The Democratic Alliance (DA) today calls on KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Arts and Culture MEC, Hlengiwe Mavimbela, to explain why 96 libraries within the eThekwini Metro – with a total membership of 299 145 people – have not received a single new book since 2017.
The shock discovery comes amid claims by book suppliers of flawed tender processes and mismanagement of funds, from as far back as 2011, when more than a hundred booksellers were given the boot by the municipality. This while three suppliers were handed two consecutive three-year contracts.
The DA is deeply concerned by this revelation. The side-lining of so many booksellers, while a select few are cherry-picked for major tenders raises very serious concerns. In failing to provide equal and fair opportunities to a wide variety of suppliers and materials, the Department has also created an environment open for collusion while also failing to support small businesses operating in this sector.
Of equal concern is the fact that the Department’s audited budget expenditure shows that funds were allocated and used for library books, yet on the ground there is no evidence of this with book suppliers coming forward to share their accounts of what is going on. This after all historical and emerging book suppliers, from 2011 until now, were excluded from doing business with the municipality.
While a tender was advertised back in January 2018 for library books, it was only awarded a year later. Those who applied were then given four extension letters, which eventually resulted in the tender being cancelled due to irregularities. Since then no new tender has been advertised with the result that the municipality has not purchased new books since 2017.
The DA is shocked by these discoveries. It is appalling that such an important resource to communities has borne the brunt of poor leadership within the eThekwini municipality. This while the ANC-led government promotes reading, with its ‘Read to Lead’ campaign aimed at improving literacy by up to 75%.
The question is – what are people expected to do if they cannot access new books? And how are our children expected to improve their reading skills? Are those who are misusing funds intended for books for children, not ashamed of what they are doing?
The DA regards this matter as a complete violation of human rights. Not only is it denying our children the right to education, it is also denying individuals the right to access up-to-date information via books.
We expect MEC Mavimbela to account for this debacle and explain where the funding allocated for books has gone. It cannot simply disappear into thin air. She has a lot of explaining to do – perhaps if she stopped posing for photographs and took her job seriously, this Department would be better managed.