing with the financial misappropriation case and said he was aware that it was all work in progress. He asked if the Department had internal capabilities to detect the similar cases in the future, without having to get the information from whistle-blowers. He asked whether the Department’s internal audit systems was able to detect irregularities and maladministration before a whistle blower called in or an investigation was carried out.
The Chairperson, adding to Mr Christians’ question, asked if the Department was satisfied with the measures that it had put in place for picking up potential similar cases, if they arose in the future.
Mr Sayed said what the Committee had heard was really starling and that he did not think the measures the Department put in place for dealing with future cases were enough. He asked the PSC as to how the Committee Members could forward future allegations to the PSC.
He asked on the PSCs view around the implicated principal being allowed to retire whilst still being under investigation and if they were considering opening criminal charges against him.
The Chairperson asked the PSC as to whether the misappropriation of funds had any impact on learners and if so, what these were.
Mr Goosen, responding on part of the PSC, stated that the Department had been corporative during the investigations but expressly said it had failed in its responsibilities to pick up the issues and resolve them early.
Answering on how the Members could report future cases to the PSC, he said the PSC would share details on how people in general can get hold of the PSC to report fraudulent activities; the details would include phone numbers and email addresses.
With regards to the PSC’s view on the implicated principal being allowed to retire whilst still under investigation, he said the PSC had looked into that and found out that the principal had reached his retirement age, and therefore despite the investigations, his retirement was indeed permissible.
He commented that the PSC, during its investigations, had managed to get a confession from the bursar to being involved in the said fraudulent activities and stealing monies and that by itself suggested that there was probably more to the case than what the investigation had dealt with, However, the PSC did not have sufficient information to enable it to open a criminal case. Forensic investigations still needed to be undertaken so that more information could be acquired to successfully lay criminal charges.
Answering the question on the impact of the corruption activities on learners, he said the PSC was not sure as to how learners could have been directly impacted. He suggested that a staff member could have been impacted, leading to the school being a teacher short and hence impacting the learners indirectly. He added that there was no sufficient framework in place to guard public monies, and this was needed.
Mr Larney, responding for the WCED, stated that the impact of the mismanagement of funds was huge on the learners and that it could affect the school fees and resources of the learners, such as textbooks, could run short. This would hinder the learning process and therefore the possible impact on learners was huge.
He said that despite the Department’s zero tolerance on corruption policy, the Department did not have internal measures and capabilities to detect corrupt and fraudulent activities. They had started a training program aimed at teaching SGBs about basic financial management and methods that could be used to detect fraudulent activities when they took place within the schools. They had also put together a chairpersons’ forum that was aimed at strengthening the chairperson’s role within the schools’ governing bodies.
The Chairperson asked Members for follow up question.
Mr Sayed asked whether the Department was aware that Rhodes High School had drastically increased its school fees following the case of corruption that took place, and what was the response to that.
He asked the PSC as to what it was doing differently in its operations, the differences between how it dealt with the present corruption matter as opposed to how it was handled in 2018.
Mr Goosen responded that at first the said allegations were directed only towards the conduct of the principal, however, the recent investigations extended the matter to the bursar and managed to get a confession to committing fraud. The recent investigations also managed to link the son of the principal to the fraudulent activities that were taking place at the school.
He explained that the PSC’s approach was to acquire all the necessary documentation prior to approaching the suspect. They did not approach the suspect with the aim of disproving the alleged claims, and this is what was being done in the past by some officials of the Department.
Mr Alan Meyer, Chief Director, Districts (HDD), WCED, welcomed the comments from Mr Goosen and stated that the Department needed to have a briefing session with the PSC as they needed access to the PSC investigators so as to learn from their approaches and hence improve on methods and standards.
Mr Larney responded that the Department was not aware of any drastic fee increase. However, there had been a general increase of 6% in fees for all school but said the figures would need to be verified. He mentioned that the year 2020 had been a year in which most schools were struggling and that had led to the 6% increase.
The Chairperson thanked PSC and WCED for making time to engage with the Committee and asked if they had any closing remarks as the meeting had come to an end.
Mr Meyer thanked the Chairperson and the Committee. He said the Department would like to extend an invitation to PSC to support it with cases that may arise in the future, and they would effect all the recommendations that had been extended.
Mr Goosen said that the PSC’s relationship with the Department had grown and were looking forward to working with it in the future in the fight to effect zero tolerance on corruption. He promised the Committee that all the necessary contact details for reporting fraud and corruption would be forwarded to the Committee Secretary.
The meeting was adjourned.
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