‘Sound the alarm’ report – Corruption Watch on education

Corruption Watch is raising the alarm about corruption in South Africa’s education sector, bringing together statistics collated from over 3,600 reports to the NGO over the last decade. Senior researcher Melusi Ncala – who wrote the report – spoke to Michael Appel about the overall picture that emerges from their work. The most pervasive forms of corruption are broken down into misappropriation of resources (43%), maladministration (17.1%), abuse of authority (14.2%), procurement irregularities (12.3%), and employment irregularities (12.1%). Gauteng is the country’s education corruption hotspot, followed by KZN and the Eastern Cape. Ncala says authorities – including law enforcement – continue to pay lip service to the issue of graft in this country.

Melusi Ncala on the 3600 plus reports collated through whistleblower accounts 

Yes, that is indeed correct. This is a sample of whistleblower accounts that we received during that period, and it primarily focuses on certain areas within the education sector. And by that we mean schools, in other words, that directly relate to the Department of Basic Education. And then, of course, they are tvet colleges or technical vocational education and training colleges, as well as CETAs, which are skills, education and training authority entities.

These are all whistleblower accounts. Some of them were investigated over the years, particularly in relation to schools. In 2015, we published a report titled Loss of Principal in which we spoke about several investigations that were conducted. The authorities at that time said they would definitely follow up on those issues and tried to hold those who are implicated accountable.  

On whether corruption in education is more pervasive in certain provinces 

Yes, although we are kind of reluctant to speak of corruption being more pervasive, because we encourage members of the public to come forward to us and report incidents of corruption. That does not mean that a particular region or this particular province is the most corrupt. But that said, Gauteng often finds itself topping the list of the most corruption reports that we receive,  followed by KwaZulu-Natal and in some instances, Eastern Cape. When you think about the category of schools, for example, that’s where there would be your top three. 

On corruption in feeding schemes

It’s very concerning. And the irony of this whole situation, now that you highlighted the NSNP which is the National Schools Nutrition programme, is that on the one hand, officials will often lament the fact that there are not enough resources. Yet these resources are abused or misused or stolen. So, when you have principals, teachers, administrators, sometimes even school governing body members stealing food that is meant to feed children who fall under quintile one and two and three schools, it’s very, very concerning. The context of the feeding scheme system in South Africa was an initiative that the early president, late President Nelson Mandela, actually started because of the extreme inequality and poverty found in the country where some kids would go to school without having any food whatsoever. Now we’ve got people exploiting the system for their own use.  

On sextortion being another area of corruption 

Sextortion is an area of corruption that is still being academically developed. It’s extensively talked about, especially by Transparency International, of whom we are a member. What happens is that you have people in authority, in powerful positions, soliciting sexual favours from students so they can get higher marks. In other ways, how it manifests itself is when people are applying for jobs or seeking promotions at their place of employment.  

On the difference between misappropriation of resources and maladministration 

Misappropriation of resources is a category of corruption in which we primarily look at issues of theft, funds, misuse of resources and abuse of those resources. So, vehicles or perhaps teachers will steal stationery and books for their own use. It can be as small as that, supposedly if that’s how we want to look at corruption issues and as big as millions of cash being stolen by SGP members and principals. In terms of maladministration, we’re looking at issues of mismanagement of funds as well as wasteful and fruitless expenditure.  

On stipends being short-changed or not given at all

These are usually companies that are contracted to the government left to administer these programmes. So, they’re supposed to give people learnerships or at least internships so that they can get work experience. What then happens is that when people enroll for these programmes, they are supposed to receive a stipend because for those who understand the education context in South Africa, often the poorest of the poor use education as a key to get other opportunities. Now, in these particular settings, it’s either these companies do not give people what they’re supposed to be getting or they don’t receive them at all. And when they do complain, they get kicked out of the programme.  

On TVET colleges hiring people with criminal records

I thought it was important to highlight that because I was reading through some of these cases and it really stood out for me. In one particular case, what happened is that this particular administrator allegedly had a criminal record and they went on to employ their own friends as well. It is also assumed that the friend also had some kind of record as well, or they weren’t fit for purpose in terms of what was required at the college. We also have to bear in mind that some of these TVET college allegations of corruption involve municipal officials because they are often placed under administration or under the direct control of municipalities, particularly the big metros and the city of Ekurhuleni. That’s where that particular incident is said to have occurred. So, it’s very depressing, especially when you consider that procurement irregularities are a norm in that space, where people will pay kickbacks to be service providers, or at least officials will solicit those kickbacks, those bribes from them. 

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