There is a growing concern that students funded by NSFAS at tertiary public institutions will to wait for yet another two months before they receive their laptops.
This follows higher education, science and innovation minister, Dr. Blade Nzimande’s announcement that the process of procuring the digital devices will have to start again.
The procurement of laptops is part of the broader COVID-19 intervention package by government to facilitate multi-modal remote learning and teaching methodologies for students to learn during the duration of the lockdown.
But critics blame the delay on NSFAS which was tasked to procure the devices. They accuse the scheme of allowing some elements to interfere and thwart the finalisation of the procurement process.
Philly Mapulane, chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology came out guns blazing about the hold-up. He threatened to haul the students finance body’s chief executive officer, Dr. Randall Carolissen, to parliament.
Mapulane said: “Of great concern are the allegations brought to the committee that there is interference with the procurement processes. Attempts are being made to manipulate the procurement process, and to finally get it aborted because certain service providers are not recommended following supply chain management processes of NSFAS.”
“We would like to appeal to Dr. Carolissen not to allow any undue interference with the supply chain management processes of NSFAS, and to speedily conclude this process of the procurement of the laptops,” said Mapulane. He said the laptops are critical in assisting students from poor and working class families to able to study and be taught remotely.
But in his recent media briefing, Nzimande shrugged off the accusations saying the scheme’s administrator has given him a report that none of the bidding companies met all the mandatory requirements of the bid document. He said the process will have to start again and the results will be disclosed for public scrutiny. Nzimande added that the department has decided not to go the route of “an emergency tender process” as this would require deviation from the usual competitive procurement process.
“This is, of course, unfortunate and regrettable only in the sense that the procurement of learning devices will not take place now. However, we are also quite clear that the rules of good governance and due process must be followed,” said Nzimande. He further said he has instructed all the higher education institutions to publish lists of companies which benefitted from procurement related to the coronavirus.
He said these measures were necessary given the recent widespread allegations of corruption related to COVID-19 where over 600 companies are being investigated for being awarded contracts valued at over R5 billion.
Nzimande’s vehement denial follows a letter written by the UDM leader Bantu Holomisa to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling him to suspend Nzimande for his alleged interference in the procurement of the digital devices.
Responding directly to Holomisa’s allegations, the minister did not mince his words. He said he is in charge of the department and that any suggestion of interference has no basis.
“All that I am saying is he is speaking utter crap. There is absolutely nothing wrong I have done with my department. I am not interfering in my department. He has got business interests, we know that. He must not only go declare them in that form in Parliament, he must come out publicly to say that I am raising corruption, but on my side here are my business interests so that we know that all these issues he is raising are because he is having other interests other than public [interest]”.
Nzimande also addressed complaints that the digital devices initiative excludes students at the TVET colleges. But the minister said the NSFAS funding policy did not make provision for students assisted by the scheme in TVET colleges to receive a learning material allowance.
But, said Nzimande: “I signed a once-off policy deviation which will allow TVET college students to receive digital learning devices for the 2020 academic year.”
However, he said the policy deviation will apply only for the 2020 academic year and that only students in trimester one and semester one who will be enrolling for trimester two and semester two qualify.