Graft allegations delay NSFAS laptops tender

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Minister of higher education, science and innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.
Minister of higher education, science and innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.

Graft allegations have emerged as the reason for the prolonged delay in the procurement of laptops for deserving National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students.

Portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology chairperson, Philly Mapulane, yesterday bemoaned the hold-up, saying parliamentarians have been alerted to attempts to influence the supply chain process.

“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,” said Mapulane.

The revelation comes on the back of a strongly worded letter by president Cyril Ramaphosa to the general membership of the ruling ANC on Sunday vowing to tackle COVID-19 procurement corruption.

COVID-19 procurement corruption has been engulfing the country in recent weeks, which has seen the Special Investigating Unit probing over 600 companies and contracts valued at over R5 billion.

The laptops tender is part of COVID-19 relief efforts by the government to assist students during the lockdown period.

It has now been three months since higher education, science and innovation minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, announced that government will procure the laptops for all NSFAS qualifying students in universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

The procurement of the laptops was then put to tender due to the substantial amount involved.

In June, ITWeb reported about Nzimande appealing for patience from parents, staff and students regarding the distribution of the laptops.

However, months after the announcement, students are yet to receive the laptops, and yesterday, attempts to “manipulate the procurement process” were cited as the reason for the hold-up.

In a statement, Mapulane chastised NSFAS for the delays, saying the procurement of laptops for NSFAS students is part of government's strategy to facilitate multi-modal remote learning and teaching methodologies in order to save the 2020 academic year.

He said: “Students have since been eagerly awaiting the delivery of these laptops, which to date remain undelivered as a result of unnecessary delays in the finalisation of the procurement processes by NSFAS.”

Mapulane said the committee takes these allegations seriously and will be following them up with NSFAS administrator Dr Randall Carolissen.

"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 so that students from poor and working class families are able to study and be taught remotely. The country cannot afford another COVID-19 procurement scandal."

Since the beginning of the COVID-19-induced national lockdown, many initiatives have been put in place to help university and TVET college students to continue learning.

Most institutions of higher learning in SA, including Wits, University of Johannesburg, University of Western Cape, University of South Africa (UNISA) and Stellenbosch offered their students up to 30GB of data to use for online learning.

SA’s largest university, UNISA, spent almost R60 million on data for its 380 000 students.

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