Wednesday, May 12, 2021

DIS preferred contractor – Ministry of Education’s new deal raises eyebrows

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information suggesting that the Ministry of Education and Skills Development is bending over backwards to ensure that aspiring pilots are enrolled with International Aviation Solutions (IAS), a flying school whose director was the preferred supplier of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS).

The institution owned by Thatayaone Seduke was given tenders by the DISS running into tens of millions of Pula under controversial circumstances.

The Ministry has thrown out advice from its own experts that it should not enrol students with IAS and has instead given the institution business estimated at P50 million.

Documents passed to the Sunday Standard has revealed that senior officials at the Ministry of Education and Skills Development have turned a blind eye to advice from Human Resource Development Council and the Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) not to sponsor students for courses offered at International Aviation Solutions (IAS).

Sunday Standard is in possession of a savingram from acting Deputy Permanent Secretary (support service) a certain Mothetho to officials at Department of Tertiary Education and Financing (DTEF) stating that International Aviation Solutions Director Thatayaone Seduke had appealed a decision by the department not to sponsor students for courses offered at his school.

The savingram shows that senior officials at the ministry’s headquarters upheld Seduke’s appeal and directed that he should be allocated students in batches.

Communication between senior officials at the Ministry’s headquarters and DTEF suggests that Seduke had demanded that he be allocated at least 75 students.

Replying to Seduke’s appeal, the savingram states that the students should enrol at the school in three batches (25 students to be enrolled per a year) and the total should be 75 students.

HRDC is reported to have pointed out that the school does not have the capacity to enrol such a considerable number of students. They also argued that the job market for the courses offered at the school was saturated and the program of study is also not a national priority.

It also emerged from documents seen by this publication that junior officials at DTEF were against Seduke’s suggestion that the ministry should make a once-off payment for the students enrolled at his school instead of payment being made per cycle of sponsorship (or semester).

The documents further revealed that International Aviation Solutions has also caught the attention of Botswana Qualification Authority (BQA) and Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) who want the school to address issues relating to training license and accreditation of courses.

The ministry this week was at pains to explain the contents of the savingram or what informed its decision to overlook advice from HRDC and DTEF officials.  “The statement or allegation is not true that the Permanent Secretary overruled and has directed DTEF management to allocate the school 70 Students,” said the ministry’s spokesperson Silas Sehularo.

He said “the process of allocating quotas is not done by the PS nor Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) alone but also with advice from Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) and Department of Training and Development.”

Asked why the ministry did not heed advice from HRDC and DTEF, Sehularo said institutions were allocated students based on “the number of students who have qualified for sponsorship in a particular year; whether the program of study is considered a national priority; the cost of training in that particular program; the capacity of the institute in terms of number of students it can enrol; the completion rate of students in that institution; accreditation of the programmes and the institution as well and not by the Permanent Secretary alone as your enquiry allege.” 

He added that “let’s note that DTEF is a Government department under the ministry whose accounting officer is the Permanent Secretary and deals with department administratively on daily basis. In this case it is normal for the ministry to write to DTEF on any agreed collective decisions by the ministry.”

Officials at HRDC and DTEF had also taken issue with the fact that enrolling students at the school was more expensive for government than enrolling them at schools outside the country. Sehularo, however, said “your alleged “fact” that it is expensive to train locally than outside is not true and in actual fact, the costs compares very well for local and external. For instance our research shows that it costs more to train students at Blue Chip and Pretoria Flying School than locally which is at IAS. Where comparable local institutions are available our policy is to train locally than outside. Be aware that training outside also involves associated packages like fares, insurance, settlement allowances, medical cover which far outweighs local packages.”  Sunday Standard investigations however revealed that one of the most advanced flight schools in South Africa, 43 Air school’s courses are cheaper than at IAS.

Officials also claimed that the government sponsorship for the students is now in excess of P50 million.

When asked to provide official figures Sehularo said “it’s not appropriate to disclose the amount paid to a business entity to a third party, the information can always be sought from the institution.”

 He however said as in the plan the first cohort of students is expected to graduate in December 2015 after 27 months of training. He said the ministry was not worried that students had not yet graduated because it takes 18 – 30 months to train a pilot; therefore it is projected that the first cohort will graduate at the end of 2015. This will amount to 27 months of training.

He added that “it must be noted that it takes 18 ÔÇô 30 months to train a pilot as mentioned above. Training a pilot costs P830 359.00. This amount includes the private pilot licence, commercial pilot licence, equipment, accommodation, medical cover and personal allowances. Currently 52 students were awarded to the local institution in groups of three and the ministry is currently placing 25 for this cycle of sponsorship.” The tuition fee per a student, an official said is enough to sponsor 10 students at a local institution.

On reports that DTEF had refused to make a once-off payment for students enrolled at the school for the whole duration of their courses not on a semester basis because DTEF reasoned that it was risky since some students could fail or drop out of school due to natural causes such as death, Sehularo said the payment method is always arranged between DTEF and the institutions and this may vary from one institution to another.

Sehularo also denied reports that students had petitioned the ministry saying “but they did raise their concerns to the ministry through Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) about the school. The issues are being followed up by both the ministry, BQA, CAAB and IAS and would be resolved soon.”

On reports that students at the school are staying at Seduke’s house in Phakalane and the Ministry of Education is the one footing the bill for the students’ accommodation Sehularo said institutions are responsible for accommodation of their students, particularly for pilots, where they are monitored even after hours.

“The Ministry of Education and Skills Development does not sign any lease agreement with landlords, where the students are accommodated. It is important to note that the ministry releases the agreed amount to the institutes that of which covers accommodation, meals, transport and other living expenses,” he said. Information from HRDC was not readily available.

Seduke had requested that a questionnaire should be sent to the school’s marketing department and had promised to “make a follow up and revert” but had not done so at the time of going to press. Seduke, is also a director at Defence Concepts Pty (Ltd), Power force and Roseta Enterprises which have been given DISS contracts running into hundreds of millions of Pula without going through a public tender.

President Ian Khama’s senior private secretary Brigadier George Tlhalerwa this week rebuffed claims that the President is the patron of the school. “He is the patron for Kalahari Flying Club which houses International Aviation Solutions,” explained Tlhalerwa.  The school is a member of the Kalahari Flying Club.

On praising Khama for being supportive, the school notes on its website that “to the VERY best of our knowledge, no other country in the WORLD has a President who has such great passion for aviation that he personally pins the wings on students that qualify for their respective pilot licenses, in Botswana. This is always a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ moment for all students, as they get to interact with the President Ian Khama during this special annual ceremony that is organized by the Club.”

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