A controversial scholar transport contract will go ahead in the Eastern Cape at the start of the third school term this month despite red flags of mismanagement of public funds raised by the transport oversight committee in the province’s legislature.
For the second time this year, the provincial transport department’s contract with One Future Development 46 has been extended, despite the bidding process for a potential new contractor having already started.
The extension, the department argues, is to avoid disrupting the service, which benefits 54 000 of the province’s learners daily.
For ignoring the oversight committee’s clear instructions to cease the contract and for dragging its feet in opening up opportunities for other potential bidders, the Eastern Cape department of transport is our zero for this week.
Although the oversight committee suspects mismanagement of public funds with the One Future Development 46 contract, transport department spokesperson Ncedo Kumbaca told regional newspaper Daily Dispatch this week it would be unfair of the department to appoint a new bidder now and expect them to be ready by the beginning of the new term on 15 July.
The same excuse of non-readiness was used by transport MEC Thandiswa Marawu in January this year when she extended the company’s initial contract for the six months, which would take it to the end of June.
The Dispatch report also suggested that it was the provincial ANC which allegedly instructed MEC Thandiswa Marawu to extend the contract, which will go on for the next three months. The chairperson of the oversight committee, Busisiwe Makaula, said motivation for the extension was so that there would be time to sort out “all the nitty-gritty aspects of the tender process” for a new service provider.
In January this year Marawu announced that the scholar transport programme, which had been somewhat of a logistics headache for her office since it took it over from the education department in 2011, was finally on track.
“For the first time there is actual control over who transports the scholars, the type of vehicles and whether the service was actually rendered,” she said in a press statement issued by her department.
This was a month after the initial term for One Future Development 46 had ended in December. The decision to extend it for another six months to the end of June 2013, Marawu said at the time, was “to avoid unnecessary disruption of the service during this critical period of the re-opening of schools.”
A bidding process was however being finalised for a new contract to kick in at the end of the extension, it was said. This has not happened.
Six months later, when it was expected that a new contract would be announced, the department’s Kumbaca rehashed the same excuse to defend a further extension in favour of One Future Development 46. According to him, the new bidder would be unfairly inconvenienced if it were to be given the contract now because service providers are entitled to at least one month’s window period to get all necessary resources on track.
The transport department took over the programme from its education counterpart in the middle of 2011 and One Future Development 46 has provided the service ever since.
According to the Dispatch report, the department has spent R500-million since 2011 on the programme, while Marawu announced in her January statement that R340-million would be budgeted for the 2013/14 financial year.
At the time of One Future Development 46’s appointment in 2011, the DA in the province called for the provincial office of the Public Protector to investigate an alleged conflict of interest. The allegations were that the chairman of the board of One Future Development 46 was also the CEO of Africa’s Best 350, a privately run bus service operating in the province.
Citing allegations of mismanagement of public funds, the oversight committee recently told transport MEC Thandiswa Marawu to not only stop using the services of One Future Development 46, but to also investigate its finances. One Future Development 46 is also being probed by forensic auditors KPMG at the company’s request, reports Dispatch.