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DAMNING FINDINGS IN ECESWA PROBE

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MBABANE – Leaked scripts and government almost losing over E18 million in overcharges are some of the findings contained in the report of the select committee which probed irregularities at the Eswatini Examinations Council (ECESWA) between 2013 and 2017.


The probe was meant to investigate alleged gross irregularities relating to maladministration, production of results and other corruption practices.
This was after Motshane Member of Parliament (MP) Robert Magongo moved a motion, back in September 2019, that the House appoints a seven-member select committee to investigate the alleged gross irregularities relating to maladministration, production of results and other corruption practices engulfing ECESWA. The committee was chaired by Khubuta MP Musa Mabuza.


ECESWA initially had accreditation relationship with Cambridge, whose headquarters are in the United Kingdom.
However, the accreditation and printing relationship was affected after Cambridge raised the issue of falling standards in question paper development and printing.


Printing


It is then that ECESWA moved printing of the Swaziland General Certificate of Secondary Education (SGCSE) examination papers to Stephen Austin and Sons (SAS), a security printing company based in the UK as well. In its findings, the committee unearthed that ECESWA Registrar Dr Edmund Mazibuko was allegedly invited by a supplier, SAS, to attend a meeting of chief executive officers of mainly awarding bodies of Sub-Saharan Africa and in 2013, the printing company replaced Cambridge for the printing services at ECESWA.


This, they uncovered after submissions that were made by Director of Research Clement Dlamini, who is currently on suspension and the matter currently in court, who appeared before the committee.
In his submissions, he alleged that an analysis of invoices for 2013 up to the second quarter of  2015 showed that there were attempts to make double payments to SAS, which indicated that printing with SAS was more expensive than with Cambridge. The veracity of these allegations is yet to be proved as the report is yet to be debated in Parliament.
He said for example, invoices totalling E5 million were far more by 61.6 per cent than the E3 million which had been charged by Cambridge for the same job in 2012 and the E4.3 million worth of invoices in 2014 was more than the 2012 Cambridge printing charge by 39.1 per cent.


“Further analysis showed that the accounts department made an overpayment of E3.1 million for an invoice that was not part of the charges in the contract. When the accountant was asked how they made such a blunder, she said they had not been provided with the contract. SAS had sent two types of invoices,” submitted Dlamini.


Another anomaly that was picked by the committee on the contract between SAS and ECESWA was that a similar contract the company had with Lesotho showed that ECESWA was charged E4.4 million for a job of  3 682 540 pages while Lesotho was charged E2 million for that of 10 103 340 pages and this translated to ECESWA paying five times what the Exams Council of Lesotho was to pay for the same service.
The report unearthed that the then Chairman of the council, Sibongile Mtshali, was informed about the irregularities in the transactions involving SAS around July and August 2015 and the matter was reported to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2015.  An analysis of the transactions between 2013 and 2017 showed that the double payments would have cost ECESWA a minimum of about E14 million of looted funds had they not picked and reported the anomalies to Mtshali in 2015.


Contract


However, in light of these, the new Chairman of the council, Anderson Nxumalo, was informed about the irregularities and in the SAS contract and despite being warned, it was revealed that he allegedly led a two-man delegation in 2018 that included Mazibuko and Director Examination Administration Mprofethi Sihlabela, to extend the contract for five years.
Dlamini also submitted that in 2018, the Finance Committee was afforded the opportunity of reviewing a contract proposal that was to be extended with SAS again.


“The Finance Committee tried in vain to get SAS to explain how they arrived at the charges to ECESWA from 2013 to 2017, more especially the double freight charges of 2017. This engagement began in March until July when it was discovered that Sihlabela had already engaged SAS by sending papers for printing. It was evident then that the Finance Committee was expected to rubberstamp the agreement and thereby, perpetuate corruption in the organisation,” submitted Dlamini.
Despite being given further information on this matter, it was revealed that the council proceeded to sign a three-year contract with SAS.

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