The sanitary pad project launched by the Department of Education in KwaZulu-Natal lost more than R4 million because of poor implementation by top officials, a forensic report has found

The pilot project was initially launched in 2016 under then education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwane to provide sanitary towels to indigent girl pupils to reduce the dropout rate and improve academic performance.

“We had found that girl learners would lose many days of schooling because of this,” current Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu said on Thursday when releasing details of the report.

A pilot project amounting to R20 million was launched in 2016 for the neediest schools in Quintile 1 to 4, targeting Grade 4 to 12 girls.

The programme was then expanded in April 2017, with the department approving the purchase of sanitary pads for 953 122 pupils at a cost of R54 899 827,20.

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In August 2017, the department approved and issued a second order for the same number of pupils at the same cost.

In total, the department spent R129 799 654 in 2016 and 2017 to procure the sanitary towels.

Allegations of oversupply emerge

During the implementation of the programme, allegations of oversupply, supply to non-deserving schools and the possible flouting of processes and procedures were raised by unions and other stakeholders.

This led to the commissioning of a forensic investigation conducted by Phumlani Mkhize & Associates (Pty) LTD.

What was discovered?

The investigation found that during the expansion of the programme, the sanitary towels were to be procured for all female pupils in all public schools from Grade 4 to 12. This diminished the purpose of the project because it was meant to be aimed at only indigent girls in selected schools.

It also found that the number of pupils benefitting was determined by statistics obtained from Education Management Information System for the 2016 school year, but was to be used in the 2017 implementation plan.

The statistics in the 2017 plan were found to be incorrect and unreliable. The department also failed to undertake a needs analysis or to evaluate the pilot project performance.

This led to the department procuring an unnecessary amount of sanitary towels. There was no guide for the distribution and implementation of the project. A circular in the department, number 65 of 2017, which sought to address the implementation and distribution issue, was only signed into effect on 27 July 2017 when the distribution had already started on 23 May 2017.

The investigation also found that in one of the department meetings, the issue of surplus stock was identified and a decision was made to deliver it to districts and the head office. However, the number of pupils to benefit remained unchanged and no surplus stock was implemented.

Investigators found that 2 702 065 packs of sanitary pads were not needed.

“The site visits conducted by investigators in each district office confirmed significant surplus stock being stored in various places,” Mshengu said.

He added that districts had no role in the implementation and monitoring of the project.

“In quantifying a loss in relation to sanitary pads distributed, it was established that 388 680 packs were not delivered to the district offices and the head office. A further 64 269 packs were not delivered to schools. These packs are valued at the cost of [R4,3 million].”

Where to from here?

Mshengu said he would implement recommendations that included disciplinary action against the deputy director general for the Institutional Development Support Branch, the chief director for social enrichment programmes and the director for special needs education.

“These officials were identified as responsible for the mismanagement of the project resulting in oversupply and financial loss to the department. The implicated officials have now been suspended pending the outcomes of the disciplinary hearing.”

He added that currently schools communicate their needs to the department, who then procures the pads.

“It is no longer a determination made by head office. Schools can tell us which quintile they are in and how many sanitary towels they require. Based on that we procure.”

He said thus far no officials were criminally charged.

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