The National Department of Basic Education (DBE) gave an update on the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), and explained that the original targets had identified 522 inappropriate structures, but the focus had originally been on 49 in the Eastern Cape, of which 48 were completed and occupied and the one remained for occupation once the exterior retaining walls were completed and the premises were safe for students. The Department of Education had also delivered water to 1120 schools, sanitation to 741 and electricity to 528, across the nine Provinces. The allocations for ASIDI amounted to R2.489 billion for the 2013/14 financial year, and forward estimates for the 2014/15 financial year amounted to R2.938 billion, and a large share of the budget would be allocated to the Eastern Cape for both years, due to the particular backlogs in this province. The seven-stage process of the initiative was explained. Several tables were provided in which the progress and the implementing agents and dates were set out, in each of the provinces.
Members had a number of questions on the definitions and targets in the presentation, including what was meant by the particular phases, what was meant by practical completion and final completion, contractual start dates and end dates, and what inappropriate structures comprised. Members complained that the phrase ‘contractual start date’ was not consistent through the presentation, and the Department promised to change this in the next presentation and to use standardised formatting. The use of the term implementing agent and service provider also needed to be made clear. Members also wanted to know what contractor appointments would mean in the context of sanitation provision. Questions were asked about the targets for expenditure and whether there was an assurance that National Treasury would roll over money where projects could not be completed in one year. Several instances of contractor under-performance were highlighted and Members asked what consequences would follow, whether the contracts made adequate provision for this, what additional costs were incurred when contractors had to change and how the DBE was ensuring that the right contractors were appointed for the job. The DBE explained that in the case of the Development Bank of South Africa it had assumed that the capacity was there, but when it was discovered that this was in fact not so, National Treasury had helped by deploying capacity to improve the situation. Members also thought that the DBE would, having had experience, have been able to make more accurate projections on stages of completion.
Members encouraged the DBE to take stringent action and push contractors who were behind schedule and commented that the spending of only 51% was problematic, although they did note that this was an improvement on the situation in 2013. It was reiterated that the 49 schools in the Eastern Cape would be resolved at the end of the financial year. The Department also responded to questions and gave further clarity on the outstanding schools where it had not yet been determined whether mergers should take place and explained the rationale behind the mergers. The DBE also wanted to emphasise again that problems in construction included areas outside the DBE’s control, such as terrain and topography, municipal connections where the municipality might state that water was provided, and taps were installed, yet no water was running from those taps. Members urged the Department to tighten up on its processes and asked that in the next reports, the Department must indicate how its delivery could be improved and how specific problems would be addressed.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister of the Department of Basic Education and stated that the Department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department) was doing good work in terms of the delivery of schools, but there were problems around monitoring of projects, which created a misunderstanding between the Department and the Committee about what needed to be done. He stated that attention should be spent on ways to monitor expenditure. He stated that the Department should provide the Committee with a detailed plan on its delivery of schools infrastructure, to ensure effective monitoring. A detailed plan would specify the progress made and challenges experienced by service providers on delivery of schools. He also mentioned the media reports claiming that the DBE was not building schools.
Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, stated that the media did not usually reflect on schools that were fully furnished and fully equipped. He stated that the presentation would reflect on the different phases of implementation, activities involved, the estimated time for completion of schooling projects, time allocated to design, procurement of tenders, and would provide an indication of how long schools would take to be built. In the Eastern Cape there had been problems in accessing schools which delayed contractor work. He noted the issue of the 49 mud schools in the Eastern Cape, and the Department’s role in fixing this issue. He stated that 44 schools of the 49 had been delivered, and at four of the remaining five, learning was taking place, since the work was practically completed, and they were safe for the learners. Children were desperate for schools, and would enter them once they were safe, but the media seemed to assume that nothing was done until opening ceremonies took place. For the remaining one school, the school itself was completed, but external work on retaining walls had not be completed, and learners could not occupy that school because it was unsafe. He summarised, therefore, that the 49 schools had been resolved. However, he also noted that more work was being done beyond those 49 schools. DBE’s other activities included 70 schools in the process of construction, an additional 51 schools being built in the Eastern Cape and 14 schools in the Western Cape under construction. Whichever province was involved, there would always be problems of contractors not completing work timeously and those who had not performed. The handling of the 49 schools in the Eastern Cape made the Department wiser on how to manage contracts, what those contracts should specify on monitoring and evaluation, and selecting credible contractors. Schools had been built and were accompanied by other structures such as a media centre, information communications technology connectivity, laboratories and sporting facilities.
Ms Tsholofelo Diale, Project Manager: ASIDI, Department of Basic Education, noted that previously, this Committee had enquired what was meant by “planning stages” and what activities were actually done in that phase, and the allocated times.
She summarised that according to the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) targets, for the nine provinces, it had been stated that there were 522 inappropriate schools. The Department had also delivered water (1120 schools), sanitation (741 schools) and electricity (528 schools). The ASIDI allocations over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework amounted to R2.489 billion for the 2013/14 financial year, and estimated expenditure for the 2014/15 financial year amounted to R2.938 billion. Of this, a large share was allocated to the Eastern Cape, respectively, for the two years, to cover the backlogs in this province.
The ASIDI implementation involved a seven stage process. In Stage 1: Planning, the implementing agents were appointed, the implementing agents prepared an Infrastructure Programme Implementation Plan, and this plan would be provided to the committee. It would take approximately six weeks. Stage 2: PSP Procurement, would involve the implementing agents appointing professional service providers (engineers, quantity surveys and architects), and the procurement document would be prepared, request for tenders, the evaluation and award would be done. This phase lasted approximately eight weeks. In Stage 3: Design, the assessment of sites would take place, along with concept design and design development, and this took about eight weeks. Stage 4: Contractor Procurement followed, and once designs were finalised, professional service providers would prepare their procurement documents, request for tenders, closing, evaluation and award and contractors were appointed. This stage would take approximately six weeks. Stage 5: Works, when the actual construction took place, was usually estimated to take 12 to 16 months. Stage 6: Handover was the stage for finalising and assembling record information, handover of the works and record information and it was estimated at two weeks. Stage 7:Close out, involved correcting defects, finalising all outstanding contractual obligations and the estimated time here was 90 days.
She then outlined that in the Eastern Cape the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA), Independent Development Trust, the COEGA Development Corporation, the Department of Public Works, the National Department of Public Works and Joint Education Trust (JET) were responsible for the construction of 260 schools, which were at different stages. In the Free State, the DBSA, IDT and the Free State Education Department were responsible for 30 schools. In Kwazulu-Natal, Adopt-A-School was responsible for three schools. In Limpopo, DBSA was responsible for three schools. In Mpumalanga, the DBSA was responsible for one school. In the Northern Cape, DBSA was responsible for one school. In the North West, DBSA was responsible for two schools. In the Western Cape, the Western Cape Education Department was responsible for 25 schools. There were 193 schools, out of those 522, that needed to be allocated to implementing agents. Some schools may be closed or merge with other schools, and the Department of Education in the Province was currently dealing with these issues.
She noted that at the moment, in relation to the new schools, 329 schools were at various stages of implementation. Included in that number was 49 schools which were now occupied by learners and teachers. The commitments to the programme, since inception, were at around R7.7 billion. Approximately 190 schools remained on the ASIDI programme, all of which were in the Eastern Cape. They were also affected by rationalisation and mergers processes.
Mr Surty referred to the realignments mergers and closures, in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and parts of the Western Cape. It had been found that in some areas, 40 to 60 learners might be learning in a hut structure, whilst three kilometres away there would be another hut structure with 22 learners. Here, it would not make sense to build two new schools, where the schools could merge or be realigned. The challenges which the Western Cape faced in relation to this were somewhat delicate, as there had been confrontations and unhappiness, so whenever schools were to be merged, community members, educators and union representatives should be consulted. School mergers took place in rural provinces, in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and parts of the Western Cape. As long as adequate provision was made for the transportation of learners from one community to another, then it was rational to merge. The Department allocated more time for provinces to consider the merging and realignment process, to avoid the case where a school had many classrooms but few students.
Ms Diale noted that there were 44 schools that had been handed over, and five schools were at various stages of progress, Goso JP School, Lower Mpako SPS, Mandlobe SPS, Zingisile SP School, Sompa SPS. Replacement contractors had to be appointed, which led to the inability to complete. The Department had assigned 50 schools to the DBSA, and these schools were at stage 3 of the processes earlier outlined, and were busy with the appointment of contractors. The Department awaited the procurement report so that the appointment of contractors could be finalised. Construction would start in March 2014.
In the Eastern Cape, IDT had been assigned 12 schools which had made good progress. IDT had also been assigned another 36 schools. The process was running behind schedule, as work should have started in 2013. The IDT was busy with the procurement of contractors, and construction would begin in the new financial year. Some contractors in the Coega programmes were not performing well and some contracts needed to be terminated.
In the Free State, DBSA was assigned eleven schools and these were in stage 4, where the appointment of contractors were being finalised. In the Free State, IDT projects were in the construction phase, with different implementing agents appointed at different times. For Boshof, the contractual state date commenced on 13 August 2013, but the progress to date was 16%, as some contractors were not performing, which resulted in the contract being terminated on 5 February 2014. The Free State Education Department was assigned nine schools and started with the procurement of professional service providers in September 2013, no progress had been made since.
Kwazulu-Natal was assigned three schools, and these three were running concurrently; the dates were the same and design period would be done over February up until March.
In Limpopo the DBSA was assigned three schools, for which the professional service providers were appointed in July 2013. Limpopo had submitted its procurement report for the appointment of the contractors.
In Mpumalanga, the DBSA was assigned five schools, which were at stage 5, and the contractor had been appointed and construction work in the school had begun.
The Department of Roads and Public Works in the Eastern Cape was responsible for the construction of 19 schools, and in 13 schools, construction had occurred, whilst in the remaining three there was a need to appoint professional service providers, and at some stages contractors were being appointed.
Mr Paddy Padayachee, Deputy Director-General, Department of Basic Education, stated that in the Eastern Cape, the tender for mobile structures had been put in place to replace rundown schools, but had been withdrawn. Communities had told the Department of Basic Education that they preferred to wait for a brick and mortar structure, as planned in the ASIDI programme.
Out of the 193 unallocated schools, the Department had taken six and work had been done to put out to tender. The National Department of Basic Education would work with the Eastern Cape Education Department concerning the merger of the remaining schools. He stated that if the merger took too long then the Department would have to consider whether it was necessary to build the schools, as a merger could not take a long time whilst the children were being taught in mud structures.
30 schools in the Free State were under construction and 11 schools had been assigned to the DBSA, which was busy with the procurement of contractors. The contractual start date was when professional service providers were appointed. The procurement plans were given to the Department and construction would begin in March 2014.
In the North West and Northern Cape the DBSA was assigned three schools, and was busy with the procurement of contractors, and construction would start in March 2014.
The Western Cape Department of Education was making progress in terms of construction, as the contractual start date for many schools was in March 2013 and the Knysna Secondary School started on 13 December 2012. The Western Cape was assigned an additional 11 schools and was currently at stage 4, the procurement of contractors. The National Department of Basic Education had not received the procurement report of the Western Cape, but when that was finalised then the Western Cape would begin construction.
The National Department of Basic Education had done much work in terms of sanitation in schools. He repeated that to date 226 schools had been provided sanitation, whilst 159 schools were at stage 5 and 290 schools were at stage 4. In terms of electrification, 150 schools had been provided with electricity, while other projects were at the stage of design and others on procurement of contractors. 232 schools had been provided with water, while some projects were at construction and others were at the procurement of contractors stage.
The Chairperson asked Ms Diale whether, in her presentation, she had been referring to the 49 schools.
Ms Diale indicated that she would try to clarify which schools were included in the different batches.
The Chairperson asked what “inappropriate schools” meant.
Mr Surty stated that inappropriate schools included mud schools and unsafe schools.
Mr M Swart (DA) asked Ms Diale how many schools were originally on the ASIDI programme. She had said that 190 remained. He wanted to know how many of these were completed.
Mr Surty stated that the original number on the ASIDI programme was 522.
Ms R Mashigo (ANC) asked if Ms Diale was presenting on the 190 schools.
Ms Diale noted that she had presented the schools that had been allocated to the five implementing agents in the Eastern Cape. She stated that the total number of schools in the Eastern Cape allocated to the implementing agents was 260.
Ms L Yengeni (ANC) asked for clarify on contractual start date, and whether this was the actual date of appointment of the contractor.
Ms Diale noted that on slide 18, it was set out that the contractual start date was when the professional service providers were appointed, but on slide 16 the contractual start date referred to when the contractor was appointed.
Ms L Yengeni stated that the phrase “contractual start date” was used differently in parts of the presentation. She referred to slide 11 of the presentation and asked if the contractual start date for Dalibango JSS on 22 February 2013 was the same for the Free State.
Ms Diale referred to slide 11, relating to the IDT, and stated that here, the contractual start date referred to the date when the contractor was appointed by IDT in the Eastern Cape, which differed from the use of “contractual start date” in the context of discussing the implementing agents in the Free State.
The Chairperson asked if Ms Diale could repeat what she had previously stated, for clarity, on slide 11.
Ms Yengeni said that the problem was that the term “contractual start date” appeared on almost every slide, and she wanted to know exactly what it meant in what context.
Mr L Ramatlakane (COPE) asked if Ms Diale could also decode the term “contractual start time”. He enquired about the term “service provider appointed” and asked if service provider meant the people who ere starting to plan, or service providers for construction that had to happen.
Ms Diale referred to stage 2 where professional service providers were appointed, and said those included engineers and quantity surveyors. The contractual start date referred to the procurement process of professional service providers, when a contract would be entered into. In stage 4, when the contractors were procured, then the contractual start date would commence. She noted that when reference was made to contractual start date she had always clarified whether the “contractual start date” referred to the professional service providers, or the contractor. In the Eastern Cape, the “contractual start date” referred to when the contractor was appointed. In the Free State, the contractual start date referred to when the professional service providers were appointed. She stated that, in the Free State, DBSA had finalised stage 2, and had appointed professional service providers. The contract with professional service providers had begun in July 2013. DBSA was finalising stage 4 and the date when the contractor had been appointed would be given.
Mr G Snell (ANC) noted that the report format had not been standardised. He stated that the start dates in the Free State cycles were not synchronised. It should be clearly stated why certain tasks were running behind schedule, as this would impact on the way forward. He stated that the main responsibility of this Committee was to appropriate funds. He noted that a realistic programme should be put in place, and that programme should be properly costed, so that it could be determined how overruns would affect the MTEF.
Mr Surty noted that the period of 12 to 14 months was not a uniform standard, but, in the context of difficult environments, it would be an appropriate framework. He noted that if the projects could not be completed within a given financial year they would run into the next financial year. National Treasury would not penalise the National DBE if projects could not be completed, as mud schools and safe schools needed to be replaced, but the resources would not be provided if construction did not take place. The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC) had oversight over this issue. The Presidency had assumed oversight for the nationally driven projects, whether for water, sanitation, or unsafe schools.
The Chairperson wanted to ensure that the Committee was at the same understanding as the DBE in terms of who the service providers were and the difference between contractual start dates. He noted that the term “contractual start date” was being generalised and the Committee Members needed to know when contractual start date referred to professional service providers and when to the appointment of actual contractors.
Mr Surty stated that the Committee Members had asked very important questions, and there should be consistency in terms of how the locations were described. He stated that, in a process where 100 schools was going to be built, it would be decided who the agent would be to carry out the work – this might be the Department of Public Works, DBSA or COEGA, and they were assigned schools. If 50 schools were assigned to DBSA, it would have to produce a team responsible for the design and preparation of the plan. Once the designs were completed, then a contractor needed to be appointed. In the Free State the agents had been appointed, the designs and plans were completed, so currently it was possible to invite tenders from actual contractors to carry out the construction, overseen by implementing agencies. He agreed that it was important for Ms Diale to be more specific in terms of what was meant precisely at a particular stage.
The Chairperson asked for clarity on the term “implementing agents” and “service provider” and asked if they were referring to the same functions.
Ms Diale highlighted that when she referred to implementing agents she would not refer to them as service providers; when she referred to engineers and quantity surveyors they were included under professional service providers, and when reference was made to contractors she would use the term contractors. She stated that in future, she would ensure that all contractual start dates were reflected as the dates on which the contractor was appointed.
Mr Ramatlakane noted that 226 schools had been provided with sanitation, but the actual appointment of contractors still needed to take place, so he was not sure what Ms Diale meant.
Ms Diale stated that according to the ASIDI targets, various projects across the nine Provinces would take place, in water, sanitation and Electrification. Where 226 schools had been provided with sanitation, for example, the remainder of the sanitation projects were at the stage where contractors were being appointed.
The Chairperson stated that Ms Diale should conclude by stating the Departments targets for expenditure.
Ms Diale stated that whilst it was desirable to spend money allocated, this had not occurred as contractors had not performed as expected, and the bulk of expenditure was spent during construction.
Mr Surty stated that the report had given a good overview in terms of progress made. He assured the Committee that expenditure would increase. The progress on the 14 schools being built in the Western Cape was at 80%, and in the Free State good progress was being made for the 10 schools. Many schools were coming to the end of construction, resulting in an increase in expenditure.
Ms Yengeni referred to slide 9 and asked what “Original Planned Practical Completion” meant and what stage was that. She asked for clarity on the practical completion and the final completion.
Mr Surty noted that the planned progress, in terms of assessments, indicated where the project was supposed to have been. For example, at the end of January, a project should perhaps have reached roof height. Roof height was 70% (planned progress) of the entire project. It might be, however, that this project was at 50% (expressed as a percentage of progress) which meant that the project was 20% behind the planned projection. He stated further that the professional team at the National DBE might estimate that by a certain date, the project should had been at roof height but in reality it was at window height. He said that building was classified into stages of excavation, foundation, actual foundations, brick work and roof. Each aspect of the site was quantified in terms of percentage, and if the building was at window height that would signify 28% of the entire project. In the Free State Boshof I/S was supposed to have been at 54% completion, but was currently at 16%. It had to be determined why that school was behind. He stated that if the Committee required an indication of more detailed information for a specific school, then this information would be provided, the progress of the school to date would be explained, and a photograph could also be provided for the construction site, so the Committee could see visual progress.
Ms Yengeni asked what “planned final completion” meant, and if this referred to the end of the entire project.
Mr Surty was pleased that these questions were emerging. He explained that “practical completion” meant that the building site was complete, the infrastructure, classrooms and the roof had been built, learners could occupy the classrooms, but that the fencing may need to be extended or half of a football field needed to be turfed. The “final completion” was when the job was completed, and when the retention fees were paid to contractors, so the contract was terminated. He said that practical completion was usually between 90 to 120 days before the final completion. He stated that when the environment was conducive to learners, learners could usually, at practical completion stage, come back to occupy the school, if there were no hazards, rather than waiting until final completion to occupy. He repeated that the media seemed to regard “completion” as being when ceremonies were held and ribbons cut to celebrate the opening, but that was not quite how DBE saw it. The point was to provide the schools to children, not to wait for celebrations.
Mr Snell stated that the delivery of schools was an excellent project. He was concerned, however, that National Treasury (NT) had allocated money to the ASIDI for a period of three years, and wondered what processes National DBE had put in place with NT to ensure that this money was secure. It appeared that the ASIDI project would take another two to three years to complete. It had to be determined exactly where the ASIDI project was, as if a rollover was declined, this would affect the project. At one point the Department did not receive sufficient funds based on the actual costs of the project. Clear planning needed to be developed on the way forward. He also stated that the timeframes allocated to the particular stages of the ASIDI were behind and needed to change.
Ms Mashigo stated that clarity was needed, in that the Committee needed to hear, clearly, what the targets were and what had been achieved. The DBE was still confusing the Committee. It was assumed that all schools were allocated, but this was not the case. In relation to the provision of services such as sanitation, water and electricity, it was not clear how the figures were analysed, as the number of services provided was presented without showing the total number of projects for a particular service. The whole ASIDI plan and actual progress on water, sanitation and electrification should have been communicated rather than merely the ASIDI Targets. She asked whether the National DBE perhaps had any memorandum of understanding with other departments to assist them in the provision of other aspects of the ASIDI.
Mr Swart asked what the timeframe for sorting out the rationalisation mergers was, so that money could be spent. He was concerned that only 51% of the budget had been spent, and that the total budget would not be spent due to the project running behind schedule. He referred to slide 19, saying that contractors were behind schedule, and said the Department should push the contractors, as they were being paid as service providers, and the services paid for should be provided.
Mr Surty noted that the National Department was running behind schedule in relation to its initial projections, but there had been more progress now than when compared to 2013, in terms of planning, oversight and management. He noted that where work had been allocated to DBSA, NT made interventions in the DBSA to strengthen its capacity. The National Department had appointed DBSA, thinking it was a credible agency that had the capacity, but it in fact did not. The interventions by Treasury had benefited DBSA and the National DBE would now continue to collaborate and work with the various stakeholders. He stated that he had delivered on commitments made to the Committee and beyond, since 40 schools were under construction in the Western Cape with another 51 under construction, so tangible progress were made.
Mr Ramatlakane asked, when a contract was entered to, what the requirement was for construction completed, per square metre and per day, for a contractor. In other words, he wanted to know if the expectations were clearly stated, in terms of size, brick and mortar delivered. He noted that the longer the service provider remained on site, the more the project costs would escalate.
Mr Ramatlakane referred to slide 9, and said the 49 schools had been a moving target and it had been difficult to touch base on them. He referred to the five remaining schools out of the 49 and asked whether the DBE was confident that schools would indeed be completed by the end of March 2014.
Mr Surty noted that out of those 49 schools, there was beneficial occupation of 48 schools, where learners were in class and being taught. It was only one school that still had to be occupied, and he repeated the reasons that the retaining walls needed to be completed because the school was unsafe for learners. Another school, out of the 71 schools, had been delivered and learners had occupied. By the end of the financial year, all 49 schools would be delivered.
Mr Ramatlakane asked which financial year was referred to in slide 10, in order to trace whether the 50 schools assigned to the DBSA were behind schedule. He asked a similar question for slide 12.
Mr Ramatlakane asked what the financial implications were when contractors did not meet requirements, when contractors had to be fired, and new contractors had to resume the work, alternatively how contractual arrangements ensured that there would not be additional costs incurred. He also questioned what legal costs were incurred. He asked if the National Department of Basic Education had to pay legal costs, and if so, where its budget emanated, out of the general budget (professional fees), or from the directly from the budget allocated to the ASIDI. He wondered if the Department felt it would run short at the end of the process, given the time taken to fire and reappoint other contractors.
Mr Surty stated that litigation, in many instances was inevitable, in both the private and public sectors. In a construction contract, a certain amount would always be retained, in case a default occurred. In terms of extension of contract, if there should be a default, the other party would be notified to correct the default and if that person declined, then the contract could be terminated and a new contractor would be appointed. The party who defaulted would be held responsible for any difference. The person would also be responsible for all costs incurred as a result of litigation. The DBE, through the Eastern Cape experiences, had learned that the monitoring of retention fees had to be done very carefully. It needed to be certain that the certificates issued were well below the value of work being done, so that if there was a risk of default then it would not cost more to complete the work.
Ms A Mfulo (ANC) referred to the ASIDI implementation stages, activities and estimated time and asked whether the weeks allocated to each stage were done simultaneously or whether each process took as many weeks. She asked for clarity on where the 193 schools were, wondered if there was budget for them, and what was meant by a statement that the 193 were unallocated, and if there were plans in this regard. She stated that the ASIDI implementation stages were long and that was something to be reconsidered.
Mr Surty noted that for these 193 schools, resources were available, the schools had been identified, and the National DBE was waiting for the finalisation of the merger process. He stated that once the necessary decisions had been made, then the construction process could commence. He clarified that this number of 193 schools was part of the number of the 522 schools under construction, for provinces had stated that in some schools they were still examining the possibility of mergers or realignment. The DBE could not impose and determine what needed to be done on its own. He reiterated that the Western Cape had its fair share of challenges around mergers and the matter was taken to court, processes were questioned, and the litigation processes actually prevented the Western Cape from doing what they thought was appropriate. At the moment, the Western Cape would not be making any announcements about the mergers, pending the elections. The National DBE assisted Provinces with a framework for mergers, and certain processes needed to be followed before the merger could take place. Before a school was closed, issues of transportation, accommodation and human resources should be determined.
Ms Mfulo referred to slide 14 and asked what “notice” was issued.
Ms Mfulo referred to slide 18 and stated that the contractual start date was on July 2013 and the planned completion date would be in 2015. She asked what was happening in between, and why were things taking so long.
Mr Surty stated that there were challenges of building in the Eastern Cape, including challenges around driving on poor roads to the schools, the topography, and where the ground was not flat, excavation and land-filling slowed down the construction time. The Eastern Cape presented an unusual challenge, and the same applied to Kwazulu-Natal. He noted the Eastern Cape, parts of Limpopo and Kwazulu-Natal faced this challenge. For that reason, 12 to 14 months were allocated to the construction process. Schools built were not of two classrooms but ten; they had an administration block, sanitation, football and netball facilities and a perimeter fence, and all these components made up a complete school. He stated that the National DBE could rush and develop infrastructure without being concerned whether every classroom had electricity, but electricity alone was not sufficient and the total planning and design should consider all those factors.
Ms Mfulo asked if schools were provided with water under infrastructure and if water was actually flowing from the taps. She also asked if classrooms received electricity, or whether this was still being planned. She noted that under the section on water, sanitation and electrification, it was said that 367 schools were at stage 3 (design) and stage 4 (procurement of contractors), but this report it stated that water, sanitation and electricity had been provided. She was confused as to what was actually taking place.
Ms Mfulo asked about the partnerships with municipalities, since there were many dry areas where municipalities were struggling to lay pipes, so asked how the DBE was able to ascertain whether the services were being laid. There was no assurance that projects would be completed. She wanted to know why progress took so long.
Mr Surty noted that there were situations where there was a reliance on the municipality, and there the DBE would ask if the municipality supplied water to the school, what protocol was needed with the municipality, how many JoJo tanks would be used – all of which were critical elements of design.
He emphasised that there was a tendency to underestimate the complexity of design, yet the design of the project needed to be correct, appropriate to the site, with correct engineering drawings, as the design formed the basis of the contact. If the design process was not done correctly, then problems would be experienced in the contractual relationship.
The Chairperson stated that this meeting was about monitoring. The questions by the Committee related to how monitoring took place. He stated that the line of questioning indicated that an implementing agent was appointed but the timeframes were questioned, and how long the different stages would take. He thought that the DBE would have developed a certain level of experience after building schools, to be able to assess how long the construction of schools would take in different areas. He noted that the Members had asked about the specific year for expenditure. This report, to a certain extent, indicated that schools could not be built from the beginning of January to December, depending on the size of the school. However, he felt that the whole should be more open and provide clarity, so that if the Department fell behind then the Committee could understand what that meant. Members had indicated their concerns around the timeframe given to professional service providers; it took eight weeks to prepare procurement documents, and another eight weeks to tender. He instructed that monitoring needed to be tightened. Work was given to implementing agents in 2012, yet today those schools had not been completed. He stated that another budget would soon be tabled, and that NT had stated that it could not approve R1.3 billion, as expenditure was too low. He repeated that expenditure was low, so the Committee had to know what was being done to push those involved in the construction of schools to deliver. The Committee did not only want a progress report from the Department, but also wanted to know what could be done to improve delivery, and how people could be encouraged to take their work more seriously.
Mr Surty thanked the Committee for their contributions and questions. He stated that in the next presentation DBE would separate out the schools that were at the design stage, and then clarify the different phases and those that were under construction. It would be shown clearly which schools were under construction, how far they had progressed and highlight the difficulties of each school, and then look at the elements of design. He reiterated that besides the 49 schools already noted, there were about 70 to 71 schools that were under construction, and many had also been completed. He was not sure whether the presentation effectively captured the process and agreed that the DBE could improve on communicating its achievements.
He asked that the Committee not worry too much about the different stages, as the construction did not occur in batches of 400 schools, and that whenever designs were completed, then agencies would be engaged and contractors were procured. He noted that many processes were being done simultaneously, to ensure optimal output in terms of infrastructure.
Mr Ramatlakane appreciated the explanation, and agreed that the next presentation needed to be structured differently, as this had provided a generalised account. He stated that the work around sanitation needed to be complemented. He asked if there were areas where solar panels needed to be provided as an alternative and their reliability. When he did an oversight of the Eastern Cape facilities, he noted that solar panels were provided, but not working, and if the same problems were appearing in many provinces, alternatives were needed. At many schools there were taps, but no water was running, and the municipality might say that although technically there was provision of water, the reservoirs were empty.
Mr Swart stated that he understood the issues of mergers, rationalisations, politics and court cases involved. He was concerned that when budget was committed, that meant that the taxpayer was paying, and he wondered if it was not possible to allocate this money to another area where better services would be provided.
Mr Surty noted the purpose of the Appropriation Bill was to use resources in different areas that had been under-utilised. He expressed that the Minister of Finance would announce at the end of the year, where money for infrastructure on education and health had not been utilised, it would be directed to another area, so that money would go to other priorities. He noted that planning was central, and many problems would be experienced if money was simply directed towards schools without giving provinces the necessary time to consider mergers, so that schools could be effectively utilised.
He noted further that the Committee Members could go to the National DBE’s website to see the photographs of infrastructure programmes. He noted that it was announced when schools opened, on social media, to inform the community. However, often the journalists did not want to see these schooling facilities personally, instead they contact principals about when the school opened and whether the facilities worked.
Mr M Van Dyk (DA) stated that when the Deputy Minister referred to design, it was referred to as “critical design”, referring to water, sanitation and roads. These services were basic to any design and development, so he was not sure why the phrase “critical design” was used.
Mr Surty stated that the critical elements of water, electricity and sanitation, especially in the rural areas, could not be overlooked. The challenge was far greater in rural areas, compared to a metropolitan area where the supply of water and electricity was quite easy. In Eastern Cape in particular, water was a challenge. He noticed that reliance had to be placed on the good will of the municipality to supply the water; provide adequately for sufficient supply, and this was linked to rain harvesting, having the appropriate amount of tanks to ensure that water was flowing, and sanitation links. “Critical design” was used in the context of the terrain of rural areas where the provision of ordinary services was a challenge. He agreed r that in the rural areas in the Free State, and in Gauteng, solar panels had been utilised, but were not the best option as the panels had been stolen. He also spoke to the challenges of sanitation in Limpopo, and the need to educate learners and the community on how to use and maintain environmental toilets. The National DBE had invited Section 27 to come to communities and educate learners, educators and communities on how to use them. The National DBE was indeed learning through its engagements. He noted that Mr Padayachee had provided 49 000 units of furniture to the Eastern Cape and 49 000 units of desks from the National DBE to Limpopo, due to the crisis there. Litigation process would follow, due to the fact that resources needed to be delivered and so there was an attempt to deliver as much as possible at the same time, and appealed to the Committee to appreciate that this was a very complex situation.
Ms Mfulo asked if universal access was provided to schools, and if not, then wondered if it should be accessible for people with disabilities.
Mr Surty stated that accessibility was absolutely essential, in terms of design. All the new schools that he visited were accessible.
The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister and DBE. He noted that in one province a particular Councillor had ordered that the electricity line to move closer to his or her home, whilst the school fell outside of this provision, so urged that DBE and Eskom should ensure that electricity was provided at schools.
Other business: Minute adoption
The Committee adopted its minutes for 29 January, 4 February and 5 February 2014.
The meeting was adjourned.
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