Appropriation Bill: hearings with Department of Basic Education

Standing Committee on Appropriations

19 April 2011
Chairperson: Mr E Sogoni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson prefaced the presentation on its strategic plans and budget for 2011 by the Department of Basic Education by emphasising that the Committee wished to check this Department’s state of readiness to spend the school grants and infrastructure grants, to get an indication of the spending in the previous financial year and to assess whether the Department would be able to spend any increases to the allocations. The Committee wanted to know if underspending was due to lack of capacity or lack of planning.

The Department of Basic Education then outlined the strategic objectives of the Department, gave a review of the budget fro 2011 to 2014 and noted that in this financial year the Department would be continuing with three existing conditional grants, for the National Schools Nutrition Programme, HIV and AIDS life skills programme and Technical Secondary Schools Recapitalisation Programme, but that three new grants would also apply, being the Dinaledi Schools Grant, Education Infrastructure Grant, and the Schools Infrastructure Backlog Grant. The Department achieved some savings in the previous year, in respect of the in-house development and publishing of workbooks, and evaluation testing that, although budgeted for, had not happened. 90% of the budget had been spent in the last financial year. It was explained that most of the spending took place in the last quarter, due to the nature of the payments, which were largely for bursaries and similar payments. The budget of R10.9 billion in this year was set to double by 2013/14. The Eastern Cape had received the bulk of the accelerated infrastructure grants, and conditions had been set that would ensure that payouts only were given for infrastructure work.

Members wanted to know who was responsible for delivering school infrastructure, and asked if the Department had the capacity to implement the replacement of the 395 mud schools in the backlog grant, and pointed out that these would pose a challenge to the provinces. They were concerned how Heads of Department would be held responsible for funding allocated to them, and where accountability lay, and also enquired what kind of monitoring was in place. Members pointed out that there did not always seem to be sufficient control and that although the funding was adequate, the spending was not always optimal. Members enquired about the ratio of personnel to non-personnel spending, and how the Department could speed up project implementation. Members also asked about the workbooks, whether the budget would allow sustaining of quality, the plans to ensure school readiness, and why teacher training seemed to be leading to absence of teachers from classrooms. They also asked about the Kha Ri Gude programme, sports programmes in schools, and the responsibility for scholar transport. Members also asked about the relationship with provincial heads, and who appointed the Superintendent General. They noted that one of the biggest frustrations was the overload of teachers with administrative work. 

Meeting report

The Chairperson prefaced the presentation on its strategic plans and budget for 2011 by the Department of Basic Education (the Department) by emphasising that the Committee wished to check this Department’s state of readiness to spend the school grants and infrastructure grants, to get an indication of the spending in the previous financial year and to assess whether the Department would be able to spend any increases to the allocations. The Committee wanted to know if underspending was due to lack of capacity or lack of planning.

The Department of Basic Education then outlined the strategic objectives of the Department, gave a review of the budget fro 2011 to 2014 and noted that in this financial year the Department would be continuing with three existing conditional grants, for the National Schools Nutrition Programme, HIV and AIDS life skills programme and Technical Secondary Schools Recapitalisation Programme, but that three new grants would also apply, being the Dinaledi Schools Grant, Education Infrastructure Grant, and the Schools Infrastructure Backlog Grant. The Department achieved some savings in the previous year, in respect of the in-house development and publishing of workbooks, and evaluation testing that, although budgeted for, had not happened. 90% of the budget had been spent in the last financial year. It was explained that most of the spending took place in the last quarter, due to the nature of the payments, which were largely for bursaries and similar payments. The budget of R10.9 billion in this year was set to double by 2013/14. The Eastern Cape had received the bulk of the accelerated infrastructure grants, and conditions had been set that would ensure that payouts only were given for infrastructure work.

Members wanted to know who was responsible for delivering school infrastructure, and asked if the Department had the capacity to implement the replacement of the 395 mud schools in the backlog grant, and pointed out that these would pose a challenge to the provinces. They were concerned how Heads of Department would be held responsible for funding allocated to them, and where accountability lay, and also enquired what kind of monitoring was in place. Members pointed out that there did not always seem to be sufficient control and that although the funding was adequate, the spending was not always optimal. Members enquired about the ratio of personnel to non-personnel spending, and how the Department could speed up project implementation. Members also asked about the workbooks, whether the budget would allow sustaining of quality, the plans to ensure school readiness, and why teacher training seemed to be leading to absence of teachers from classrooms. They also asked about the Kha Ri Gude programme, sports programmes in schools, and the responsibility for scholar transport. Members also asked about the relationship with provincial heads, and who appointed the Superintendent General. They noted that one of the biggest frustrations was the overload of teachers with administrative work. 

Minutes
Chairperson’s opening remarks

The Chairperson announced that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) had been invited to give a presentation to the Committee on its strategic plan and budget for 2011, so that the Committee could check the state of readiness of the Department to spend the school grants, especially the infrastructure grants. The Committee also wanted to know if these grants had been spent for the previous financial year, as it wished to know what the likelihood was that this money could be spent if the resources to the Department were to be increased, otherwise they would not be able to be given. The Department needed to discover whether any non-spending resulted from lack of adequate planning. He noted that, during an oversight visit to the Eastern Cape by the Committee in the previous year, Members had picked up on lack of sanitation and electricity when visiting two districts. Officials claimed that their recommendations had foundered in a sea of higher priorities, and the bottom line was there was no service delivery to those who needed it

Department of Basic Education: Strategic Plan and budget 2011 briefing
Ms Ntsetsa Molalekoa, Acting Chief Financial Officer, Department of Basic Education, said that her presentation would cover the strategic objectives of the Department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department), a review of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) budget, and that she would also outline the conditional grants. She said that sector plans had informed the Department’s strategic plan, and therefore there was national, provincial and municipal input. She added that the split of the former Department of Education into two departments, of Basic and Higher Education last year, meant that the DBE still had vacant staff posts. While only 66% of its budget had been spent by the end of the third quarter, this had increased to over 90% by year end. Money not spent was accounted for by savings accumulated in the development and publishing of workbooks, and budget allocated for school evaluation tests, which had not occurred.

She went through the five strategic goals and the five programmes of the Department (see attached presentation). The budget for the Department was R10.9 billion, doubling to R20.4 billion by 2013/2014. There was also provision for an extra R6.3 billion for this fiscal year.

Ms Molalekoa said that there were three conditional grants that had continued from previous years. These were the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP), HIV and AIDS life skills programme and Technical Secondary Schools Recapitalisation Grant. In addition there were now three new conditional grants, being the Dinaledi Schools Grant, Education Infrastructure Grant and the Schools Infrastructure Backlog Grant.

The Department had made interventions to complement the Technical Schools Recapitalisation. Spending on the Dinaledi project was contained in the most recent report.

Mr S Padayachee, Acting Deputy Director General: Planning, Department of Basic Education, noted that the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) was an infrastructure grant that aimed to bring schools to basic safety functionality, with provision of water, sanitation and electricity. Provincial funding was being sought to supplement, and the Eastern Cape received the bulk of the grant. He stressed that the Department of Public Works (DPW) was not the only service provider for this work, but would be one of many. Planning for the following two years would be finalised by September. He added that conditions were attached to the educational infrastructure grants, which would limit payouts strictly for infrastructure work. Project lists would be gazetted by May. Projects would be monitored on a monthly basis and monthly reports would be sent to the Minister. He said an alarming trend was that as the grants increased, the equitable share of the provinces decreased.

Discussion
Mr M Swart (DA) said he knew of building contractors who had left building sites because they had not been paid, so schools were not completed. He asked who was responsible for delivery of the infrastructure and what was being done to ensure that learners were not being disadvantaged.

Mr G Snell (ANC) said the 395 anticipated new schools would pose a challenge for the provinces, because the provinces’ share of the future funding of the 395 schools would also increase. There was a need to strengthen policy implementation from national to provincial to municipal levels. He wondered how provincial Heads of Department were to be held responsible for the funds allocated to them. He also asked how the Department would be able to speed up implementation when it had been asked by National Treasury to cut its budget.

Mr J Gelderblom (ANC) felt the main problem lay in the lack of coordination between the provinces and the Department.

Dr P Rabie (DA) asked if the Department had the capacity to implement the replacement of the 395 mud schools through the backlog grant.

Ms R Mashigo (ANC) wanted to know if the 50 mud schools mentioned in the presentation were part of the 395 mud schools earmarked for replacement by new schools.

Mr D Smiles (DA) said it was generally agreed that the funding of the Department was adequate, but the main issue was how the money was being spent. He asked about the ratio of personnel to non personnel spending. He pointed out that in the Eastern Cape it had been 89%:11%, whereas the norm was 80%:20%.

The Chairperson asked what a “complete school” was. He asked how many schools would be built this year, and how long it would take to complete all 395 schools. He said he was pleased to hear that monitoring would be taking place, but pointed out that in the past the Department had paid monies for structures that had not even existed. The Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) had under spent hugely on its budget, using only 40% of its available funds. He wondered if this Department had access to the EPWP funds.

Mr Padayachee noted that the Department had entered into discussions with the EPWP manager regarding a skills transfer programme while building of the schools was taking place. He pointed out that maintenance work, for example, was not being done on the buildings.

Mr Padayachee responded that the personnel to non-personnel cost ratio was 78%:22% in the Department, but the Eastern Cape was an example of where non-personnel money was being used for personnel.

Ms Tyobeka said that spending in the Department had improved in the last quarter. It was in the nature of the education sector that most of its payments for bursaries and similar outgoings occurred in the last quarter, which equated to the first term of the school year.

Mr Padayachee said that 50 schools would be built in this year, starting in May and would be completed by 31 March next year. This would account for R420 million out of a total of R520 million allocated. The balance of R100 million would be for basic services at the schools.

He noted that all the figures in the presentation were based on the Department’s information management system. The list of projects would be gazetted to increase transparency and allow the public to keep track. Financial management and financial planning were going to be challenges which needed to be addressed.

Mr Padayachee stressed that the figures for the MTEF period of R700 million were key to the delivery of the schools, and thus he was confident that the Department could implement, and that funding could be increased in the following years. He said the Department did have the capacity to build the schools.

Mr Swart said that in some instances computer rooms had no computers, and he wondered how ICT was being advanced in schools.

Ms Tyobeka noted that Information Technology was a major concern and there was a special unit in the Department dealing with this.

Mr Swart asked why teacher training should lead to absence of teachers from the classroom.

Ms Tyobeka explained that Funza Lushaka bursaries were especially for new, rural students who were not yet teachers in class. Teachers in the Teacher Development Programme had to attend classes and lectures after school, on weekends or during the holidays. She conceded that monitoring as to whether classes were left unattended needed to be improved.

Ms Mashigo asked about learner transport issues. She urged that the DBE and the Department of Transport should settle between themselves who was accountable for transportation and how, if necessary, they would co-manage it.

Mr Padayachee confirmed that learner transport would be transferred to the DBE. In instances where that could not occur, the Department would put in place delivery agreements to ensure that services were supplied.

Mr Gelderblom said that the Minister of Sports had announced that sports time was integral to school. He asked what programmes were running, and how many schools had sports time allocated in their timetable.

Mr Padayachee noted that schools had the facilities to deliver the curriculum. Basic sports facilities required would be a soccer field and a netball court. Mr Padayachee added that there had been an uneven revival of sports at all schools, but there was sports activity at schools and the Physical Education (PE) slot was back in the timetable. Whether schools adhered to this needed to be checked through increased monitoring of schools.

Mr Gelderblom asked for further details on the school readiness programme.

Mr Padayachee noted that the Department wanted to ensure the teaching of grade R at schools

Ms Mashigo asked whether the budget would allow for sustaining the quality of the workbooks.

Ms Palesa Tyobeka, Deputy Director General, Department of Basic Education, said the workbooks had not been outsourced and thus cost much less.

Mr Padayachee added that the Department had to cut the budget to surrender funds to the Treasury. It did not foresee that it could not provide the workbooks. He also explained that fourth quarter spending transfers to technical schools occurred in January and February and payments for workbooks occurred much later in the year when all the work on the book had concluded.

Ms Tyobeka said bursaries were paid at the beginning of the year. She said the workbook intervention was a special pilot project. The provinces would be funding books. The Department was looking at the centralised development and publishing of books but would consult with the publishing industry. It had printed 11 million books in 11 languages. A major challenge was the fact that DBE was sometimes working from weak data, which lead to weak planning and outputs that sometimes led to shortages.

Ms Tyobeka noted that the Eastern Cape had deviated from the NSNP policy, and had implemented its own arrangements.

The Chairperson asked how the Department would ensure that there was full responsibility, pointing out that a lack of responsibility was affecting the learners, not the officials.

Ms Tyobeka said the Department had developed sector and implementation plans and targets which the Minister and the MECs had signed. The MECs had an oversight and monitoring role.

Mr Snell asked where the accountability lay. He said that the Department was driving policy at national level but had no control over what happened on the ground.

Ms Tyobeka said the Department was working outside of the traditional view of how departments worked with provincial bodies, and that over the years there had been a greater convergence to implement and monitor via official channels. The Superintendent General of the Eastern Cape, for example, was the accounting officer and had control of the money.

Ms Tyobeka said the EPWP was used in the Kha Ri Gude programme nationally

Ms L Yengeni (ANC) asked who appointed the Superintendent General

Ms Tyobeka said that all Section 100 appointments went through the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and was formalised in writing. The Superintendent General was appointed at provincial level. In general the National Department had a good relationship with the Superintendent Generals.

Ms N Mkhulusi (ANC) wanted to know how many unqualified or under qualified teachers were in rural areas.

Ms Tyobeka said unqualified and under qualified teachers in practice had been reduced significantly but in rural areas there was still a need for them.

Mr Swart wanted the Department to explain the Kha Ri Gude programme

Ms Tyobeka noted that the Kha Ri Gude was a literacy programme, that aimed to teach adults to read and write, and was run by volunteers. The EPWP grant was used to provide the teaching materials.

Mr Gelderblom said that teachers’ biggest frustration was that they were overloaded with administrative requirements.

Ms Tyobeka said that provincial and district levels had added extra layers of administration on to the national requirements. The ‘CAPS’ document spelled out that no other level had the right to add anything extra to the workload of teachers, but this had not yet been announced at schools.

Ms Yengeni said she thought that the focus of the Committee’s work was to look at specifics around overspending and underspending of a department, its spending capacity, and to examine the reasons that a department put forward for not achieving its targets, as well as to consider corrective actions. This would allow for problem areas to be followed up.

Ms Tyobeka said that the presentation given to the Committee had been based upon the requests for information as set out in the invitation by the Committee. However, she said that the DBE was more than willing to provide the Committee with any other information it needed. The Department had not had a budget for infrastructure before and its plans were based on sector plans. Planning for this year was well advanced, and planning for the outer years would be finalised in September.

The Chairperson said that the MTEF was designed to increase budget predictability and therefore improve forward planning of the Departments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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