The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education convened on the 4 October 2017 with the Department of Basic Education for a briefing on the Department’s Annual Performance in Meeting its Strategic Objectives for 2016/17.
The Department of Basic Education’s financial statements were presented. In the 2016/17 financial year, R22.4 billion was appropriated, and R21.4 billion was actually spent, i.e. 95.82%. The Department received an unqualified audit opinion. The Auditor General did not identify any material findings on the usefulness and reliability of the reported performance information for Programme 2 – Curriculum policy, Support and Monitoring; and Programme 5 – Educational Enrichment Services. Programme 4 – Planning, Information and Assessment had received a qualified audit opinion.
The Department of Basic Education highlighted the increased number of learners passing Matric at Bachelor level. A total of 14 343 Funza Lushaka bursaries had been awarded for initial teacher education. Mobile classrooms had been provided for learners in Vuwani, Limpopo where schools had been set alight. Schools and workshops had been supplied with desktop computers, equipment, tools and machinery and Science laboratories equipment. The Department provided daily nutritious meals to 20 300 primary, secondary and special schools nationally, reaching an average of 9 045 049 learners. However, the Department performed badly in respect of replacement of inappropriate schools and the provision of sanitation, water and electricity to schools that were without services. Fruitless and wasteful expenditure incurred on the Kha Ri Gude programme where investigation discovered that some classes did not have learners and others had learners on the basic program who had already attained Matric.
A disagreement between the Department and the Auditor General over the matter of R44 million being fruitless and wasteful expenditure was discussed at length. There were questions as to whether the Attorney General had completed the audit of the Early Childhood Development sector. The Department was disappointed with the presentation of the Financial and Fiscal Commission, because the information disclosed within it dated far back to before 2011 and its report was based on diagnostics prior to the National Development Plan.
The Committee took the Department to task on infrastructure and the construction of schools. There were serious problems with the way in which contractors and the Implementing Agencies had been managed and the particular problems experienced in the Free State. The cost of R40 million to build a new school, whereas the same amount could formerly build a five or so schools, was noted. Concern was expressed at the finding that only 22% of Early Childhood Development educators had NQF level 6 qualifications. Monitoring at the Department was seen to be inadequate and oversight was lacking at mid- and lower levels of management, especially the lack of capacity within the leadership of Finance and Supply Chain Management. There appeared to be a lack of consequence management in the Department. The Auditor General had alleged instability in the leadership of the Accounting Officer.
Support for districts was queried. School safety was questioned in the light of numerous incidents of violence. One Member was particularly concerned about the lack of training of teachers and Deaf Training Assistants for Senior Phase and Grades be elaborated upon, viz the lack of adequate deaf training material, the lack of SIAS linguistic expertise, and the inadequate training of teachers and deaf teaching assistants to teach content of the subjects.
The Committee expected the Director General to ensure better oversight and monitoring to alter the stagnancy of performance, particularly in human resource, financial management, procurement management and contract management. They requested plans to not only improve performance of those areas, but also to fix the status quo.
Apologies were noted for the Minister and the Deputy; however, the Members of the Committee were dissatisfied with their absence and the frequency thereof, as well as the reasons that did not seem to warrant absence.
Breifing by Department of Basic Education (DBE)
Ms Nthabaleng Montsho, Director: Strategic Planning Unit, presented an overview of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) performance. Highlights included:
The number of learners passing Matric at Bachelor level stood at 162 374 in the 2016 NSC examinations. The NDP proposed a target of 450 000 learners passing Grade 12 at Bachelor level by 2030 with the milestone of 300 000 Bachelor by 2024.
The Funza Lushaka bursary allocation from the National Treasury for 2016/17 was just over R1 billion.
A total of 14 343 Funza Lushaka bursaries had been awarded for initial teacher education, exceeding the target of 14 000.
The DBE, in collaboration with the provincial officials, had provided mobile classrooms for learners in Vuwani, Limpopo where schools had been set alight.
177 019 educators signed up to participate in the Continuing Professional Teacher Development (CPTD) Management System.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC) training was conducted in eight provinces. The Western Cape was not included. 750 Subject Advisors and Lead Teachers were trained.
Teacher Union Collaboration (TUC) led 89% of the targeted 22 000 teachers being trained.
Universal coverage of Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSM) was at 93% and retention and retrieval of LTSM was at 85%.
44 schools were supplied with Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) resources such as laptops, tablets and software for Mathematics, Science and Technology
A total of 223 workshops were supplied with equipment, tools and machinery for Technology at Further Education and Training (FET) level.
A total of 296 Physical Sciences Laboratories were supplied with consumables and subject-related apparatus.
In respect of the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI) accumulated numbers since inception were, in terms of total number and number achieved in 2016/17: Replacement of inappropriate schools: 179 delivered: 16 in 16/17; Sanitation: 425 delivered: 9 in 16/17; Water: 615 delivered: 10 in 16/17; and Electricity: 306 delivered: zero in 16/17.
The 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) report was released on 29 November 2016. For the first time South Africa participated in TIMSS Grade 5 Mathematics.
In the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ 4), learners showed significant improvement, with an increase by sixty-three (63) points in Reading and ninety-two (92) points in Mathematics.
DBE provided daily nutritious meals to 20 300 primary, secondary and special schools nationally, reaching an average of 9 045 049 learners.
The overall performance of the 2016/17 Annual Performance was reported as follows:
- Programme 1: Administration - three targets that were fully achieved.
- Programme 2: Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring - 16 targets, of which 13 were achieved and three were partially achieved.
- Programme 3: Teachers, Education Human Resources and Institutional Development - eight targets, six fully achieved and two were unachieved.
- Programme 4: Planning, Information and Assessment - 13 targets of which five fully were achieved, three partially achieved and four unachieved.
- Programme 5: Educational Enrichment Services - four targets, of which three were fully achieved and one was partially achieved
Ms Ntsetsa Molalekoa, Chief Financial Officer, DBE, presented the financial allocation against actual expenditure per programme for the 2016/17 financial year: A total of R22.4 billion was appropriated; R21.4 billion was actually spent, i.e. 95.82%, resulting in a deviation of R937 397 000.
The AGSA gave DBE an unqualified audit opinion with matter of findings. There was an emphasis on fruitless and wasteful expenditure. An amount of R11 157 000 had been incurred in the 2016/17 year. The amount of R42.755 million was part of the R44 million that was originally disclosed as fruitless and wasteful expenditure in 2015/16. Investigations had revealed that it was not fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The AGSA had agreed that it should be moved irregular expenditure, as the policy used to pay stipends to volunteers on a sliding scale had not been approved at the correct level of Accounting Officer. R11.157 million was new fruitless and wasteful expenditure incurred on the Kha Ri Gude programme. Internal investigation had discovered that some classes did not have learners and others had learners doing the basic literacy course when they had already attained Matric. The cases had been reported to the relevant authorities.
Ms N Marchesi (DA) reminded the Department that the Chairperson had asked for a list of contractors and the Implementing Agencies (IA) that it did business with. Could the list be provided to the Committee? A list of implementing agents should be made accessible, as well as the Curricula Vitae of the contractors utilised for serviced. Notwithstanding that the presentation had noted that previous issues had been addressed, page 19 in the Annual Report highlighted Implementing Agencies as a concern yet to be addressed: “the Department appointed DBSA and Eskom as Implementing Agencies (IA) for the Management of ASIDI projects. The Department signed the MOA with the IAs on inception of the projects. The MOAs of DBSA and ESKOM expired on 30th September 2015 and 31st March 2015 respectively. The extension on the MOAs was not renewed on time for the IAs. Therefore, the management expenditure incurred on the IAs was regarded as irregular expenditure.” Why were the MOAs not renewed on time? Obviously, the IA had proceeded with the work, even though there were no MOAs signed. Could DBE elaborate on another point on the same page, viz. “the Department appointed DBSA, Department of Public Works: Eastern Cape and Coega Development Corporation as implementing agencies for the building of schools in various provinces. During the audit of the Department, it was discovered that in some cases the DBSA and CDC Eastern Cape did not comply with the supply chain processes as agreed per Memorandum of Agreement signed with the Department. Therefore, the expenditure incurred for the appointment of contractors without following the SCM process was declared as irregular expenditure.” Also on page 19, it was noted “during the construction of schools, the Department experienced challenges with contractors that were either not performing or liquidated”. How had DBE managed to give projects to contractors that showed signs of insufficient funds? Had new contractors been appointed once the performance of the initial contractors proved poor, and if so, were the processes duly followed?
With regards to the Vuwani schools an amount of R131 million had been allocated by National Treasury to rebuild the 20 schools that had been destroyed in protest action. Since not all of the allocated funds were utilized on those particular schools, but were spent on other school as well; why was that expenditure not elaborated upon in the Annual Report? The Portfolio Committee was aware that the funds had been dispersed, but had not been informed of the extent of the division. Referring to page 142 in the Annual Report, she asked for the particulars of the fourth instalment to the Free State of the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG). What had led to the financial crisis? The Annual Report stated that “the fourth instalment of the Free State had been withheld following concerns that the Department was faced with, a financial crisis that had been compounded by the cash flow management limitations that they had been subjected to by the Free State Provincial Treasury, which had led to delayed payments to contractor, the fifth instalment to Free State amounting to R86 890 million was withheld. The said instalment had since been re-allocated to KwaZulu- Natal.”
She noted the ASIDI accumulated numbers since inception:
- Replacement of inappropriate schools: sixteen were delivered out of 179 targeted;
- Sanitation: nine delivered out of 425 targeted;
- Water: 10 schools were delivered out of 615 targeted in 2016/17; and
- Electricity: zero was delivered out of the 306 targeted in 2016/17.
In view of Norms and Standards, coupled with the deadline that was the end of the year, those issues should have been addressed. In spite of the possibility of improvement, even by the end of the year, the targets would not be entirely reached. Equal Education had threatened to sue the Department on account of lack of delivery. How far was the Department regarding the realisation of those targets? What measures had been put in place to address the situation? It was implausible that in the same country, a state of the art school had been built at R40 million for one rural community, whilst many others did not have even basic sanitation facilities or access to running water. The infrastructure of public schools should be the same. Even if it were not state of the art, it should be fundamentally the same.
The Chairperson interjected that time management should be implemented.
Ms Marchesi replied that the meeting was scheduled for a whole day.
The Chairperson answered that despite having an entire day allocated to deliberate, it was imperative that order was enforced ensuring a first round of questioning and answers followed by a follow-up session. Should a Member have ten questions altogether, it should be divided into rounds of five questions each. This would ensure that the delegation of the DBE was given sufficient time to answer, as opposed to leaving questions pending for written responses.
Ms Marchesi noted that the Portfolio Committee was deliberating an Annual Report, of which the presentation alone had 123 pages. It was impractical to opt for only five questions per Member. The review of the Annual Report was not the same as a deliberation of a particular topic that regularly took place on a Tuesday. It was a whole day meeting. What would be done after the Report, as nothing else was scheduled?
Ms H Boshoff (DA) noted that dissension was taking place. The Chairperson replied that in spite of having the whole day allocated for deliberation, it should be managed properly and effectively. Members were not to act as individuals, but as a collective. If a Member failed to ask one question, another Member should be able to ask it.
Mr D Mnguni (ANC) requested that the Chairperson allocate a maximum number of questions that each Member could ask to permit a fair opportunity for each Parliamentarian. Ms J Basson (ANC) advocated that the time was shared equally amongst the Committee Members. That would prohibit one Member from asking 20 questions and leaving none for the last Member to ask. A first round could be done followed by a second round and, if necessary, a third round could be done to support time management.
The Chairperson concluded that even though it was an Annual Report that was being deliberated, the Department was present to answer every concern. Thus, each Member should ask only five questions at a time. Honourable Marchesi had asked too many question at once; hence the need for the order of time allocation.
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Director General, DBE noted, for record purposes, that he had jotted down six questions from Ms Marchesi.
The Chairperson asked if it were already six questions. Mr Mweli answered confirmed the number.
The Chairperson replied that, on that basis, the next Member should proceed.
Ms Boshoff indicated that the fact that only 22.6% of Grade R Practitioners had NQF Level 6 qualifications was a grave concern. Even the AGSA had mentioned the previous day that something drastic needed to be done, because education began at that level. Given the insufficient qualified ECD practitioners nationally, the country would not achieve the three Rs i.e. Writing, Reading and Arithmetic. Secondly, slide 31 showed that “the DBE undertook the national evaluation of conditional grants with onsite verification missions to a sample of 130 schools.” What was the ultimate outcome, as this was a new grant to support learners with severe to profound intellectual disabilities? Thirdly, slide 38 noted the technical report. Previously the Committee had been told that SME would also contain the report. However, there was no report on it. How many of those schools were SME related? Fourthly, the training of teachers and Deaf Training Assistants for Senior Phase and Grades as reflected on slide 42 was welcomed. However, could the delegation of DBE inform the following concerns: the lack of adequate training material; the lack of Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support Policy (SIAS) linguistic expertise in the team that wrote the training material manuals was a concern as linguistic errors in the material were shocking; evaluators of the curriculum material that were unqualified as they were not SIAS-trained as linguistic experts; the inadequate training of teachers and deaf teaching assistants to teach content of the subjects. Lastly, regarding the second chance Matriculants as reflected on slides 52 and 53, it was noted that a total of 11 074 learners had achieved a NSC in 2016. How many of those candidates were from a special needs background? She was referring to special needs beyond the deaf and the blind, such as those who were physically disabled as well. How many of them were included in the face-to-face teaching? Did the Second Chance Webpage include content for special needs learners?
Mr Mnguni noted that his questions would be based on the outcomes given by the Auditor General South Africa (AGSA) the day before. It was noted that the Irregular Expenditure reflected minimal improvement comparing the reports of 2015/16 and 2016/17. The challenge was the correct appointment Implementing Agents (IAs). What was DBE doing to ensure that the IAs would not repeatedly falter? Another matter of concern was the length of time taken by the Department to provide documentation requested by the AGSA to fulfil its duty. Why had the Department taken so much time to submit the documentation, because records should be available at all times? AGSA had also indicated that much of the data submitted was not credible. What did the delegation of the DBE have to say about that claim? Next was the issue of the internal audit. It had not been communicated that the internal audit board had resigned. Where was the report? He pointed out that questioning by Members should comprise questions and not essays.
Mr I Ollis (DA) noted that some schools had not been trained on NSFF. How many schools had been trained, how many schools remained untrained, and what was DBE doing about those that required training? It was also noted that monitoring had taken place in locations where crime was rife. If so, what form of monitoring had occurred? The escalation of violence on school premises during the past three months was worrisome. The acts of violence, including rape, murder and assault, were getting out of hand. Secondly, DBE had noted the monitoring of schools for the utilization of IT resources. What did the monitoring entail? What did the Department do with the results if it was discovered that school/s had desktops covered in dust due to lack of utilization? What processes were put in place to fix such a situation? Thirdly, what kind of IT devices were schools in the Western Cape provided with? In some instances, schools in Gauteng had tablet devices, and in other cases schools had desktop computers. The problem with tablets was that sometimes they would go missing. What worked best for IT?
Mr Ollis added that the ASIDI program execution was a major problem, viz. none of the 306 schools flagged for electrical connection had received any electricity. Only ten out of the 280 schools had received water connections. Only nine out of 265 schools had received sanitation. DBE was to build 59 schools, but only 16 were built. The presentation had cited an array of excuses; such as the poor performance of IAs, service providers and contractors, which had led to the termination of contracts and replacement of contractors. The rationalizing and merging of the schools was also cited as a reason accounting for delayed service delivery. However, the DBE financial official present yesterday had been asked about the monitoring of the contracts and had stated that the Department did not have a register of contracts. Those reasons were nothing beyond excuses. Since the running of such a major organisation would mandate that the Director General, as well as the Deputy Directors General, should have a dashboard in their offices indicating the schools flagged for upgrade of its facilities, and which should be updated monthly. After three or more months if no progress was evident then it would be noticed immediately, as opposed to the realisation at the end of the financial year that no schools had received the water, sanitation or electricity. What had transpired was that a year had elapsed without progress, indicating that neither the DG nor DDGs had such dashboard that kept track of school infrastructure progress. Even the Committee had considered a way in which a few toilets could be installed, even considering Supply Chain Management, contractual processes and compliance with the PFMA.
Mr Ollis queried whether the management of the contracts was faulty as there was no early warning system. Should DBE have one, it was a system that was not working, and as such, not good enough. It was accepted that some contractors failed to build once they had received pre-payment and that contractors disliked working in rural areas. The Committee understood those difficulties including uncompleted work. However, managing contractors was the responsibility of the Department, such as cutting them off quickly if they stole, reporting them to the police, cancelling the contract and notifying National Treasury that those particular contractors had defaulted on delivery. The Department should know two months into the contract whether a contractor was functional or not. Notwithstanding that contractors had failed the DBE in many cases, the Department was also at fault for lack of proper monitoring. Inadequate monitoring was an issue that should be seriously addressed.
Mr H Khosa (ANC) noted that the AGSA had indicated that reporting on infrastructure had proved challenging. What was the Department doing to eradicate this challenge? What had negatively impacted the Department that had caused the delay? Another issue was the inadequate monitoring of contractual implementation, which had resulted in the recurring audit findings. There was a lack of consequence management to ensure improvement. Why was this so and what had the Department devised to improve on it? Another matter of concern was the margin of variation. If a variation was over 100%, it became a new project. What was the lawful proportion of variation permitted? It was also concerning that the Department still had a challenge with unauthorised expenditure. Why was this so? Was it a situation where Government officials were spending funds, despite it not being authorised by anyone? Lastly, the AGSA had reported instability in the leadership of the Accounting Officer. Oversight was lacking at mid- and lower levels of management. The lack of capacity within the leadership of Finance and Supply Chain was a concern. What was the DG planning to do to eradicate it?
Ms Basson appreciated the comprehensive Annual Report received and noted that the theme of most of questions asked stemmed from the report of the Auditor General. It was quite disappointing that 80% of the stipulated Annual Performance target indicators were stagnate, since the targets had not been completed or achieved. If the Accounting Officer and his leadership had been enforcing the changes that were required, why was there a notion that the leadership was not effective? The leader on top could not carry out the targets, nor conduct effective work, without support. A detailed Action Plan had been requested from DBE before the report by the AGSA was presented. Even so, the results were disappointing. Additionally, the presentation that day was merely a repetition of the Action Plan. It would have been fair to say that the findings of AGSA should have been discussed by the DBE, after which a summary of interpretation would have been given, but not even that was done by the Department. What was the DG going to do to ensure better oversight and monitoring to alter the stagnancy of performance, particularly in human resources, financial management, procurement management and contract management? What plans did he have to not only improve the performance of those sectors, but also to fix the status quo?
Ms Basson was concerned about Early Childhood Development (ECD). What plans had been made for progress in ECD, as the current pool of educators was far from reaching the standard required? What strategy was being employed to upgrade the standard to reflect sufficient improvement before the current Portfolio Committee left in 2019? It would be ideal if approximately 80% of the ECD practitioners were qualified. Governance at school level was not up to scratch, due to lack of adequate training. What could be done to improve the limited training for SGBs and should it be enforced for longer than three years?
Mr Mweli noted that it would be question number 9.
Ms Marchesi noted that the Committee was counting.
The Chairperson replied that Honourable Marchesi had set the example.
The Chairperson requested that the remaining questions be reserved for the next session, then noted her own concerns. Firstly, the Portfolio Committee had met with both the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) and the AGSA the day before and they raised a commonality of concerns, many of which the Portfolio Committee had previously highlighted. One of the issues was the concern of under-expenditure that was seemingly a recurring issue. What was the plan by the Department in that regard? There should be a focused plan to enforce complete expenditure. What was the focused plan of the Department and what was it planning on doing to improve current performance? The Portfolio Committee would want a new plan stipulating improvement on infrastructure expenditure. The AGSA had been questioned as to whether it had received an Audit Action Plan from the Department, if it had received feedback on implementation on the plan and how often meetings were held to discuss it? One of the answers was that the information given by the Department was insufficient to capture responses to issues identified in the Audit Report. Could DBE respond to that? Had DBE seriously considered the educational challenges raised by FFC? FFC had pointed out the lack of implementation of performance targets to the Portfolio Committee.
The Chairperson noted that there was a lack of norms and standards regarding provincial allocation, as some provinces did not even budget for ECD. Even the remuneration within provinces differed greatly, and could be reallocated within the new year. In the Eastern Cape, the issue of rationalisation came into play. If funds were not used in the Eastern Cape, could the funds not be allocated to another Province for a similar project? It was appreciated that a new Chairperson had been elected for the Internal Audit Committee. However, could the number of employees in the Internal Audit Committee Unit not be expanded? Four to five individuals were insufficient for such operations, as they could end up overworked. The workshops that had been recommended were appreciated by the Portfolio Committee.
Mr Mweli thanked the Chairperson for being exemplary regarding the number of questions asked. He accepted collective responsibility for tasks that should have been completed, but were incomplete. Secondly, the improvements made were due to contributions by the Portfolio Committee, which was appreciated. However, even so, there were certain instances where the Department and the Committee could respectfully disagree. Cognisance should be taken of the fact that no matter how much hard work was done and even if deliberation at Parliament took place daily, certain issues would not change immediately. For instance, if a multi- year project had gone wrong two years ago and was not halted, its accounting would continue to reflect as a deficit, either as irregular or unauthorised expenditure. That did not denote that the Department had not acted on the recommendations, because such a project would still reflect as fruitless and wasteful expenditure should it be a multi-year project. The majority of the Department’s projects were multi-year. It could be attested that even the best recommendations for improvements of the Audit Outcome findings had not induced change. Thus, in many instances it would reflect that 80% of the projects were stagnate. However, the view that subsequently the Department had not done anything to invoke progress could be challenged.
The DG informed the Committee that the AGSA had found matters of inadequate quantum that did not allow for a clean audit report even after DBE made changes. It was shocking that the AGSA had made the observation that it had experienced difficulty with the acquisition of documentation. That year was the first time that the documentation had been submitted a week before the final date for submission. The officials from the AGSA had applauded the Department for its timeous submission. The previous year, the Department had still been busy with its submission at 2am of the morning of the due date. Moreover, the AGSA had not notified the DG of its concern about submissions before presenting the notion to the Committee, which was further alarming. The Department had had weekly meetings with the AGSA in which outstanding documentation was supplied as requested, which compounded the shock that the AGSA should have made an allegation of inadequate submission of documentation. At the beginning of the very week of the presentations by the Auditor General and DBE, DBE had received a letter from AGSA that specified that it had not completed the audit on ECD, and had requested both time and finance to redo the audit. The DG had approved. It was shocking that the AGSA had not shared with the Committee that it had not completed the audit on ECD.
The Chairperson clarified that two reports had been received the day before, one of which came from the FFC and it might be the FFC report that the Committee Member had referred too.
Mr Mweli replied that the Committee Member had specifically noted AGSA and not FFC. Both reports were on hand, and the FFC report would be addressed thereafter. However, it was definitive that the audit report on ECD was incomplete and it was puzzling that the AGSA had taken the liberty to present findings on it. It was advisable that findings be shared in a completed report. Usually, AGSA would share their audit findings with the Department preceding their presentation to the Portfolio Committee.
The observations of the Committee were appreciated by DBE, including the recommendation for a dashboard to monitor contractual management. However, the Department could challenge the notion that excuses were being presented. In fact, it could be verified that contracts were, indeed, terminated or contractors re-appointed. It was strongly felt that the rescheduling of contracts from one IA to another had inevitably impeded progress, but its citation of those facts was not meant as an excuse. The management of IA would be done differently going forward.
The DG was quite disappointed with the presentation of the FFC, because the information disclosed within it dated far back to before 2011. Additionally, some of the reviews by the FFC for under-performance insinuated that it had not read the reports by the Department. It had neither taken into account, nor noted, the progress made by the Department, for instance the increased Matriculation pass rate. It appeared as though the report was based on diagnostics prior to the publication of the National Development Plan (NDP), and had taken outdated information into consideration. DBE was willing to meet with FFC to update it with the latest information. Nevertheless, there was value in some points raised, such as the under-performance regarding infrastructure. The AGSA regularly attended meetings with the Internal Audit Committee, but the need for transparent honesty was paramount, irrespective of how uncomfortable it was. The head of the Internal Audit Committee might be new along with two other officials, but one official had been on the previous Internal Audit Committee. The improvement made by the current head was commended by the AGSA, although it was also acknowledged that radical change was impractical within a three-month period.
Before addressing consequence management, the DG requested the Committee to note that the AGSA was a composition of human beings, and to err was human. Even though the AGSA employees were wonderful people, they were not immune to the possibility of error. For instance, there was a difference of opinion regarding the R44 million reflected as fruitless and wasteful expenditure. If the findings of the forensic firm which had investigated, confirmed the audit findings of the AGSA, the Department would be liable for its contract fees. The final responses were anticipated, as the AGSA had confirmed its own findings and noted that, given the time constraints, it would not have scrutinised in a manner similar to the forensic firm. It was hoped that the AGSA would accept the findings of the forensic firm as well as the final outcome about the R44 million. The irregular expenditure of R44 million had been reduced to R1.2 million, following the findings of the forensic audit firm. It was advisable that the Committee questioned officials from the Department and its entities, as well as the AGSA, as opposed to accepting everything presented at face value. Even though the AGSA was a Chapter 9 institution, it should be questioned as well, since the possibility of making mistakes did not evade it.
The Chairperson replied that the answer given by the DG had resulted in more confusion than clarity. The AGSA had cited totals of R11 million and R58 million as irregular expenditure, which contradicted the totals currently cited by the Department of R44 million and R1.2 million. Could the DG enlighten the Committee on issues that the Department had disputed with the FFC and AGSA?
Mr Mweli replied that the presentation of the FFC could be revised point-by-point, but in the interest of the time such a stance would be impractical. He stated that the AGSA’s claimed that the irregular expenditure of R44 million had been incurred within the previous financial year, i.e. 2015/16. That had been resolved. The R11 million queried pertained to 2016/17 and it was a new amount that did not link to the R44 million at all. The irregular expenditure of 2015/16 was not only regularly reported upon in parliamentary meetings, but the matter had reached SCOPA, which had appointed a forensic audit company to investigate. The report produced by the company was shared with the Committee and SCOPA. The AGSA had perused the report and admitted that given the scope of time they were afforded, it was possible that some elements were not fully scrutinized by them. After its review, AGSA accepted the forensic findings as the ultimate outcome. The findings concluded that the R44 million irregular expenditure be revised to R1.2 million. That R1.2 million irregular expenditure had stemmed from pending payments on a policy that was not appropriately approved by the Accounting Officer, although a Chief Director had approved it.
Mr Ollis noted that the meeting was becoming side-tracked, because the deliberation was intended to be about the Members questioning the officials of the Department. It was not intended as a platform for the delegation of the DBE to question the outcome of the AGSA or FFC. The Department was welcome to give its opinion on questions that the Members put to them, as well as comment on the differences of opinion about the findings of the AGSA, but deliberation on departmental interpretation of the findings by the AGSA served as a distraction. The Department was not to question other entities. Instead it should answer the questions, as the outstanding concerns were quite large and numerous. Too much time was being wasted, and the meeting should be redirected.
The Chairperson replied that time would be inevitably wasted by the perpetual need for clarity; therefore, it had been imperative that the Director General clarified the confusion. Mr Mweli added that he was not questioning any entity, but was clarifying the stance of the Department based on queries raised by the Committee.
Mr Paddy Padayachee, DDG: Planning, Information and Assessments, DBE, answered the query about the outstanding data. The findings given by AGSA were based on the need for provincial verification and technical matters relating to information on performance that could not be met. Information on performance entailed Usefulness and Reliability. The Usefulness of the information was satisfactory, but the AGSA had experienced problems with the Reliability, which was the credibility, of the information. The Department had accepted the findings of the AGSA by putting controls in place at District and provincial levels regarding validation. The Department at National level did not have any immediate control over districts and provinces, but had undertaken a monitoring exercise on each aspect that would be completed by December 2017. Another issue that AGSA could not verify was the denominator, which was the total number of learners that were actually attending school. The denominator was a fixed number that could be ascertained in other exercises, but in this case the number would vary and reporting would be done both quarterly and annually. The technical indicators had been amended accordingly. A repeat finding might not occur, but other areas relating to data could pose problems.
Dr Granville Whittle, DDG: Educational Enrichment Services, DBE, noted responses to the infrastructural queries, such as extending the training of SUB to a period of five years, which could be a lot. The Department, together with ABSA, had trained almost 11 000 SUB members on financial management during the course of the previous year. Work had been done with some of the teacher unions. Due to the elections the following year, provinces had been requested to provide the training that would be required. As far as school safety was concerned, South African schools had high rates of violence on their premises according to the National School Safety Survey. There were also high levels of corporal punishment in some of the provinces, although every Province, apart from Gauteng, that had reflected an increase of corporal punishment. Even though the Western Cape had the lowest rate of corporal punishment it had increased by 5%. In the next two weeks, the Department would present an overview of the topic of School Safety, as it was a major concern. Unfortunately, incidents that occurred on school premises had received expansive coverage on social media. However, in South Africa it could be assured that less of 1% of violent incidents in schools happened by means of external perpetrators coming onto school grounds. The scholars themselves committed most of the violence that occurred in schools. Admittedly, there were other forms of grotesque violence, such as the incidents of principals shot dead by other adults.
Dr Whittle informed the Committee that the DG would be meeting with the Acting National Commissioner of the South African Police Services to talk specifically about those cases next week. In some of the schools, there were concerns of gangsterism, viz. in the Cape Flats and urban centres in the Eastern Cape as well as Gauteng Province. When that kind of violence was evident in the local community, it was essential that a working relationship with the local police be established. In terms of the number of schools trained on the National School Safety Framework (NSSF), the final figure was not on hand. The previous year all of the 81 districts had been trained on the NSSF. The Department had identified work related to the SAPS, such as 250 hotspots around the country, which were schools that had very high levels of crime and violence. If a police raid was conducted on those hotspots, it was likely that drugs would be found and possession of dangerous weapons by scholars and, in some cases, ‘alien scholars’ had been found on the premises. Not all of those hotspot schools were located within gang-infested suburbs, but all of them were found within high-crime suburbs. The Department would revert to Parliament to appropriately deliberate on that concern.
Another query had been the manner of monitoring. Admittedly, monitoring was a problem. Dr Whittle explained that the provinces executed monitoring differently. The provinces of the Free State and the North West had an effective system of both monitoring and feedback. The Western Cape had a Provincial call-centre, which enabled the School Principal to get an answer immediately. In Gauteng Province all principals were provided with a device called “Incidents Management”, which enables the principals to escalate the matter to the district management for the relevant support. In some schools it worked effectively, but faltered in other schools. The intention of the NSSF was that each school had a school safety committee, which was generally led by the Deputy Principal or a Senior Teacher. The objectives of the training had been to address concerns. There was often a call from communities when the number of police officers or security guards had to be increased on school premises, but it was necessary in some instance to stabilise the situation. It was essential that the schools took responsibility for management of school safety. Lastly, the list of contractors would be provided in writing.
Mr E Mafolo, Acting Chief Director, DBE, noted the query about liquidated contractors, and their appointments despite knowing that they were struggling financially. When appointments occurred for the construction of schools, the relevant risk management procedures were followed, but in these particular cases the fault lay with the number of contracts for which the contractors were appointed. Initially, DBE had appointed a contractor to construct new schools, but thereafter the Department of Health had also recruited their services for the construction of a hospital. Subsequently, that particular contractor was appointed as the lead contractor for the construction of an airport in 2010. Coordination of the contracts had resulted in difficulties for the contractor. As a result, the National Treasury (NT) was consulted to ensure that risk management reports would highlight if several contracts were awarded to a single contractor across departments.
Mr Mafolo stated that the R171 million allocated for the refurbishment of schools damaged by protest action, had been awarded at the end of the previous year. The funds allocated for it were not entirely spent in the previous financial year, and the balance was carried over into the current year. Unused funds from the Free State were redirected to another Province. The Free State had not managed to spend the balance that was left, due to the intervention by the Department, to reallocate funds from non-performing contracts to others relating to programs of service. An early warning system was necessary to kick-in sooner so that contracts could be re-allocated to other IAs, if necessary. When the norms and standards were reported upon, it was found that not all of the targets were reached, and the list of uncompleted projects of the previous year had been carried over into the current financial year for completion. Regarding the electrical connections, Eskom had finally energised the last 13 projects. During project execution, the Certificates of Compliance (COC) were not provided for, which had halted progress. The DG had intervened in that matter, but even so the receipt of the COC was at the end of the financial year, which meant that those projects would be deferred to the following financial year. Unfortunately, burnt electrical poles added to the delay of electrical connection, as investigations were first necessary.
Mr Mweli added that some projects inherited from prior years had had a change of scope and it had entailed letters from National Treasury, which had noted that it was not the typical variation order, but merely a change of scope that followed the requisite instructions by Treasury. The list of contractors and Implementing Agents on stagnate projects would be provided within 14 days. The details of the R171 million would be outlined in a detailed report, which would explain how funds were appropriated and the progress to date. The number of ECD practitioners that had NQF 6 qualifications was low indeed, but the Department was working with provinces on an on-going basis to resolve it. In fact, one of the major challenges apart from the minimum qualification, was the matter of having Grade R absorbed into schools. The profoundly intellectual disabled learners (PID) had a grant of R400 million+ made available for them, which the Department begun spending within the current financial year. However, the PID grant would only start reflecting in the 2017/18 Annual Report. The provinces were at different levels of progress. Regarding slide 38, the observation made by the Member was correct. Representation of learners with special needs was inadequate. Further details were pending regarding the lack of training materials for partially sighted or blind learners. Second Chance Matriculants had no provision for learners with special education needs, which admittedly, was an issue that required improvement.
The DG advised that consequence management action had been taken against the relevant line functions for the year under review, the particulars of which could be provided for in writing. There were instances of Final Written Warnings given, and meetings were held with law enforcement regarding fraudulent activities or the leaking of examination papers. The rollover of funds had not yet been approved. The redirecting of funds was at an 8% margin, because NT did not particularly approve of the notion of reshuffling, even when under-spending took place, since the projects had received funding by NT according to the motivation presented by the Department. Shifting of funds could be done, but within the limitations set by NT and not at liberty.
The Chairperson noted that a follow-up session could begin, in which Members could ask for clarity of previous questions if the questions had not been adequately answered.
Mr Ollis repeated the question about the type of IT devices installed in the Western Cape schools. Were those devices desktops or tablets, and if the latter, was there a mechanism to ensure that they could not disappear? A new concern was that the media kept asking about the 36 000 fewer individuals who were registered for Matric in 2017. Was the number accurate, i.e. was the current pool of Matriculants 36 000 pupils fewer than the previous year? If so, could the Department provide an explanation for the immense drop? It had been agreed that contractors had not done their work; subsequently the Department had terminated accordingly and appointed replacements. However, the point remained that for 12 months, no water had been installed at a school, which indicated a failure of a dashboard. Thus, the ardent appeal for the DG, and Branch Managers to constantly review whether the contractors were on site or not and progress made, if any. In terms of the NSSF training, it was said that 20 000 schools were linked to their local police stations. What did the term ‘link’ meant in the context? Did the schools have walkie-talkies, the phone number of the police station, had the law enforcement come onsite and met with the principal, or was there another manner in which they were ‘linked’?
Ms Marchesi referred to the installation of water, electricity and sanitation. The Department had agreed that all of the problems would be addressed. Yet, only electricity was highlighted with Eskom intending to provide 360 schools with electrical connection by the end of the financial year. To ensure that the outstanding service delivery on those agreements would not be deferred into next year, it was essential to clarify whether all of those schools would receive complete electrical connections, as well as to ascertain what the situation was concerning the installation of sanitation and water. Would it be addressed in the current financial year or would it be necessary to await another two years or so? The matter addressed fundamental Norms and Standards and was of interest to Equal Education. Additionally, the AGSA highlighted that there were schools that had completed the ECD program, but had not transferred details to provincial management, which evoked the maintenance concerns. What were the names of the schools; what was the situation regarding transfers, and why were the ECDs of those schools not transferred to the provincial education departments? AGSA had also highlighted another alarm, viz. schools that were enlisted for closing would receive maintenance in the interim during closure. What was the purpose of spending money on maintenance of schools that were closing? There was a concern about vacant schools. Learners were using original old structures when the new school had been completed, but remained unoccupied. Could the Department account for that?
Ms Boshoff queried slide 65. What was the pay progression, and how many teachers had qualified for it? What systems were in place to monitor non-teaching staff members? The focus was always on the teachers and educators, but a school was only as efficient as its administrative staff. Secondly, why was SA-SAMS not mandatory as reflected on slide 77? DBE had said that that system would be used to track the ECD practitioners, but if it were not mandatory, full details would not be received. If the system was as good as it was professed to be, why were all school principals not using it? Thirdly, slide 95 was rather contentious, since DBE had noted that 420 240 learners had been targeted for transportation against 524 662 learners that required transport. The Annual Report failed to explain why 19% of learners that were in need of transport had not been accommodated. It also neglected to account for scholar transport on a provincial level or to provide data on the differences in the need between the provinces. There was no report on transport for learners with special needs, which was unacceptable.
Ms Boshoff referred to slides 99 and page 179 of the Annual Report which noted the value of the Nutritional Meal program, but the realisation and celebration thereof could only take place once all schools had been fitted with the appropriate kitchens and cooking utensils. The DBE kept advocating a healthy lifestyle along with hygiene, but there was no way it could be promoted if there were no washbasins for the learners, neither were the kitchens fitted with running water. On page 175, the Annual Report noted that 88% of the meals served in schools across the country were compliant. Were the noncompliant meals safe and healthy? Had the situation been addressed by the Department? If not, when would it be done? With regard to the lack of provision in Limpopo and KZN, had the tender process gone wrong? School sports still remained an issue that had to be addressed, because sport was a useful social medium that developed healthy minds and bodies. However, many schools did not have sporting facilities nor the equipment. How could the shortages be addressed? Lastly, slide 101 noted the draft Learner Pregnancy Program that was approved by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) on 13 March 2017. It was a step in the right direction. Since the media reports had emphasised the matter of teen pregnancies in a negative manner, had the Department explained the policy to all schools at a workshop and did every school have a copy of the program? Government could not sit back and allow female pupils to be exploited as they currently were. As an example, there had been the debacle of 30 learners being impregnated by their teachers that year. Could a report be provided?
Mr Mnguni queried the issue of school management and its relevant support. The Annual Report indicated that there was no support to schools regarding annual management processes. He wanted more details. Also, it seemed that the National Department did not have a clear directive for provincial departments regarding annual school management processes.
Mr Mweli asked for a repetition of the question. Mr Mnguni repeated that his question was about the annual management processes for the schools. The AGSA had indicated that there was no support from the Department. The Chairperson clarified that the Committee Member was referring to the management processes regarding the running of the schools and the support required from a distance to both implement and monitor the school processes. Mr Mweli replied that there were many management processes, for instance Curriculum Coverage was one of them. Therefore, a specific referral was necessary. An official of the AGSA clarified that the AGSA had referred to the Annual School Improvement Plan that was not being monitored by the Department of Social Development.
Mr Mnguni asked if the DG or delegates from the Department had explained the Annual Performance Plan to the school principals so that, through mutual understanding, the performance indicators would be accomplished? It was understood that there was a universal access to Grade R policy, which was dated 11 August 2016. If it was a policy that the Department was to implement, what was the due date and what progress had been made to date? It was particularly worrisome that the Department had stated that the information cited by other entities was obsolete. Much time was spent in listening to the presentation by those entities. If obsolete information had been presented, it had been a waste of time. It was expected that the entities would have communicated their findings to the Department first. It was unacceptable that the Department, on its own accord, refuted the claims made by the AGSA, as follow-up clarification by AGSA could only occur the following year. Therefore, had AGSA been sufficiently transparent with the Department beforehand, there would be no need for refutations now. Since the member of the AGSA had not been present, he could not clarify any confusion that ensued.
The Chairperson noted that the AGSA had, indeed, been present, but there were processes to be followed regarding the claims made by the DG that the information presented was either fallacious or obsolete.
Mr Mnguni replied that going forward the Committee should give the Department an opportunity to comment on presentations made regarding its performances. The Chairperson answered that it has been recorded that accurate information was to be presented, as there were multiple stakeholders. Mr Mnguni noted that, had the Department been given the opportunity to explain that the FFC had presented outdated information after the actual presentation, it would have prevented much confusion. Convening with the officials from FFC would be both expensive to have them flown into Cape Town again and dependent on availability. The Chairperson stated that the point was noted and acknowledged neglect on her behalf since the DG from DBE had been present at the presentation by FFC.
Ms Basson asked for clarity on slide 38. She asked whether the construction of the state of the art schools had been sponsored by the parents and associates of the pupils?
The Chairperson asked about the percentage of schools that were compliant with the norms and standards of infrastructure? Would rollovers or amendments occur for under-funded programs? The Portfolio Committee had noted the progress made by the Department, but further improvement of performances was required. For instance, if there were faults at the lower levels of management and the DG could not dismiss accountability for their errors. He should act accordingly and brief the Committee on the necessary consequence management. The Minister had previously stated that District support was her “baby”, yet it seemed that the Department was overlooking it. Another issue to note was the cost of building a new school. It currently cost R40 million to build a new school, whereas the same amount could formerly build a five or so schools. It would not be long the construction of five new schools would cost a billion rand.
Mr Mweli replied that the concern about the cost of building was a matter that had been discussed extensively at the level of the Council of Education Ministers. One of the points highlighted was that should DBE want the facilities of previous disadvantaged schools to be on par with schools situated within previously advantaged communities, careful consideration for figures should be done. Since the Department was under pressure to erect many new schools, some of the structures erected were of inferior quality. Some new schools had begun eroding shortly after handover. Equity had to be carried out without compromising on infrastructural integrity. The Department was trying its best to manage the cost of construction, especially as the costs were unnecessarily high in some areas. The Department would aim to strengthen its planning capacity. Although it stood to correction, there was a likelihood that the Department had R40 billion worth of under-collected taxes, which might further implicate budget cuts. Before the meeting, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) had noted that Treasury had forewarned of budget cuts and requested the Department to revise its programs to accommodate them. He asked whether DBE could forward a short progress report on Norms and Standards that it had shared with Equal Education. It should not be thought that allegations were made in the absence of stakeholders, but that clarity was sought regarding the omission of progress made by the Department, for instance the lack of citation of the increased number of National Senior Certificate holders. The throughput rate had increased from 39% in 1995 to 58% in 2016. In 2005, the 20% most affluent schools that were in quintiles 4 and 5 had accounted for 80% of the NSC Bachelors’ passes, but by 2016 the pendulum had swung.
Mr Ollis noted that according to FFC, the throughput rates for Black and Coloured learners were crashing.
Mr Mweli clarified that such information was not the entire truth; although there were some indications of the truth. The Statistician-General had addressed progression and the throughput rate in the same report. He had noted that the throughput rate for schooling had more than doubled, but the throughput rate at tertiary level was quite low. That distinction was quite important.
The Chairperson noted that an official from the FFC had emphasised the same notion about the throughput rate, saying that ‘education seemed to be the victim of its own success’. Therefore, “the fact that people were lost post- schooling was not the baby of Basic Education - other factors could be blamed for that matter”.
Mr Mweli explained that he would not want to assign blame on anyone, but countries that were seemingly successful, had all the relevant organs of state co-operating to address that challenge. Regarding the IT devices, desktops had been installed, as tablets were high-risk. The installation of tablets elsewhere had incurred losses, were stolen and victim to untold cases of vandalism. The breakages into schools had skyrocketed, and the Department was uncertain if the tablets on the premises had motivated the forced entries and theft.
Ms Palesa Tyobeka, DDG Head of Planning and Delivery Oversight, DBE, noted that the point made about the role of Districts and its competencies was acknowledged, but the overview of the Annual Report presented did not reflect all the Key Performance Indicators (KPI). The Committee could be assured that the issue of support for the Districts was a programme that was driven passionately and had progressed well. The AGSA had completed an audit on the curriculum monitoring done by Districts. Its findings, along with an internal survey on the satisfaction of school support, served as the basis for a programme from 2016 to assist the fundamentals of districts. The lack of guidance on the School Improvement Plan (SIP) was being addressed by working with Districts through training and evaluation. The focus was on two areas, namely academic improvement and the improvement of the environment in which learning took place. Electronic training was included. Five years ago, a programme had been started on data-driven districts as a pilot programme, and it had progressed to a data-dashboard that formed part of SA-SAMS.
Mr Padayachee explained that although SA-SAMS was a free software system, some schools required a third party to access it, which was why not every school had it. SA-SAMS was initially released in the 2000’s and it had not kept up to date with the changes in the IT sector. The Department was “modernising” the system, but to make it compulsory, policy required amendment. The Department did not have an answer to the concern of 30 000 fewer Matriculants. The numbers of enrolment versus the pupils that written the NSC bore significant difference, but the actual particulars that affected the variation was being investigated.
Dr Whittle explained that the terminology of “link” in the context meant that the school principal knew who the station commander was, as well as other two police officers that were directly linked to the school. Should a violent incident take place on school premises the principal would have a mobile number to contact. In Gavendale in Port Elizabeth the relationship with the Commander meant that heightened police visibility took place when pupils attended school in the mornings and were dismissed in the afternoons. Also, there was a dashboard program on infrastructure, of which was reported on every fortnight to the Minister. In terms of learner transport, provinces did not have budgets large enough to accommodate the number of learners that qualified for it. The program was between the Department of Transport, DBE and the provinces. DBE had approached NT requesting that the grant become institutionalised to ensure that funds would be provided for learners that qualified for transport. Similarly, funding was the challenge that kitchens faced. Should the Department allocate part of the R6.4 billion budget for nutrition to the construction of kitchens? DBE had a very good relationship with Tiger Brands and on an annual basis they built four to five kitchens for the Department at a cost of R500 000 per kitchen. An alternative means of providing kitchens was discussed with them, such as provision of mobile kitchens. Other corporation were also encouraged to donate R100 000 per mobile kitchen as a means of solving the problem. Another challenge was the issue of safety, since cooking was mainly on gas. Provinces had been requested to do an audit on utensils that it had on hand. In KZN, it was a problem of tender. In Limpopo, food poisoning had occurred due to food sold by a vendor.
Dr whittle explained that sports facilities were equally difficult, but when new schools were built, sporting facilities had to be provided. The budget for school sports was quite limited, but there were provinces that executed school sports quite well, such as Mpumalanga and the Western Cape. A Professor at the University of Johannesburg was currently doing research regarding sports played at school. The results would inform the MoU to be revised with the Department of Sport. Regarding teen pregnancies DBE would brief the Portfolio Committee later as there were a lot of problems regarding data, e.g. in 2015 StatsSA reported that 90 000 learners that had fallen pregnant during the year, yet DBE had recorded 23 000 to 24 000 for the same year. The Department relied on school principals to report the number of scholars that fell pregnant, whilst the Department of Health (DoH) collected a different set of data. Triangulation of data was important, because not every pregnant minor captured by StatsSA or DoH was attending school. DBE had asked DoH to track the terminations of pregnancies by age.
Mr Mafolo elaborated that the transfers of schools were contingent to the approval of final accounts. The process of approval of the Variation Order had delayed the approval of final accounts process. Once approved, the IA had to draw up a Closed-Out Report (COR). To date, over 100 COR’s had been received. A review on learner transport was being undertaken by the National Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Department of Transport and National Treasury. The review was meant to establish a wide range of recommendations for the program in its totality, one of which was the recommendation for a Conditional Grant.
The meeting was adjourned.