The Standing Committee on Appropriations met to hear a presentation by the Deputy Minister and Department of Basic Education on the progress of the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI), which is a programme to build schools across the country, with a large focus on replacing so-called inappropriate structures, especially mud schools. The Department presented the progress report.
Members were not happy though. There was confusion about targets, the number of schools that were meant to b built and when they were meant to be built. The Department was highly criticised for its lack of proper planning.
A DA Member observed different role-players in different provinces. There needed to be scrutiny to make sure that the Implementing Agents could indeed do the work.
A COPE Member said that the Department should have a scorecard to keep track of progress.
An ANC Member wanted to extract truth from the Department. The Department of Public Works would just hire consultants - was it wise to give it 16 schools? A second ANC Member asked what the loss was when contractors were changed. Had the personnel been appointed and would there be books and transport? A third ANC Member said that the Committee sought specific information. There should be monthly targets to monitor progress. There was something very wrong with the planning of the Department. A fourth ANC Member said that the Implementing Agents should also be punished. The Department had to plan for access for those with disabilities before it built schools.The Chairperson accused the Department of being relaxed about its work. It was one of the departments that the Committee would have to 'baby-sit'.
The Chairperson, Mr Sogoni, welcomed everyone to the meeting. He acknowledged the unexpected delegation. He asked that although committee meetings were open, guests should inform of their intention to attend so that proper arrangements could be made. An alternative venue was being sought to accommodate the large number of attendees.
The Chairperson acknowledged and welcomed Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education.
He asked members of the large delegation to introduce themselves. Someone informed the meeting that they were from Equal Education (EE), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working in Khayelitsha.
Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI) progress: Deputy Minister of Basic Education progress briefing
The Chairperson invited the Department to update the Committee on the schools built and the progress made since the last meeting on this subject on 19 October 2012. On that occasion, it was agreed that the Committee would get an update before the start of the financial year. When the adjustment period had started, there was an impression that the schools would be finished in a short period, but the Committee had been sceptical. There had been tension between the Committee and the Department. One of the issues was the time it took to build schools.
The objective of today’s meeting was to get an update on the planning.
Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister: Basic Education greeted everyone present. He thanked the Committee for having visited the sites. The Department shared the concerns about planning. Meetings were convened with the Deputy Ministers of Finance, Justice and Constitutional Development, Basic Education, Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the contractors. The Department was not happy with progress. The terrain of the Eastern Cape (EC) was not always friendly, often with no water or electricity and access was difficult. He introduced his team and apologised for the absence of the Director-General, Mr Bobby Soobrayan, who was ill. The Deputy Director-General was present though. Mr Surty was convinced that the Department had done better this year than last year. Lessons had been learnt and applied.
The Chairperson asked Mr Surty to explain how seriously the government took this work.
Mr Surty explained that the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission (PICC) consolidated all infrastructure countrywide, to prevent overlaps.
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) delivered a ‘full’ school – with buildings, laboratories, and teachers and if there was space, sports facilities.
Mud schools had been eliminated, throughout the country. The only exception was the Eastern Cape, where the DBE had not succeeded because of poor governance there.
The Department was not just replacing schools, but with schools with full resources. There was greater collaboration between different spheres and agencies.
Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI) progress: Department of Basic Education progress briefing
Ms Tsholofelo Diale, Project Manager: ASIDI, presented on the behalf of the DBE. The first part would be a visual presentation of the schools, which the DBSA had started building in the Eastern Cape. There was 80% completion of the schools.
ASIDI received a Schedule 7 grant – the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant (slide 3) for the eradication of entirely inappropriate schools and the provision of a basic level of water, sanitation, and electricity to schools.
Targets were [number of schools]:
510 inappropriate structures
1 120 water
The current allocation was R2, 065 billion and the Medium Term Expenditure Frameworks (MTEF) projections per province were given, with the Eastern Cape (EC) receiving the majority.
Progress on Inappropriate Schools
49 schools had been started, 32 still had to be allocated. 250 schools in total had been planned/targeted, 49 had been started, 150 were in the pipeline and 53 were yet to be allocated.
The Department was sticking to contract management principles.
The average construction progress was 80.4% and 16 of the 49 schools had reached practical completion.
DBSA had been handed a second batch of 70 schools; these were in the planning stage, which would be completed by end of 2013/14. Contractors would be appointed by April/May.
The Chairperson and the Deputy Minister interjected that greater clarity was needed on the deadlines. They need to be tighter and more specific.
Progress On Water
Of the 1 120 projects, 1 039 remained.
Progress on Sanitation
There were 741 sanitation projects nationally, 107 of these had been provided by others. There were 488 in the pipeline.
Progress on Electrification
916 schools had been identified, 384 of which had been provided by others. 369 had been allocated to Implementing Agents (IAs).
Projects for 2013/14 were at R4, 65 billion. The work had been allocated to IAs. Of the R2, 065 budget, R460 million had already been spent.
Framework Agreements – the Department was in the process of finalising a panel on IAs, Built Environment Professionals and contractors. This resource was valid for three years and would reduce the procurement period.
A process of evaluating alternative building methods was started. It would be completed at the start of 2013. These materials would be used to build some schools once approved.
The DBE was awaiting decisions from affected provinces on rationalisations and mergers.
A webpage had been established on the DBE website to communicate on ASIDI progress, and a Quarterly Newsletter to give updates on progress.
The Deputy Minister said the Department had learnt that contractors could not handle more than two thirds of schools. It was hard for IAs to manage multiple sites, especially if they were far apart. It was also difficult to deal with under-performance at some sites because contractors were give one contract to build 10 schools, for instance. If they were doing well at seven of these and badly at three, the contract could not be terminated. So now, there was a contract for each school.
Ms A Mfulo (ANC) asked if all schools were accessible to people with disabilities. How was the government dealing with disability? 49 schools had been started in 2011/12, apparently it took one to two years to build 10 schools - was it realistic to project that so many would be built in such a short time? IAs were basically middlemen; they were not doing the job, they still had to hire contractors. Were they necessary? Why were they given an advance? The process was being shortened, but was quality being looked at? The core function of the DBE was to teach, not to build; why were these contracts not given to the Department of Public Works? The Department seemed to be focusing on mud schools, what about corrugated iron or wooden schools that were also not suitable. Would the schools be delivered complete with teachers? - Especially remedial teachers, because some learners may not be physically disabled, but may have learning disabilities.
The Chairperson said Members should not wait until such meetings to deal with learners who do not have access.
Ms Mfulo said the Department had to plan for access, before it built schools.
Mr M Swart (DA) said that during his State of the Nation Address, the President had said that 49 schools would be done by end of March. Was the President being mislead, as this was not the case? This Committee was seriously about getting rid of mud schools. The Committee had told the Department that the schools would NOT be built in such a short space. All that was wanted from the Department was for it to be open an honest with the Committee. The Committee would then be able to help it. One of the contractors, Keren Kula was behind on its projects but had now been given another project.
Dr S van Dyk (DA) said there were different role-players in different provinces. There needed to be scrutiny to make sure IAs could indeed do the work. Certain contracts had been terminated; at what stage did this happen? Was there a loss when this happened and was there litigation? What measures were in place to prevent similar cases?
Mr G Snell (ANC) said he wanted to extract truth from the Department. The schools that had been awarded were meant to be completed by the end of the financial year. Were awards being purposely withheld? How had the planning been done originally? He wondered what happened to original structures if the Department decided not to build at a site due to low enrolment numbers. Would the R700 million be rolled over by the National Treasury? The Department of Public Works would just hire consultants - was it wise to give it 16 schools?
Mr J Gelderblom (ANC) wondered what the loss was when contractors were changed. Had the personnel been appointed and would there be books and transport?
Ms N Gina (ANC), the Whip for the Basic Education Portfolio Committee, asked with whom the DBE had the contract. What was the difference between the IAs and labour brokers? How many schools had been targeted for the 2013/14 financial year? If the reason for stopping schools was viability, had feasibility studies been done? The University of Stellenbosch was using alternative means of building - the Department should look into it. What did the phrase “practical completion” mean?
Mr L Ramatlakane (COPE) said a needs analysis was required to deal with population fluctuation issues before planning to build. The Department should have a scorecard to keep track of progress. The 49 schools had shifted from the 2011/12 financial year to the 2012/13 year. Were the goalposts being moved? Was there a projected programme chart to track progress by month, year, etc?
Ms L Yengeni (ANC) asked about the progress to date on inappropriate structures. DBSA was doing 49 schools. They were at 80.4% completion. How many schools was that? How long did the planning stage take? Did it tally with the targeted completion date? The Committee sought specific information.
Ms R Mashigo (ANC) sought clarity on the type of water. Was it piped water or was it in tanks? Who were the ‘others’ who had provided services, and what were the financial implications.
Mr Ramatlakane asked about the expenditure for the current financial year.
The Chairperson questioned whether the Department of Public Works was being overloaded. How many schools would be done by the end of the financial year? The committee had gone to the EC several times the previous year.
This was an appropriations committee not a portfolio committee on education. The issue was the distance in rural areas. This is where alternative building methods came in. the quality of materials in the Western Cape was not good enough. The capacity of Mvula Trust had not been adequate elsewhere. The meeting had been meant to be a report on the progress since the 19 October meeting. He wondered how long the planning would take.
The Deputy Minister responded that they were actually excited to be there. He actually agreed with what the Members had said. How do we find solutions rather than just explanations? The sites should be handed to the contractors by 01 April. There would be specific timeframes for start and finish.
Mr Surty stated emphatically “we should blacklist those that do not perform ... The buck stops with us”.
35 schools would be done by end of the financial year. ASIDI looked out at ALL unsafe schools not just mud schools. The DBE has the responsibility to manage funds from all agencies and sources. Often the company that tendered and subsequently won was a subsidiary of a larger, more established company. These companies should be held accountable for the actions of the subsidiary.
No losses were suffered due to cancelled contracts. In fact, R18 million had been recovered. 49 schools would be done this financial year, 82 in the next financial year. He admitted that there had been an underspend. The DBE had engaged the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on alternative building methods. However, communities resisted these because they felt that they were being given inferior methods and materials. He urged people to look at the website to see all the progress.
He announced that in 2013 would be held the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. He admitted that this was where the DBE had failed. The only way that the DBE had catered currently was that some workbooks were in Braille.
Ms Yengeni emphasised that asking questions was not about an agenda. Members wanted to assist the departments. There were no enemies.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would meet the Department again on the division of revenue – on 06 March.
Mr Snell asked which schools were being discussed.
Mr Ramatlakane asked about the financial year being discussed.
Ms Diale responded that these were multi-year projects spanning two or more financial years.
Mr Paddy Padayachee, DBE Deputy Director-General: Planning, said the Department would report on 120 schools.
Ms Yengeni said it was important to elaborate on planning; it should be more specific and there should be monthly targets to monitor progress.
Mr Ramatlakane sought confirmation that the 49 schools were meant for the 2011/12 financial year.
Mr Padayachee responded that the R700 million had not been rolled over in 201/13. There would be an additional 50 schools in the EC, and another 50 in the rest of the country.
Ms Yengeni said what was needed was a programme. A way of saying what would be done when. The Department needed to be seen to be serious.
The Chairperson suggested that the Committee accept the explanation from the Department.
Ms Mfulo said the IAs should also be punished.
Mr Padayachee responded that the DBE would respond to the Committee in writing.
Mr Chuene Ramphele, Programme Manager: DBSA, said that it had not had the same appointment date as other IAs. It could fast track the appointment of contractors. It should be done by end March.
Ms Yengeni said there was something very wrong with the planning of the Department
The Chairperson accused the Department of being very relaxed whereas the Committee had sleepless nights and worked overtime to make sure things were done, but the very people who were meant to be doing the actual work were relaxing.
Mr Mqondisi Makhupulo, from the Independent Development Trust (IDT), said that the IDT could provide progress on its 11 schools. Contractors had been appointed at 10 of the schools.
The Chairperson said that this was one of the departments which the Committee would have to baby-sit.
He said that the next meeting of the Committee would on 22 February and adjourned the meeting.
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