Department of Basic Education on its Jan-June 2016 performance, with Deputy Minister in attendance

Standing Committee on Appropriations

13 September 2016
Chairperson: Ms Y Phosa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) reported that past issues on which progress had been made included the delivery of school workbooks, as in recent years delivery had been almost 100%. 55 million schoolbooks had been distributed to 24 000 schools. The number of people who had benefited from mass literacy programmes exceeded four million. Adults had been supported with literacy and numeracy education in mother tongue and English.

The Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) had to replace unsafe and mud schools, and provide basic services, water and sanitation and electricity. The Department had done well. At a previous meeting with the Committee there had been 104 schools, and currently there were 167 practically completed. One school per week was being delivered.

Challenges were most prevalent in the Eastern Cape. There were 5 264 schools, and of those, 1 000 had fewer than 135 learners, which made them not viable. With schools which had only ten, 12 or 15 learners, the question was whether to replace or to merge. Such procedures were complicated. 1 200 schools had to be merged or closed in the Eastern Cape. The Western Cape experience had to be learnt from. A step by step guide had been created for closure, rationalisation or mergers.

The fourth quarterly report on expenditure for 2015/16 indicated that under-spending on ASIDI was due to the consultation process on rationalisation taking longer than expected. There had been low spending on the expanded public works programme (EPWP) Kha Ri Gude literacy campaign. Overspending in respect of conditional grants was due to rollovers approved at the provincial level, which not been included in the DBE budget. There was low spending of the maintenance budgets in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Limpopo province.

Similar challenges were identified in the first quarter report for 2016/17. There had been under-performance on the number of schools monitored for the provision of nutritious meals, while under-spending on the Kha Ri Gude campaign had been due to the DBE not signing the memorandum of understanding (MoU) from the EPWP.

Members wanted to know why the DBE stressed rationalisation as contributing to under-performance on infrastructure delivery, whereas the Treasury had emphasised under-performance by the implementing agents. The Committee advised that rationalisation should be managed according to time frames. Irregular expenditure and consequence management caused concern. There were comments and questions about the payment of volunteers; the exchange rate and the funding of organisations; low spending on maintenance; lack of monitoring of nutritious meals; the postponement of workbook delivery payments; low spending on the maths, science and technology grant; rollovers; teacher absenteeism, and the non-submission of information by provinces.

Members found the non-payment of teachers particularly disturbing. The Chairperson told the newly-appointed Director General that he had to respond to a time of rapid socio-economic transformation. She advised that he adopt the Eastern Cape as a legacy project.

Meeting report

Introductory remarks

Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister: Department of Basic Education, congratulated the Chairperson on her portfolio, which he described as the heartbeat of oversight. He introduced Mr Hubert Mweli, who had been permanently appointed as Director General recently. He also introduced the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Ms Ntsetsa Molalekoa, and other members of the DBE delegation.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had also asked that the Audit Committee and Internal Audit be present.

Mr Mweli replied that the chairperson of the Audit Committee could not attend, and that he could not apologise on his behalf. The director of Internal Audit had fallen ill.

Ms S Shope-Sithole (ANC) commented that although illness could not be predicted, it was essential that the Committee receive the latest reports from the two sections. They were important in following the use of money.

Ms E Louw (EFF) commented that it had been said that the DG could not apologise on behalf of the Audit Committee chairperson. She asked if it was not the case that he reported to the DG.

Dr C Madlopha (ANC) said that it was a matter of concern, seeing that invitations had been made on time for the Accounting Officer (AO), the CFO, the Audit Committee and Internal Audit to be there. To do its oversight, the Committee had to talk to the relevant people. No apology from the Audit Committee chairperson was unacceptable. The Committee had considered sending delegations back if the relevant people were not present. Information was needed for oversight. Sickness could be understood, but there had to be a written apology.

The Chairperson said that she would rule on the matter. The AO was there. But the Audit Committee had to be told that their future conduct would have to be more professional. The chairperson of the monitoring and evaluation unit would also be invited in future. Officials were there for a purpose, to contribute to financial and non-financial management.

The Deputy Minister said that he also disapproved of the absence. The illness could not have been foreseen. The official would be present at the next meeting. He was interested in the fact that the director of the monitoring and evaluation unit would be invited in future. There was a person dedicated to that task. A document would be prepared for the quarterly report to Cabinet. He asked to be excused at 12h00, as he had to receive a delegation from SA and abroad.

The Chairperson replied that Members could understand that.

Ms Shope-Sithole asked that a few words be said about the absence of the minister. The Committee wanted to see the captain of the ship.

The Chairperson added that trust had to be strengthened. It was expected of the Minister. The AO had to tell people to take meetings seriously. The 2013 vision had to be achieved.

The Deputy Minister said that the Minister was on an oversight visit herself. The DG was in the Portfolio Committee meeting for Basic Education, and had asked to be released. Progress over the two quarters would be reported on in terms of over-expenditure and under-expenditure. Causes and mitigating steps would be outlined. The Executive took the responsiblities of Parliament seriously. The presence of senior officials was deemed important.

Past issues on which progress had been made included the delivery of school workbooks. In recent years, delivery had been almost 100%. 55 million schoolbooks had been distributed. The number of people who had benefited from mass literacy programmes exceeded four million. Adults had been supported with literacy and numeracy education in mother tongue and English. There was an independent assessment, before a pass.  He had recently handed over certificates in Taung. Old people had been proud, and their dignity was affirmed.

The Kha Ri Gude programme had two streams. There had been a government allocation and an increase in numbers of those involved in the expanded public works programme (EPWP). It was easier for the DBE to manage its own system internally. When it had to rely on other departments, there were delays.

There were three streams related to infrastructure. The Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) had to replace unsafe and mud schools. It was coordinated by the President, and provided basic services, water and sanitation and electricity. The Department had done well. At a previous meeting with the Committee there had been 104 schools, and currently there were 167 practically completed. One school per week was being delivered.

Challenges were most prevalent in the Eastern Cape. There were 5 264 schools, and of those, 1 000 had fewer than 135 learners, which made them not viable. With schools which had only ten, 12 or 15 learners, the question was whether to replace or to merge. Such procedures were complicated. The courts were saying that there had to be collaboration and consultation between stakeholders, including members of the governing bodies and traditional leaders. There had to be transport for learners and provision for teaching posts. A team from the national department had rendered support. 1 200 schools had to be merged or closed in the Eastern Cape. The process was being taken seriously, and he had met twice with the Department of Public Works (DPW) and its implementing agents (IAs). There was already improvement. The Minister of Finance and the Education Deputy Minister had met with contractors and IAs two and a half years previously. The process of mergers could be held back, with six to nine months being lost. The Western Cape experience had to be learnt from. A step by step guide had been created for closure, rationalisation or mergers.

The dashboard indicated departmental performance. It was a hard-working team, which took education to heart. The DG and Deputy Directors General (DDGs) met every quarter with district directors to discuss issues. It was apolitical. Networking improved performance. There were huge challenges in education. There was a move away from mediocrity, but excellence was yet to be attained. The mean for literacy and numeracy was being exceeded for the first time in history.

The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister for providing insight. The Committee insisted that the AO take full responsibility.

Dr M Figg (DA) said that the Committee had recommended that briefings should not be longer than 12 pages. The briefing for the day was comprised of 64 pages.

The Chairperson asked that briefings not be read through. There had to be a focus on key issues.

Ms Shope-Sithole commented that the Chairperson had said that South Africans had to be convinced that their money was being taken seriously. Mr Mweli had education at heart. She was from Limpopo. When the Minister was invited to go there, he had to come along. People blamed the President, but not the Ministers.

The Chairperson said that the Committee could not be there all day. Key issues had to be focused on.

Fourth quarterly report on expenditure for 2015/16
Mr Hubert Mweli, Director General, presented. The briefing covered areas of under-expenditure; performance indicators and targets, and areas of under-performance; the service delivery implications of slow spending; the Kha Ri Gude campaign; and progress on the ASIDI and Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG).

There had been under-spending on the ASIDI programme due to a process of consultation on the rationalisation of schools that had taken longer than anticipated. Under-spending on the schools’ infrastructure backlogs indirect grant had been due to the rationalisation of schools. There had been low spending on the EPWP: Kha Ri Gude (45.25% of appropriation). Over-expenditure in respect of conditional grants had been due to rollovers approved at the provincial level that had not been included in the DBE budget.

The 2015/16 target for teachers who had written the self-diagnostic assessments for English First Additional Language (EFAL) had been 20 000, but the actual output at the end of the fourth quarter had been 487. The under-performance related to the percentage of learners who had obtained a National Senior Certificate was due to an increase in high order of questions across all subjects, to drive quality.

There had been low spending of the maintenance budget in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Limpopo province. Schools’ infrastructure delivery was to be accelerated by promoting the use of multiple implementing agents, including the private sector, and making use of alternative procurement approaches.
   
Discussion
Dr Madlopha thanked the DO and the Deputy Minister for poroviding reasons for failed spending. It was the responsibility of the Committee to follow expenditure performance, to make sure there was value for money. The DBE was number ten on the list of the top 20 departments receiving large allocations. R22 billion had been allocated to it. For infrastructure allocation, it ranked number four.

She appreciated improvements reported, but there were challenges related to ASIDI. A presentation by the Treasury had stated that ASIDI challenges centered on the difficulty to replace under-performers. The Department was saying that the challenge was rationalisation. She asked what the real problem was, and what the reasons were for the failure to replace under-performers. Under-performance amounted to a breach of contract. She asked what was stated in contracts about non-performance. What interventions and remedies were there for better expenditure performance in infrastructure? Failure to spend on infrastructure caused service delivery challenges. Job creation proceeded from infrastructure development. Failure to replace under-performers contributed to unemployment. She recognised that rationalisation was a challenge, but processes of rationalisation could be set out during planning. There could be spending on other projects to make a difference. Reasons for delay had to be clarified.

The Department was performing unevenly on key performance areas like strategic and supply chain management, as policies were not being implemented. If allocated resources were not well managed, it had negative impact. She asked about challenges that prevented achievement in key performance areas. Ineffective internal auditing led to plans not being complied with. The Committee had followed the DBE’s performance since 2011/12, and it was a repeat offender with regard to irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure. Irregular expenditure was increasing. The same was true for fruitless and wasteful expenditure, but there had been improvement. Irregular expenditure had been R74.28 million in 2011/12. It had been R82.8 million the year after, and R83.8 million the following year. Irregular expenditure had persisted. In terms of section 38 (1)(c) of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), the AO had to prevent unauthorised, irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure. It was not an option. Section 38 also prescribed that people who committed acts that undermined finance management had to be taken to task. Basic Education was lacking in consequence management. She asked about plans by the department to prevent that.

Ms M Manana (ANC) commented that the poor performance of ASIDI since its introduction in 2011 caused great concern. Ms Shope-Sithole had pointed out that the Department was saying that rationalisation was the main problem, but the Treasury had found it to be due to under-performers. The DBE had not raised that problem. Delays resulted in cost escalation. She asked if under-performers who caused delays could be named. She asked about the punishment of under-performers by the Department. Successful projects created jobs. She asked about under-spending challenges. Volunteers in the EPWP Kha Ri Gude programme had not been paid, despite money being allocated. She asked how many volunteers had been affected.

Dr Figg commented that the Deputy Minister had said that the number of schools (138) that had to close, were the highest in the Eastern Cape. The Deputy Minister had referred to mud schools. He asked if any schools that had to close or merge could still be used. Why had the increase in high order questions caused concern? Why was the target for schools being provided with sanitation facilities 99%, and that for the provision of electronic data to the learner tracking system was 60%.

Ms Shope-Sithole asked if the DG had signed a contract with the Minister.

Ms D Senokoanyane (ANC) referred to the over-spending related to exam setting and moderation. It had always been a challenge. The allocation of funding had to be reviewed. She asked why it had happened in the first place. There was always a problem with payment of the integrated examination system. She asked about issues related to exchange rate funding and international organisations. It was good to know that estimates were currently done. She referred to over-expenditure and rollovers. A rollover was requested when it was committed to something. She asked for an explanation. She asked about the role of the Department of Public Works (DPW) in terms of infrastructure. The DPW blamed the DBE when information was not submitted on time.

The Chairperson remarked that the DPW was blaming the Department, and the Department was blaming the DPW. Blame shifting was not a solution.

Ms Louw said that she was covered by her colleagues. She asked about consequences for IAs who were poor performers. She asked what steps were taken, and whether those currently employed were not poor performers. She was concerned about the fact that the Deputy Minister and the Treasury were painting different pictures. She referred to the over-expenditure on transfers and subsidies, which had been remarked on by Treasury. Over-expenditure was said to have been related to exchange rates. Mitigation measures were given. She asked which organisations were being referred to.

Mr A McLoughlin (DA) noted that expenditure on the Kha Ri Gude literacy project had been 45.25%. This was an indictment. People had done work, but had not been paid. Poor people were desperate for work. They had to wait months to get paid. The target for Kha Ri Gude learners completing the programme for 2015/16 had been 430 441, but 329 641 learners had been registered in 2015. The target would never have been reached. It had to be readjusted. There were 5 000 schools that did not even have a project to maintain them. The problem was being compounded. In the following year, the DBE would have to start with 5 000 schools plus the ones due for the year after.

The DBE had spent only 85% of the maintenance budget. Maintenance was highly important. It was almost a swearword in local government. If it was not done, things fell apart and had to be built from scratch.  Eight percent of the local government budget had to go to maintenance. It would be best to have a fixed figure. The figure would have to be increased, otherwise schools would have to be built forever. A point had to be reached where there were enough schools. There was a growing population, but a point would be reached where it would slow down as backlogs were eliminated.

The Chairperson remarked that service providers were obliged to comply with the PFMA. She asked what was being done to ensure that service providers were paid within 30 days. The PFMA prescribed it. There could be no compromise when it came to compliance. It was the law, and had to be respected.

She referred to school maintenance. The Treasury insisted that departments had to have maintenance budgets to ensure the reduction of long term costs. Infrastructure had to be refurbished and it had to be ensured that it was highly functional. Only 85% of funds had been used. The money was there, but it was not being used. Available money had to be used in terms of the maintenance plan.

Mr N Gcwabaza (ANC) asked that ‘other transfers’ that had resulted in over-spending by 105.86%, be explained. He asked what departmental operations were. It had been stated that the lack of an appropriate platform and required funding had prevented the DBE and the provinces from undertaking self-diagnostic assessments for English First Additional Language (EFAL). The target set had been too high and the DBE could not acquire the required amounts. It sounded to him as if the DBE had expected money from somewhere else.

He asked if the over-spending provinces had delivered more, or if there had been unexpected causes for the over-spending. Challenges related to any unexpected causes had to be dealt with. Was the low number of schools delivered by the Free State, Northern Cape and North West provinces because there was not a problem, or the result of incapacity and low performance? The expenditure on maintenance relative to the maintenance budget for Gauteng and Northern Cape had been 160% and 200% respectively – did this suggest over-performance or over-spending? There had been low spending (38%) on the Education Infrastructure Grant in June, except for North West Province. Why was that so? He asked about the names of the IAs that had let the department down.

Ms Louw asked about the overspending on the National Education and Evaluation Development Unit (NEEDU).

The Chairperson commented that the targets related to the number of schools had to be known, to check progress in terms of the National Development Plan (NDP). She asked what interventions would be required from the Committee. Over-expenditure and non-compliance with Treasury norms was an offence, in terms of the PFMA. She asked the AO why he allowed non-compliance with PFMA norms. He had to explain if there was non-delivery. He had a monthly monitoring tool. In Year Monitoring (IYM) could help him.

DBE’s response
The Deputy Minister responded that the implementing agents were the DPW, the Independent Development Trust (IDT), the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA), Boland Trust and private contractors. DBSA’s performance at the initial recommendations stage had been below par. The Minister of Finance had reviewed it. There would be a contract for eight schools, and four schools would be good and four bad. Contracts were intertwined. It was decided that each school had to have its own contract. The DPW and the DBE had met with the Deputy Minister in the Eastern Cape.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had performed poorly in respect of water and sanitation. The contract had been handed over to Mvula Trust, and it had done well in Mpumalanga. IDT had done well in some provinces and badly in others. The contract had been terminated in the Eastern Cape. The DPW had wanted to strengthen the IDT within the Department. The DBE met regularly with the DPW and IAs to map out the programme. There were reports to departments every two months. Communities in the Western Cape did not want contractors who were not from the region. Two schools in the Western Cape had not been completed due to bad engineering. The Eastern Cape had over-spent for the first time on engineers and quantity surveyors.

The DBE was responsible for the eradication of unsafe and mud schools. In some regions, unsafe schools were asbestos schools. The DBE had to be quick to finalise contracts.   When a building contract was concluded, there was a 30-day retention period. Retention amounts were as low as 2.5% or 5%. Contractors did not bother about issues in that case. The figure had to be 20%.

There had to be close cooperation with provincial departments. The DBE could not determine the number of provincial schools to be completed. Provinces received conditional grants, and it had to be checked that ASIDI did not clash with their programmes. The DBE provided additional support to them for infrastructure, even though there was a reduced infrastructure grant. The Division of Revenue Act (DoRA) provided for the allocation of resources.

There 104 schools under ASIDI in Gauteng, and 16 in the Northern Cape. There were 20 000 new learners every year in Gauteng. In Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape and KZN, the demand was far higher than in the Northern Cape. People moved from the Northern Cape to Gauteng and the Western Cape. Gauteng and the others were not more efficient, it was a matter of increased demand.  ASIDI schools were fully furnished with libraries, water and sanitation, and were information communication technology (ICT) connected. Rural schools were getting smaller and urban schools were getting larger. Planning had to take the migration from rural to urban areas into account.

The Kha Ri Gude adult literacy programme employed 32 000 volunteers, who provided services for a stipend. It provided employment opportunities for many. Many became Grade R teachers. Funds were located in the DPW. The DBE had to comply with an external process before funds could be released. It was unacceptable to have volunteers work for a stipend that could not be paid. There had been progress with the eradication of illiteracy. Challenges with regard to volunteers had been resolved and the DBE was in the ‘mop-up’ phase. More than 4.2 million learners had attained adult literacy education.

Mr Surty told Dr Figg that the vocational element had been introduced with regard to closed schools. An occupational element would be introduced in the following year. Vacant schools would be used. If there was an orientation towards technical schools, they did not have the money to drive that process quickly enough. 1 000 schools had been improved technically.

He referred to the National Senior Certificate examination. 700 000 learners had sat for the examination, which was the highest ever. Of the 65 000 progressed learners, who would not normally sit but had been given an opportunity, 12 500 had passed. There was a cognitive demand. The bar was being raised year after year. Learners had to be prepared to cope with university studies. It was no longer required of learners to regurgitate information. Innovative problem-solving skills were being built into exam papers. It was more challenging, but there would be benefits. Compensation for language could not be done away with. A learner who had no experience of using English as the first additional language in social or institutional contexts struggled to write a paper in English. But the level of compensation was reduced year after year. The pass rate for supplementary exams had been 74%. Cognitive demand would continue to be improved.  

The Deputy Minister replied about the tracking system. There could be a 100% target if all schools were web-based or had ICT. It could be achieved in a month. The DBE was converting its platform to web-based, to be able to track curriculum coverage, and learner performance and attendance. It was already in effect in Gauteng and the Western Cape, but in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape the geography did not contribute to an easy solution.

Regarding rollovers, if the Treasury was told that a department could not pay, it would not take away the money -- there could be a rollover, with the understanding that payment would occur within two months, when there was visible evidence of work done. But rollovers had to be done in consultation with the Treasury. Partnership with the DPW was critical. The two departments could not work as silos. The DPW had to strengthen the IDT.

He replied to Ms Louw that there had been consequences for the CSIR and IDT for under-performing. Contracts had been terminated and taken away from them. To deliver one school a week for 30 months was not a bad achievement -- and they were state of the art schools. No school in the Western Cape had been built for less than R25 million. 50 schools would be completed in the current financial year. There had to be vigilance in monitoring to determine non-performing contractors. His approach was that there could not be spending on infrastructure if there was not spending on maintenance. The Treasury had agreed that 20% of the infrastructure budget had to go towards maintenance. The Committee would receive a report on the coming Thursday about how far promulgated norms and standards had been complied with, and to what extent the maintenance element had been used.

The issue of upgrading toilets in Gauteng had to be attended to immediately. The dignity of learners had to be respected. The Treasury would condone over-expenditure if it was not wasteful. The extent of spending depended on the learner population and the number of schools. Over-expenditure and under-expenditure was not always tied to efficiency. Gauteng and the Western Cape did better with human resources (HR). There were better engineers and quantity surveyors. It was hard in rural Limpopo, where there was no ability to spend. The Treasury would dedicate resources to improving HR.

He told the Chairperson that targets for provinces would be given. Everyone was working harder, with even the Minister involved. One lost when one took one’s eye off the ball.

Ms Ntsetsa Molalekoa, CFO, replied with regard to exchange rates and transfers. There was over-expenditure when exchange rates went up, and the Treasury had to increase the budget. Transfers in the previous year had been affected by a huge increase in the exchange rate. The Treasury had not given its approval in the previous year. The exchange rate would be monitored when invoices were received. If the exchange rate was low and there was too much money, approval had to be obtained from the Treasury.

She replied about rollovers. Money was transferred to the provinces through conditional grants, but when a rollover was requested, under-spending from the previous year did not go through the departmental books. The DBE books would show a conditional grant of R50 million, for example, but R5 million from the provincial treasury would not be reflected in its files. It would show that R55 million had been spent -- it was not split up. There was no distinction between DBE money and what was given directly to them. It did not mean that the DBE had over-spent.

The Chairperson advised that there had to be an internal arrangement to split it, so that every cent could be accurately accounted for. The provinces accounted to the DBE, so the DBE had to account for every cent given to them. She asked which international organisations were affected by over-expenditure on transfers, besides the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The CFO replied that it was also the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). Over-expenditure on departmental operations was due to initiatives by the exams unit. There were subjects where papers were marked centrally, which had not been done before. Normally marking was done in provinces, which paid for that. Budgets would in future be given upfront, rather than after the fact. The relevant unit would be spoken to.

The Chairperson asked what ADEA stood for.

The Deputy Minister replied that the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) dealt with all educational issues. It had an African focus, besides UNESCO, and most African regions were part of it. It had been constituted in South Africa, which had chaired it at one stage. It made it possible for Africa to speak with one voice at UNESCO.

Mr Mweli said that there was a zero approach to non-compliance with the PFMA, which applied to the entire staff. He had newly taken over, and had inherited all the assets and liabilites. He had written letters and received responses. In terms of the PFMA, the aim was zero non-compliance. Compliance with the payment of invoices within 30 days was monitored on a monthly basis. Some transactions were outside of the Provincial Equitable Share (PES). The Treasury was reported to on a monthly basis. There were forums of heads of departments (HODs) and members of executive committees (MECs).

He told Mr McLoughlin that all volunteers were regularly paid. While the DBE waited for the DPW to transfer funds, it used its own money. As soon as the money was received, records were reconciled.

According to the classical definition of the Ministerial task team, of the number of people who had gone through basic numeracy and literacy for adults, the 4.7 million target had been exceeded. People were assessed to reflect requisite competencies, and 4.2 million had been assessed. Other committees that had to deal with more than one department found it better to deal with them all under one roof. The same applied to the DBE and the Treasury. Rationalisation was not an important factor for the Treasury, but for the DBE it was.

There were definitely consequences for under-performing IAs.

He had signed a contract with the Minister, and had been evaluated. A contract had been signed for 2016/17. All senior managers had to do so. When the DBE under-performed, it reflected. If it was found that the department was punching above its own weight, targets were adjusted. The Deputy Minister had covered the penalties for IAs. The IDT posed numerous challenges.

He answered Dr Figg that the percentages reflected what could be delivered above what could be expected. He agreed with Dr Madlopha that the DBE was a serial offender with irregular expenditure. He had written letters to the relevant managers. Libraries had been built, but the correct procedure was not followed. The Treasury would not condone that, but he had met with the Treasury DG and the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO). They were reconsidering the matter. He acted against officials who did not follow the law.

The Chairperson commented on quality education. Teachers complained that students from Basic Education did not know English. Quality education had to be addressed. The President had stated that education was an apex priority. There were problems with the quality of students who entered universities. It had been stated that in 2015/16, the self-assessment test had been at the pilot stage, hence the low output. The DBE had to take quality education seriously, and move fast. The target for EFAL had been 20 000, and the actual output was 487. There had to be impact and value for money. Practical interventions had to be looked at. Educated cadres had to take the nation to greater heights. It had to be granted that it was a pilot, but she told Mr Mweli emphatically that it was just not enough.

She asked who was to be blamed for consequence management. There had to be consequence management for poor delivery. Rationalisation had to be placed in a time frame. The democracy was 21 years old. She had first heard of mud schools when she was still with the former Minister of Education, Naledi-Pandor. She told Mr Mweli that he had unfortunately arrived at a time when the President had announced that the country was in a radical socio-economic phase, so he had to hit the ground running. He had to make it his legacy project to get rid of mud schools. People were waiting for innovation. The Treasury could not just allocate grants. There had to be a plan from the provinces. Instruments had to be planned to measure the provinces. The DG was not responding to the call of a radical phase. Ms Shope-Sithole had commented that when there was no service delivery, everybody blamed the President. The radical phase required innovation. The Deputy Minister was on top of matters, and understood the issues. The Committee did not want to hear that the DBE had over-targeted. Targets had to be realistic and information brought to the Committee had to be accurate. Blaming rationalisation was a defence mechanism. Officials could lie. The Constitution demanded accurate information. There could be no excuses.

The Deputy Minister said that he had good news about the non-intrusive self assessment instrument. 94 had been developed across all grades for maths, science and English. English had been started with, to develop the ability to carry out the interactive instrument. At 141 teacher resource centres, office managers had been asked to make the instrument part of the development programme for educators. It was not intrusive, and could be carried out through universities. The instrument had been tested and could be used at teacher resource centres. He noted the comments on English across the curriculum. English was part of curriculum development.

First quarterly report on expenditure for 2016/17
The briefing covered areas of under-expenditure; performance indicators and targets, and service delivery implications from slow spending; and the Kha Ri Gude campaign. The School Infrastructure Backlog grant showed a deviation due to payments in respect of ASIDI projects. Rationalisation for schools had had an impact on ASIDI spending trends. There had been under-performance on the number of schools monitored for the provision of nutritious meals. Reasons for under-spending on the Kha Ri Gude campaign were that the DBE had not yet signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the EPWP. The Kha Ri Gude budget allowed for 14 500 volunteers, but EPWP had allocated R68 million for 40 000 job opportunities.
 
Discussion
Ms Shope-Sithole commented that she liked the way the DG presented. The DBE and the DPW were part of one government. She requested that the DG visit Acornhoek in Mpumalanga. There was no education there. He should also visit Bushbuck Ridge.

Dr Figg asked if workbooks would be delivered by the start of the new financial year. The target of 50% of sampled school governing bodies (SGBs) for 2016/17 was unacceptable. Not one school had been monitored for nutritious meals. The DBE had not yet signed the MoU from the EPWP, which was for poor people who were desperate for work.

Mr McLoughlin said that he would concentrate on finance, rather than performance. It was worrying if more than 50% was already spent in the first quarter. He asked why so much had been spent on Funza Lushaka. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was taking money from Basic Education. 7.42% of the appropriation had been spent on the Schools Infrastructure Backlogs Indirect Grant, and he asked if there had been proper oversight. Workbook delivery was scheduled for the first quarter, but it was currently being postponed.  Actual expenditure on the EPWP: Kha Ri Gude had been zero. It had been 45% in the fourth quarter. It was not correct to speak of volunteers --volunteers worked without pay. Those were workers. Matric second chance expenditure was low, at 2.07% of the appropriation. The maths, science and technology grant had been only 10% of the appropriation for the first quarter. It was the most important part of education, and needed attention and oversight. Only 10% of the HIV and Aids life skills grant had been spent. When he looked at the schedule, and granted 5% leeway either way on what should have been spent, only the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and NEEDU line items fitted.

Dr Madlopha said the target for mathematics workbooks had been 100% -- but of what, because there had been no number. A percentage could only be derived from numbers. She asked that the DBE unpack that in future. Members were not technocrats. They were taught in school that percentages were derived from numbers.

Ms Senokoanyane referred to the section on deviations, and the reasons for them. She asked if it was allowed in terms of law for the DBE to say that it did not spend in the first quarter, but would spend at the end of the year. Was there someone in the DBE who could deal with the non-submission of information by provinces? Someone had to follow up. She asked if the DBE waited for provinces to submit, as it was unacceptable to say that they submitted late.

Ms Manana commented that during the last engagement with the DBE, she had raised an issue involving her constituency. Oversight had been done regarding the non-functioning of schools. She asked about progress with the issue. It was in the Balfour constituency. She wanted a response before the end of the month.

Ms Louw said the target for the number of learners participating in social cohesion programmes was 6 000. There were 5 520 outstanding. She asked what was being done to meet targets, and which provinces were affected by deviations. The target for the number of “hot spot” schools was 46, but the actual output was 12. The deviation from the planned target was 34. She asked when it would be resolved. The delay in the payment of teachers for matric second chance had been due to the non-submission of the required documentation by the teachers, but it looked like there had been no follow up on payments. Departments should not be allowed to tell the Committee that there had been unauthorised expenditure on a programme. Departments had to be taught to stick to their budgets Things were being allowed to slip, with departments saying every year that they were allowed to move money. There had to be a way to figure it out. Government policies were not in line with projects to be implemented.

The Chairperson referred to teachers not being paid. Teachers had validated the fact that some had not been paid since April. She asked the DBE to consider what would happen to them if they did not get their salaries. Some teachers had not been paid for many months. It was a violation of their dignity. She asked if the DBE was responding.

The DBE had achieved 200% in some targeted areas, as mentioned in the previous quarterly report. She asked where it had got the money, and whether it had spent money that it did not have. The Committee was looking in a balanced way at where the DBE was getting the money. The EPWP Kha Ri Gude would under-spend by the end of the financial year, and the DBE might not get the money back, as the Treasury was strict with grants. Grants had to be used for people on the ground. They had to be used or else they would go back. Under-spending had occurred because the DBE had received money it did not need. The DG had the job, and it was up to him to deliver. The DG had inherited problems when he came in, and he had to take ownership of them.

Mr Mweli responded that he accepted the responsibility with an open heart. He replied to Ms Shope-Sithole that he would follow up on Acornhoek. He had visited that district and would do so again. He would talk to the district director.

The Chairperson said that the Committee wanted a report on the matter.

Mr Mweli continued that the DBE had gone past the challenge of workbooks not being delivered.  Workbooks were the responsibility of the DBE, not the provinces. External auditors had confirmed a 100% achievement of targets. By March in the following year, the workbooks for 2017 would be paid for. The MoU with the DPW should have been signed at the beginning of the year, but Kha Ri Gude had not started yet. Even so, he would accept responsibility for that.

The Chairperson asked why it had not started.

Mr Mweli replied that it did not follow the same cycle as the calendar year. The allocation was according to hours of teaching, not days and months of the year. The cycle had just started and would be completed at the end of the year. If some of the learners did not get through in the current cycle, they could be placed in the next cycle as well.

Dr Madlopha asked how the MoU worked. The programme was there, and the MoU was supposed to be in place.

Mr Mweli replied that the MoU was linked to the cycle, because targets were not the same, and the allocations were not the same.

The Chairperson insisted that that the DBE had to be professional, and sign the MoU.

Mr Mweli replied that it had to be worked out as a line function, and then proceed to him. The MoU could be finalised before the start of the cycle as long as the numbers were available.

Dr Madlopha noted that the full amount of the budget for volunteers had not been received.

Mr Mweli replied that the number of volunteers was linked to the number of learners. The actual number of learners would affect the number of volunteers. Sometimes fewer learners were found than expected. The DBE had got half of the target of 400 for the fourth quarter.

Regarding spending on Funza Lushaka, the DBE funded certain subjects, because if it did not do so there was no guarantee that it would receive money. The DBE funded the project, although ideally it should be funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The programme had been initiated by the DBE to answer a need. To meet that need, the DBE had to control the funding. Foundation phase teachers were needed for certain subjects. Funding came from the DBE.

Spending on infrastructure had been low, and IAs had been read the riot act. They had to improve. They were told to shape up or ship out. When he was in provincial government, he had planned according to 18 month cycles, so that spending could begin when the financial year kicked in. With the National Schools Nutrition Programme, 9.2 million out of 12 million learners benefited from feeding. The programme was strengthened through monitoring.

He answered Mr McLoughlin that volunteers were called as such, because they only received a stipend. It would be an insult to call them workers. The matric second chance programme always showed under-expenditure because it was not implemented at the beginning of the financial year.

He answered Dr Madlopha that the numbers that the 100% had been derived from, could be supplied. The DBE provided 24 000 schools with 53 million workbooks.

He answered Ms Senokoanyane that the nomenclature would have to be revisited with regard to deviations. The norm for the financial year was 25% per quarter. It was not a deviation from law, but a deviation from the norm. The deviation allowed was 2%. In the Matric second chance programme, for instance, 50% could be spent in the first quarter and the other 50% later.

The Chairperson asked if this was permissible in terms of Treasury regulations.

Mr Mweli replied that it was. It depended on how expenditure was planned. For infrastructure, one was not expected to adhere to the 25% norm. Expenditure was adapted to how the project was planned. The law allowed for that.

The Chairperson stressed that the DBE had to monitor and report on a quarterly basis. The Committee did not want the DBE to escape. The Committee was worried about the under-expenditure on infrastructure.

Mr Mweli replied that DBE could report on how a deviation was in line with the project plan, and indicate what stage a project was in. He had drafted a letter to address the non-submission of information by  provincial education departments. He had to be woefully honest and admit that there were instances where the DBE struggled to get information from provincial education departments. There were difficulties related to concurrent powers. He had written to HODs and drafted a letter for the Minister’s signature to write to MECs. Some provinces were not cooperative, and had not reported to the DBE. The DBE tried to force them through its legislation, as in the National Education Policy Act, or to report them to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), but reporting to the NCOP could take months, and education suffered. The provincial departments and the DBE had to be brought together under one roof.

The Chairperson proposed that non-performing MECs be called in to a future meeting.

Mr Mweli responded that he would be happy to have the heat put on them. Usually the DBE had to answer for their sins. He would provide Ms Manana with exact details about non-performing schools.

Ms Manana referred to teacher absenteeism at Balfour. She had looked at their attendance register, and even the principal was at fault.

The Chairperson asked that the extent of absenteeism be determined.

Mr Mweli responded that it would be handled by the relevant branch.

Ms Manana asked that it be done within a one month time frame.

Mr Mweli responded that he would go there, even if he had to drive there.

He answered Ms Louw, saying that he would find out about the variance between the 5 000 and 6 000 from the line function. The 1 000 could be distributed among the 9 provinces. He would liaise with the HOD in Limpopo about teachers not being paid. There were always two sides to stories. It could be that teachers had been engaged, and someone had not done what they were supposed to do. He agreed that he could not imagine what it was like to not get a salary. He found it inconceivable. The person speaking might have been an official of the province. The DBE did not deal directly with the matter. He held himself responsible for teachers getting paid, though they were not paid from the DBE’s line budget directly.

Dr Figg said that this was happening across the country. Thousands of teachers had not been paid. He asked what the Committee and the DBE were supposed to do, and what teachers were supposed to do. One could not wait even one day for payment.

Mr Mweli said that people had written to the DBE in the past, and problems had been resolved. His cellphone number was on the DBE website. He received calls and text messages. He would get back to the Committee.

Mr Gcwabaza commented that the system of getting information from employee, to principal, to district, to region, to province had to be reviewed. The old system was killing teachers. The system had to be upgraded. It was no longer functional to use a paper trail all the way through, only at the beginning.

Dr Madlopha commented that the National DBE was not linked to the provinces. Information could not move in the current system.

Ms Louw remarked that it was an urgent matter. She asked why there was no money to pay teachers, when there was money to send to some board for African education. The DBE had to put out a statement that all teachers who had not paid been had to inform the DBE, so that it could be established if there were just ‘ghost’ people calling in, or real warm bodies. It was a matter of urgency. Children were affected if payment was even one day late, as had happened to her in December. It affected one’s whole programme.

The Chairperson said that it was no wonder the country did not have quality education. Teachers needed salaries and additional incentives. She asked what other country would do something like not paying teachers. The Constitution required of government to be responsive to the needs of the people.

Mr Mweli responded that DBE spokespersons could go on air at the call centre. He could forward information to the Committee. Teachers could not be paid outside of the Persal system. It would be better to use the DBE communications. The DBE call centre could forward a report.

The Chairperson noted that there had been a clarion call from the Treasury for cost containment. Money had to go directly to service delivery.

Mr Mweli replied that fortunately teachers were appointed only in terms of school staff establishments, which were funded and linked to post provisions. The claim that money was not available was far-fetched, unless people had followed irregular practices in making appointments.

Dr Madlopha said that she was skeptical. It would be correct to write to directors general in different provinces about payment problems. The DBE could go on air afterwards. To go on air without knowing the challenges could create problems. There had to be direct communication with departments in the different provinces.

Mr Mweli responded that it would be best to do both. Information could be gathered from the provinces to verify what was being received from the general public.

Ms Shope-Sithole said that it was a life and death matter. She supported the DG. It was known that people were not getting paid. They were not alone. Provinces were not giving correct information to the National DBE. Provincial information was not dependable. The people who were responsible were getting salaries themselves. They could not be concerned.

Dr Figg remarked that he could see that the DG was sincere. He wanted to add to what Ms Shope-Sithole had said. Information that was circulated to provinces and schools could not return via the same route and through the same channels. It would perhaps be best if it could proceed directly to the DG’s office. He ventured that the DG was going to be surprised at how many people were affected.

Mr Mweli said that he accepted the observation that under-spending was a sign that money had been received that was not needed. Previously, irregular expenditure had been incurred through building libraries. To spend 200% did not mean that one had spent more, but that one had received more money. One would call 100 people to a meeting and receive money for 200.

The DBE and the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions had to be brought together under one roof. For 22 years, teachers produced by universities were not so good. There were reports about equity colleges and skills levels. Yet it would not do for Basic and Higher Education to point fingers at each other. In countries that worked together, people put their heads together and solved problems.

The Chairperson concluded that the Accounting Officer knew what was expected of him, and had to do that. She thanked the Deputy Minister for respecting the Committee and for his time. It was essential that compliance with the law and regulations be ensured. Payment of invoices within 30 days had to be adhered to. There were IAs who were not complying. Under- and over-expenditure amounted to non-compliance with grant conditions, and required consequence management. MoUs for partnerships with stakeholders had to be signed, and terms of reference had to be set out. The partnership had to be set within a framework. The DBE surely had an expert who could assist with that. The Ministers would be at the top, followed by the steering committee, comprised of stakeholders. The steering committee had to agree on pillars, which could be maintenance, quality education, and water and sanitation. There had to be technical support for each pillar. There had to be a programme of action for each pillar, to be taken to the steering committee who could take it back to the political principals. Implementation would follow, with reporting on a monthly basis. There had to be terms of reference for partnerships, with a programme of action which all stakeholders understood, so that they could work in a collaborative manner, to get results. The Committee wanted impact.

The 100% delivery of school workbooks was welcomed, yet the buying of workbooks was postponed to the second quarter. Procrastination was the thief of time. She advised the DG to place the Eastern Cape at the top of the priority list. He had to adopt the Eastern Cape as a legacy project, and make a difference. Radical socio-economic transformation required rationalisation and finalisation of the ASIDI. There had to be innovation to deliver efficiently. The Committee was a partner to the DBE, for quality education for all.

The Chairperson asked that the DBE provide the requested reports before the next meeting.

Committee matters
Adoption of minutes was deferred because of time constraints. The Committee briefly discussed the Committee programme for the immediate future, with reference to an apology received by the DPW Director General. The Director General also had a commitment to account at a committee chaired by the President.The Committee was in agreement that due process had been followed.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.
 
 

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