A damning report, kept under wraps for 19 months, shows that Mpumalanga education department officials have been paying millions of rands to service providers in a massive school transport scam.
Six service providers won contracts for the subsidised transport programme in 2002, 132 in 2003 and another 49 in 2004 - but no more routes were added to the 447 already being covered.
Between the 2001 and 2005 financial years the amount the department spent on student transport rose from R8,2million in 2001-02 to R176,9million in 2005-06.
Huge differences were also found between the actual distances of the routes, the number of kilometres claimed and the number of pupils transported.
The law firm Ntuli Noble, which conducted the probe into the irregularities, said the education department also supplied "inaccurate and misleading" information and only 44percent of the records it was required to submit for the audit.
The report said one official received R379450 in payments from a service provider between 2002 and 2004 and a service provider received R17million, even after an investigation was launched in 2004.
The report also said that tenders after May 2004 did not comply with regulations. The department did not follow procedure. It did not issue extension letters to service providers when their contracts ended.
This means that some of them operated without authorisation but were still being paid for their expired contracts.
Raymond Tywakadi, head of the education department, blames the chaos on the people running the programme but Ntuli Noble faulted the department's system.
Meanwhile, Democratic Alliance spokesman Anthony Benadie said: "The public have been grossly undermined by the greed of departmental officials and the department has not acted swiftly to hold these officials to account."
He said he was concerned that the department was ready to re-advertise the tenders despite evidence that it had failed to administer an effective system.