ActionSA Writes to Public Protector Requesting Investigation into NSNP Supplier’s Contract with DoE

Yesterday, ActionSA took a bold step towards finding answers in the tender award of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) – which was awarded to Pacina Retail (Pty) Ltd –, by writing to the Acting Public Protector of South Africa, Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka, requesting an investigation into the matter, to which we received a speedy response, with the reference number: CMS – 1957 Mncwango (DoE).

During the course of April, ActionSA as well as the public at large learned that over 2 million learners in over 5400 schools in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) were forced to starve for weeks on end due to the main supplier of the NSNP’s failure to deliver food to schools across the Province.

On the 19 April 2023, we then wrote to the MEC for the Department of Education (DoE), Mbali Frazer, seeking that she prioritise finding resolution to the mess that was caused by her Department’s senseless diversion from the Nutrition Programme system that had been working for years without hiccups, and introduced one that unfortunately crashed before it took off, leaving millions hungry. While we received an acknowledgement of receipt, however, no further responses from the MEC have been forthcoming.

We then wrote to the Premier requesting an urgent forensic investigation into the tender award, and while she acknowledged our request, we have not received any formal confirmation that the investigation take place, if at all.

Therefore, due to the MEC’s lack of transparency and remaining tight-lipped during the course of this disaster, we have taken the decision to escalate the matter to the Public Protector, which we believe should also investigate the processes followed to appoint the sub-suppliers.

What has been most disturbing is that the public has not yet received confirmation from the DoE on whether Pacina Retail remains the main supplier of the NSNP or not, and if the contractual agreement between the two parties still stands.

To date, the department has not been clear about the status of the company and the processes followed in appointing Pacina Retail– the multi-billion rand tender.

We strongly believe that should the department have nothing to hide in the processes that led up to the appointment of Pacina Retail, they should take the public to confidence and be transparent about the matter.

While we note that food has been delivered to some schools across the Province, it is important to note that a number of schools still remain without food.

While sub-suppliers are forced to work on memos and verbal instructions from the DoE’s Head of Department (HoD), we have found that there is a grey area and a lack of understanding of duties and responsibilities amongst some sub-suppliers as a number of them have been purchasing food from major retailers and supplying schools instead of collecting food from Pacina Retail, who is believed to be the one who should be purchasing food from major retailers, supply it to sub-suppliers, who then should supply to schools.

This will undoubtedly result in major irregular expenditure issues and a legal dilemma, as sub-suppliers are subjected to memos and not contractual agreements, which affects schools as they have continued to remain in the dark on who should supply their food.