The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) appeared before the standing committee for deliberation on vote 5 of the Adjustments Appropriation Bill.
The Department had experienced a decrease in the additional appropriation for some of its programmes. These included public special school education, public ordinary school education, and Early Childhood Development (ECD). The Committee queried why this was the case.
Members said it seemed like a lot of funding had been diverted from norms and standards to other projects, such as to pay for increased legal services costs, and they were concerned about this.
Other areas of concern for the Committee included the shifting of funds between votes, the rollover on public ordinary school education, travelling arrangements for learners, and looking after the safety of children in the school environment.
The Chairperson said that the purpose of the meeting was to deliberate on vote 5, Education, in the schedule to the Western Cape adjustment appropriation bill, 2018, and to consider and adopt the draft committee report on the deliberation. He invited the Minister to give some introductory remarks.
Ms Debbie Schafer, Minister of Education: Western Cape Education Department, said that the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the Head of the Department (HOD) were going to provide the details. Usually, there was never enough money in the Department, but they acknowledged Treasury's assistance.
Vote 5 Education: Discussion
Mr T Olivier (DA) asked for an explanation for the decrease in the total additional appropriation for public ordinary school education, public special school education and Early Child Development (ECD). What did the R137 950 000 increase in total additional appropriation for infrastructure development represent? He pointed out that the Department's budget always had a roll-over on public ordinary school education, and the reason that was always given was that of committed expenditure for learner furniture. He asked the Department to provide more information on the roll-over on this programme.
Mr Olivier noticed that a lot of funds had been reallocated due to accelerated norms and standards payments for 2018/19, paid during the 2017/18 financial year. The amount had now been shifted to increase the legal services budget. It was difficult to understand why the Department had taken money from norms and standards, which could have been allocated to other schools that had difficulties, and shifted it to legal services. He asked the Department to provide more information on the issue.
Mr Olivier asked for details on funds to be used for the pay-outs of claims against the state, and for more information regarding the shift of funds to the future focus conference.
Mr Olivier said that a lot of norms and standards money had been directed to e-learning Information and Communication Technology (ICT) implementation. It was worrisome how this spot became bigger and bigger every time. He asked if the programme that dealt with the Jobs Fund for the unemployed youth was still being run the Department, and how it was performing, given that money had been allocated to the programme.
Mr Brian Schreuder, Head of Department: Western Cape Education Department, referred to rollovers, and said that for a big Department like Education, it was difficult to cut off at the end of March what still needed to be delivered. There were always things that had been ordered, delayed or re-procured. The management of this required commitment in the period prior to the end of the financial year, but the payment had to happen in the new year. Those funds were therefore ring-fenced or kept, avoiding using the new budget to pay for things that had been ordered, budgeted and planned for in the previous financial year.
There had been re-allocations in the e-learning space, and the budget for e-learning in this financial year was slightly less than that of the previous year.
Regarding legal services, that it was difficult to know the amount that was needed be paid for claims against the Department, such as claims against the state. That happened when learners, for example, were injured, or in a case where a learner dies and there are claims against the Department as a consequence of those events. It was difficult to know how much to budget for. There was a need to make provision, so the Department had to find areas that had savings within the year's budget for that space.
Mr Schreuder said that the WCED had never held a conference. For the past two years, the Department had had an understanding that while there was a need to maintain quality and standards, it was important to also start looking into the future. In March, therefore, the Department was going to have a conference which would be called “the future focus conference." The conference would discuss curriculum delivery, classroom practice and other key issues. The Department was making provision now that the budget was available. Such a thing had never been budgeted for previously. If it became successful, the Department would hold a conference annually.
Ms Schafer said that the Department was not taking away norms and standards. Schools' norms and standards funding had not been reduced to divert money to other projects.
Mr Leon Ely, CFO: WCED, explained that the decrease in the additional appropriations for public ordinary school education and public special school education had to do with compensation. The Department had disclosed, in its financial statements, that it was waiting for an opinion from the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) about the payment of the end of year benefits. The Department had not received any correspondence of a revenue fund, and if that became due, then that would go to paying that. The amount involved was around R163 million. That was approximately the amount that the Department was surrendering.
Mr Schreuder clarified that that Department had expected that it was to be a requirement of the Department. It was therefore surrendering so that it served that purpose. It would be used for that purpose if it became necessary, and if not, then the Department would ask for it to go back into compensation.
Mr Ely added that that was the main reason why there had been a decrease. It was part of the Department’s commitment to deal with its liability.
Regarding the decrease for ECD, the Department paid the practitioners. The Department paid stipends, and that was based on the enrolments, and had not paid out as much as it had envisaged. Therefore, there was a saving there that had been re-allocated around the ECD programme.
The increase in the appropriation to infrastructure development was due to roll-overs. The Department had also received R25 829 000, which had to do with the Knysna disaster. There were about 22 projects that needed to be fixed. The one big project there was the Knysna hostel. that Due to the fact that the Department had to restructure the infrastructure budget, the maintenance budget was under pressure at the moment. The Department had therefore allocated additional funds to the maintenance programme for infrastructure, and that took up the bulk of the R137 950 000 increase in the infrastructure budget.
The Jobs Fund was something that the Department was working on at the moment.
Mr Olivier asked for more clarity on the issue of norms and standards. The Minister had said that the money had not been taken away from the norms and standards, and he wanted an explanation.
Mr Ely said that when schools started in March, that was when they required funds to begin the school year again. The norms and standards were normally due on 1 April. However, in the previous year, the Department had decided to pay them early in March. This was to assist them with their cash flow matters. However, when the Department did that and because it already had the funding of the medium term strategic framework (MTSF), it resulted in some savings. It therefore allowed the Department to reallocate some of the funding for that purpose. However, it did not detract from the legal requirement that the Department needed to pay schools. Schools still got the normal norms and standards.
Mr F Christians (ACDP) asked if there were fewer Early Child Development practitioners, given that the Department did not pay out so many stipends. Did the service suffer?
Mr Ely responded that the Department had fewer practitioners than was anticipated. It was a programme that was open for people to join. Sometimes, the Department did not get number of the people that were expected to join the programme. Sometimes people left the programme as well. These were unfortunate situations because ECD was key for the Department as far as improving education was concerned. The Department wanted to make sure that there was a proper foundation phase.
Mr Olivier asked for an explanation for the decrease in self-financing expenditure. He was also concerned about the shifting of funds between votes. Funds had been shifted to the Department of the Premier, the Department of Health and the Department of Economic Development. It could have been logical for community safety to ensure that the learners in schools were protected. What informed the decision of the Department to make these shifts?
Mr Ely said that the decrease in self-financing had to do with the decrease in the Department's own revenue. Unlike some other Departments, the Department of Education was not a revenue generating department. It estimates what its revenue is. In this particular case, it had disclosed debt write-offs as revenue. It had anticipated that it was going to have less debt write-offs this year. That meant that the revenues were going to decrease.
Regarding the shifting of votes, there was a legal policy framework that governed that. In some cases, it had to do with cooperation between Departments, and in some cases, it has to do with the function. Departments were allowed to send funding between departments. Where there were mutual agreements and cooperation, they had to agree on their responsibilities.
Mr Olivier said, regarding the shifting of funds between votes, that it was clear what the funds were shifted to do. He asked for an understanding how shifting of funds between votes assisted the Department to achieve its objectives.
Mr Shreuder responded that funds were shifted between votes to avoid duplicating the service procurement that was being done for the Department, and all the money shifted was for the benefit of the Department.
Mr Olivier observed that lot of money had been surrendered to the provincial treasury, and that it cut across most Departments. He asked for an explanation of what was happening.
Mr Schreuder said that the Department's monthly budget was R1.2 billion. So, the R130 million that was under-spent and surrendered to the revenue fund, was for later getting back. It was not money that was lost, but it was careful planning so that the Department did not overspend on it.
Mr Ely said that the Department still had ECD teachers in its system. However, some would retire or leave annually, and that resulted in some savings.
Mr Olivier noticed that actual payments were far less than projected amounts. He asked if the Department was going to be able to achieve the targets at the end of the financial year.
Mr Christians said that the Committee understood that safety was not the Department's core function. However, learners could not learn if they were not safe. He asked if the Department was doing anything about that.
Mr Christians asked if the Department had considered providing more learners with transport.
Mr Schreuder responded regarding the proportion of payments versus projections, and said that it was based on historical trends and an understanding of the business of the programme. For example, the cost of examinations was very finely planned and budgeted for each year, so there is never a concern in that regard.
The Department was continually considering adjusting the policies regarding the traveling of learners. The policy referred to a five kilometer radius. Part of the challenge was that the moment one changed that policy, one was going to spend millions more on having to pick children up inside the five-kilometer cut off. On rare exceptions, the Department made exceptions, but this is usually due to an extreme danger or safety issue.
Ms Schafer said and assessment had been done on how much it would cost the Department to reduce the radius to four kilometers for primary schools. The cost was about R60 million, and that was for primary schools only.
The Department had made some suggestions on the issue of safety. It was doing what it could with what it had, and what it did not have. It was having detailed discussions with the city of Cape Town in particular. It was also busy with a private company that was busy with a pilot project to try and use technology better. The city was being extremely responsive to the Department. The Department was also busy, with some schools connecting alarms to the city's Traffic Management Center (TMC).
The meeting was adjourned.
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