PRESSURE on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga mounted at the weekend over late delivery of textbooks in Limpopo, with allegations that her department had been aware of irregularities in textbook tenders since early last year.

Some pupils in the province had waited seven months for educational resources, with criticism over the effect on pupils culminating in court action which saw the department ordered to deliver textbooks by June 15.

Department spokesman Panyaza Lesufi denied yesterday that Ms Motshekga had in any way deceived the public, or that the department had failed to act properly in the matter.

The education department in Limpopo was one of five placed under national administration in December over the prospect of a R2bn shortfall.

Newspaper reports cited a letter yesterday from Solly Tshitangano, former acting chief financial officer in the Limpopo education department, who had approached the department in June last year with detailed evidence of alleged irregularities in the province's contracts with publishers.

Ms Motshekga said last week she was unfamiliar with Mr Tshitangano, despite newspapers yesterday citing an official response - dated July last year - stating that the department was tackling the issue.

Ms Motshekga was criticised further last month for saying that part of the delay was caused by former Limpopo administrator, Anis Karodia, whom she said had been dismissed, underestimating the magnitude of the problem.

Mr Karodia denied that he had been dismissed, saying Ms Motshekga "must apologise to me and speak the truth to the public".

Mr Karodia had declined to join the departmental intervention in the Eastern Cape, and had instead gone into retirement.

However, Mr Lesufi said yesterday that Ms Motshekga did not "memorise all the people that sent her letters", and acted within a legal framework.

Letters of that kind were passed on to law enforcement agencies, he said, and the department did not have the power to cancel provincial contracts.

Once placed under administration, these contracts had been set aside, and in the process had saved the province R1bn, he said.

Problems in the contracts included inefficient selection of textbook types that saw multiple textbooks ordered when a single, cheaper textbook could be substituted, as well as use of outdated statistics to determine pupil numbers, he said.

Claims that Ms Motshekga had lied over Mr Karodia's dismissal were "clutching at straws" and observers should consider whether he was still the administrator of Limpopo, he said.

Mr Lesufi said the continued "hammering" of the department was "unfair", as the department was "the only ones to put up our hand" and take responsibility for department's "small" portion of the blame.

There were however individuals who were most responsible for the situation and "history will judge them", he said.

Democratic Alliance basic education spokeswoman Annette Lovemore said yesterday regardless of issues of legal authority to terminate provincial contracts, the national department's role as an oversight body entailed that "the buck stops" with the minister, Ms Motshekga.

The department had as yet provided "no good reasons" why the matter had not been dealt with earlier, she said.

With Sapa

gernetzkyk@bdfm.co.za