ANC link to book firm

2012-07-15 10:00
Thanduxolo Jika and Jeanne van der Merwe
Party chief whip signed a ‘blank cheque’ EduSolutions contract

The company at the heart of the countrywide textbook tender controversy also scored a “blank cheque” contract to do business with the ANC in Parliament.

The man who signed off on the deal was former ANC chief whip Mbulelo Goniwe, who lost his job and was suspended from the ANC after being found guilty on sex-pest charges in 2007.

This is the first time EduSolutions has been directly linked to the ANC’s business dealings.

Company founder and CEO Shaun Battlemann is associated with President Jacob Zuma as a “champion” of his education trust.

City Press can further reveal that Professor John Volmink, a former top adviser to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, was a director of EduSolutions when it started doing business in 2003.

Volmink, the former CEO of the national education evaluation and development unit until last year, which assesses the state of public schools for Motshekga’s department, said he left EduSolutions soon after joining the company.

The deal involving Goniwe took place at a time when, witnesses say, the then ANC chief whip was a regular visitor to company offices in Johannesburg and Durban.

He was often seen in the company of Battlemann, who would entertain him, two witnesses said.

EduSolutions’ lawyer Ian Small-Smith said Battlemann has “a wide spectrum of friends and some of them include struggle icons like Mr Mbulelo Goniwe and Mr John Volmink”.

He said EduSolutions had not dealt with Volmink in his position in government.

EduSolutions hit the headlines following whistleblower revelations claiming serious irregularities in its R320-million contract with Limpopo.

The textbook supply contract was cut in April and the province’s education administrator later claimed he had been pressurised by Motshekga to continue using the company.

EduSolutions has similar deals in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Goniwe confirmed that EduSolutions “procured and sourced office material and stationery to the constituency office of the ANC”.

He referred further questions to the ANC. ANC MPs familiar with the issue also confirmed the deal, although Luthuli House did not respond to questions.

EduSolutions did not respond to questions about the value and detail of the deal in Parliament.

Goniwe, speaking through his lawyer, said that the deal had been “recommended to him” after a “collective decision”.

He could not recall its value.

“The party had “called for quotes from various parties. A process of consultation followed and a collective decision was taken. EduSolutions were considered the best option.”

Goniwe also confirmed a relationship with Battlemann: “After many dealings with him, he showed an interest in social development and he consequently became involved with the Matthew Goniwe Trust.”

His visits to Battlemann and company offices had been “interactions regarding fundraising for the Matthew Goniwe Trust and social engagements”.

The first hints of the ANC’s EduSolutions deal emerged in 2008 after auditors uncovered fraud and misappropriation of funds in the ANC’s caucus operation in Parliament.

By then Goniwe’s ANC membership had been suspended for three years after he’d been found guilty of sexual harassment in 2007.

Although he had his membership reinstated on appeal and obtained a judgment against the ANC for loss of income, he never again held public office for the ANC.

While still chief whip, Goniwe signed off on the EduSolutions deal for the ANC in Parliament.

The mismanagement of funds saw a number of ANC parliamentary caucus officials suspended and subsequently fired for fraud amounting to R5 million.

A former manager in the ANC parliamentary office at the time said the EduSolutions contract was effectively a “blank cheque” which had come with exorbitant management fees.

“The contract was signed off by one person and there was no actual value attached to the contract even though the company was going to do the whole procurement for that office. The management fees were just too exorbitant.

“Every procurement was going to be done by them (EduSolutions). They would also take 20% on everything they supplied. The same company was going to procure and also pay service providers at the same time,” said the former manager.

It is unclear how much money was actually paid to EduSolutions.

Volmink confirmed he had been a director in Ptytrade 73, the registered name of EduSolutions, but said he left before it started operating as EduSolutions.

Salama Hendricks, a former senior education official, was also a ­director of EduSolutions after leaving government and has been identified as key to its early success.

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