School Infrastructure 2019/20 mid-year report; with Minister

Basic Education

29 October 2019
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education gave a mid-year report on school infrastructure delivery. The sector provides infrastructure through three programmes: Provincial Infrastructure Programme, Accelerated School infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) and Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative.

• The Provincial Schools Build Programme is implemented by provinces and it targets the provision of basic services, new schools, additions to existing schools, new and upgrading of services and maintenance. It is funded through the Education Infrastructure Grant and the Provincial contribution through the equitable share.
• The Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative is a programme driven by DBE to address school's infrastructure backlog on schools that do not meet the basic safety norms and standards. It is funded through the Schools Infrastructure Backlogs Grant. The purpose of the programme is for the eradication of schools made entirely of inappropriate structures and provision of basic level of water, sanitation and electricity.
• The Sanitation Appropriate for Education initiative (SAFE) is a programme driven by DBE to eradicate all pit latrines and other unacceptable sanitation, provide safe and appropriate ablution facilities as well as address insufficient or inadequate sanitation facilities and maintenance of all ablution facilities

The Education Infrastructure Grant is in nature a supplementary grant and one of the major challenges the National Department raised was that provinces were contributing less and less through the equitable share to school infrastructure. Instead, the provincial contribution from its equitable share is now the "supplementary grant" instead of the EIG.

EIG expenditure at 30 September 2019 was 41% of allocated budget and some provinces were underspending. Targets for new and replacement schools showed 43% progress for mid-year. Maintenance mid-year spending was 32% of the maintenance budget. Ultimately, DBE wants to have a progressive move in the maintenance allocation going up to 60% by 2024/25 so that only 40% goes to new and replacement projects. The vacancy rate for posts allocated through the EIG was 25% which is an improvement from last year. The Department explained it was challenging to attract and retain built environment professionals in the rural areas. Another challenge was community disruptions and the volatility of the construction industry.

The ASIDI allocation was R1.3bn and the SAFE initiative was R700m for 2019/20 totaling R2bn. The mid-year completion rate for ASIDI targets for inadequate structures, water and sanitation looked healthy. For the SAFE initiative, when a desktop audit was done and 3898 schools identified, it was clear that Limpopo, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape have the most serious cases of pit latrines. Before a SAFE project is authorised, it has to be verified. There are currently 1007 projects with 880 in the planning stage and 127 under construction. Completed projects are 188.

For SAFE, DBE is using four implementing agents: Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Mvula Trust, and the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) for the SAFE Initiative.  The department further admitted that its major challenges on the SAFE Initiative were monitoring and planning of the SAFE projects and conceded that, that needed to be tightened up. DBE concluded by listing its plans to improve infrastructure planning, delivery and maintenance.

During the discussion, Members were concerned about underperforming implementing agents and provinces and the need for good consequence management. Members asked if DBE could do anything about those provinces which were allocating little or none of their equitable share to fund the school build programme. Members suggested that the Committee should call in the MECs of the provinces who were both under delivering and giving little or zero of their equitable share. The Minister pointed to the Constitution and said that it was a provincial, not a national, competence and national could only urge them. Their enforcement powers are limited except in the case of non-governmental entities where contracts can simply be terminated for non-performance. The Director General assured the Committee that consequence management for implementing agents was finally being taken seriously.

Members pointed to the mismatch between the data DBE provided and that of non government researchers. The department made it clear that it was beyond the scope of its responsibility to verify information shared by organizations the Committee invites to brief it although the Department is always open to liaising with stakeholders when such request is made.

Members requested clarity on the methodology for the prioritization of funds. The Chairperson importantly noted that in the briefing, vocational and technical schools were planned only in the Northern Cape Province yet this is a national objective. DBE answered this to say that unfortunately water, sanitation and additional classrooms are being prioritized to the detriment of other programmes such as technical schools.

Members requested clarification on whether the school infrastructure programme had linkages with other national government programmes and other departments. DBE conceded that this was an area in which there was great room for improvement. Members emphasized the importance of fostering ownership of schools in communities to avoid vandalisation and deliberate carelessness in the maintenance of schools.

Members were concerned about the underspending but DBE stated that towards the end of the third quarter is when a better reflection of spending patterns emerges. Infrastructure progress often happens along an S-curve and the department was anticipating more progress and not worried at the moment. Where there is cause for concern with specific projects and provinces, the department would be taking more focused action to remedy this.

Meeting report

Provincial Infrastructure Programme, EIG, ASIDI, SAFE: DBE briefing
Mr Hubert Mweli, DBE Director General, introduced the presentation and confirmed that the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angelina Motshekga was on her way and would be in attendance. The presentation would brief the Committee on DBE progress with school infrastructure and physical planning with the focus on ASIDI and the SAFE initiatives.

Mr Ramasedi Mafoko, DBE Director for Physical Planning and School Infrastructure, said that ASIDI and SAFE are premised on the National Development Plan that states that “all schools should meet minimum standards for infrastructure and commit to progressively upgrading each school’s infrastructure to meet optimum standards”. The NDP continues that DBE should find ways to deliver infrastructure efficiently and cost-effectively to address backlogs, improve the quality of information used for planning and take learner safety into account. The sector provides infrastructure through three programmes: the provincial programme, the Accelerated School infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) as well as the Sanitation Appropriate for Education initiative (SAFE).

Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG)
The total infrastructure budget for 2019/20 is R14.255bn with allocations from the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) 73.8%; Schools Infrastructure Backlog Grant 14.2%; and Equitable Share 12%. This is all in the shadow of the looming budget cuts coming in the next financial year and the outer year of the MTEF.

Looking at the provincial infrastructure allocations for 2019/20 DBE is clearly facing a challenge. The EIG by its nature is a supplementary grant to the equitable share but the challenge is that the allocation by provinces has been diminishing quite drastically over the years. Provinces like the Eastern Cape are not allocating any from the equitable share and Northern Cape, Limpopo and North West very little. This means they are relying quite heavily on the EIG and so the tables have turned and now it is the equitable share that is supplementing the EIG.

Looking at the targets that DBE is monitoring in provinces in 2019/20, the largest number of targets relate to sanitation, water and additional classrooms but there are other sub-programmes. All in all 21 sub programmes are monitored by DBE. Through the ASIDI and the provincial programmes, DBE has a target to build 104 schools in 2019/20 and a total of 376 new and replacement schools over the next five years.

Looking at the overall infrastructure expenditure at 30 September 2019, 41% of the allocated budget has been spent and some provinces are underspending. DBE is in discussion with the provinces on underspending and is trying to come up with turnaround strategies. DBE transfers money in tranches, the report indicates that by 30 September 2019, R6.5 billion had been transferred to provinces and 68% of this had been spent by provinces. However, the provinces lagging behind in EIG expenditure are the very same as those with the smaller Equitable Share allocations.

Maintenance projects in 2019/20 number 1655 with 454 in Eastern Cape and 445 in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Looking at progress on new and replacement schools, provinces targeted to build 63 and 27 have been completed so far, which is 43% progress. DBE is expecting more progress in the third and fourth quarter.

The Infrastructure Delivery Management Systems Report (IDMS) at 30 September 2019 provides an aggregated total number of projects completed at the end of the second quarter. The report shows that there are some delays with additional classrooms as well as water and sanitation. These issues are being discussed with provinces as DBE carries out their monitoring function on a quarterly basis.

DBE has 6743 projects budgeted for, which are at different stages of completion. 37% are in the planning stage, 35% in the construction stage and 28% in the close-out stage.

683 human resources posts have been approved through the EIG and 75% of these posts have been filled so far with a 25% vacancy rate. The challenge of human resources is especially difficult in rural provinces like Northern Cape and North West, where it is difficult to attract specialists like engineers, quantity surveyors, building managers. When they have been attracted, the moment they get a better offer they are happy to leave the province.

The type of resources that DBE puts into these provinces includes quantity surveyors, architects, electrical engineers, civil engineers, and works inspectors. Finance and administration includes data capturers and finance specialists. A provincial breakdown showed how many have been deployed per province.

To enable DBE to monitor the provincial programmes, several reports on a monthly or quarterly basis from provided by provinces. The weighting for the 2019/20 assessment shows that the incentive grant provides for 40% of the score going towards the Infrastructure Reporting Model as that is the monthly progress report from provinces.

Progress highlights were Storms River Primary school completed in January 2019 after 33 months and R51.1 million spent; Sive Special School in the Northern Cape completed in June 2018 after 54 months and R124 million spent. Nokuthula LSEN School in Gauteng, Olivenhoutbosch Secondary School in Pretoria and Mandla Mthethwa School in KZN were also highlighted as showing progress.

The briefing highlighted one of the EIG school projects was experiencing challenges. The Tembisa Special School has challenges because of community disruptions as well as the construction mafia.

Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI)
Looking at the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the allocations for ASIDI and the SAFE initiative is R2 027 048bn, R1 796 036bn, and R2 338 937bn for the periods 2019/20; 2020/21 and 2021/22.

ASIDI programme overall performance since inception was shown by noting how many projects have been completed and how many are still to be completed. What is commendable is that the electricity scope sub-programmes for 2019/20 have been completed. Du Noon Primary and Clarkson/Amamfengu are two examples of schools that have reached practical completion under the ASIDI programme.

The DBE Annual Performance Plan (APP) 2019/20 has a target of 40 new schools completed through ASIDI; 717 schools provided with sanitation facilities through ASIDI and SAFE and 225 schools provided with water through ASIDI. The quarterly targets were also provided in the briefing.

Looking at inappropriate structures, the briefing shows projects at different stages of implementation aggregated according to the different implementation agents. Currently DBE has 75 projects that are still in construction. 14 schools projects are below 25% completed, and 25 are over 75% completed. The briefing includes this same assessment for progress with sanitation and water provision.

DBE’s monitoring function for programmes compares the overall expenditure against the projected cash flows and compares progress made against key project sets, for example the water and sanitation projects. At the project level, DBE looks at whether planning and design and the tender process are progressing, and if this occurs on target, within budget and at acceptable completion rate.

The ASIDI challenges and remedial action by DBE included:
• The decline or lack of allocation of the Equitable Share by provinces. This puts a lot of pressure on the sector as it delays its ability to reach targets due to the reduced money allocated. As a remedy DBE encourages provinces to allocate additional funds to the EIG.
• Lack of a programme management system with reliable data. However the Education Facilities Management System (EFMS) will be deployed in all provinces by 1 April 2020 which will assist with access to reliable data. This system will allow a user to zoom into a project and check the progress and its targets by just the touch of a button. It will also allow a user to zoom into a particular province. Access to the EFMS will depend on the person, some will have viewing and others capturing rights. This system will assist DBE significantly in their monitoring function.
• Maintenance has been the weakest link and greatest challenge. Thus allocation should be increased to 30% of the budget allocation is spent on maintenance. This will be part of a progressive move in the maintenance allocation with the aim of 60% by 2024/25 with only 40% going to new projects. More resources should be allocated to maintenance than new projects.
• Non-compliance with Supply Chain Management processes resulting in irregular expenditure by the implementing agent. As a remedy, the Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) are to conduct quarterly audits to ensure compliance on all process.
• Late appointment of service providers by implementing agents. As a remedy monthly progress meetings are held with implementing agents to improve on reporting and to mitigate challenges. Where an implementing agent is not performing, DBE is withdrawing and reallocating that implementation project to someone better.
• Project disruptions by local communities and business forums. This requires continuous engagement with local community and political leadership to address the identified challenges.
• Volatility of the construction industry with companies big and small going under for filing for business rescue. When such disruptions happen DBE finds itself having to close down the process, do a final account and restart the process, which loses a lot of time.

Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE)
To address schools that still have inappropriate sanitation facilities, R2.8 billion has been allocated over the MTEF for the SAFE Initiative. This will be implemented through this SAFE Initiative Allocation, as well as the provincial EIG allocation and donations. When an audit was done, it was clear that Limpopo, KZN and Eastern Cape have the most serious cases of pit latrines.

DBE allocated 606 projects to implementing agents in 2019/20. The estimated budget is R689 million with 26% of invoices at hand. The financial report aggregates this information showing that DBE is using four implementing agents: Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Mvula Trust, and the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT).

DBE engages in the exercise of verification to ensure they are working with up to date information to avoid delays that lead to duplication. DBE sends department colleagues to ensure that the school has a pit toilet so that when it is allocated there are no delays involved.

There are 1007 projects under implementation in the SAFE allocation and the EIG: 880 of these projects are in their planning and design phase and 127 projects are under construction. The number of completed projects is 188 and only 18 of those were donor funded, the rest were EIG and ASIDI funded. Pictures of Sekanekamoyi Primary School, Mamaila Primary School, Paapa Primary School, Tshinange Primary School and Ramotlhatswane Primary School were provided as examples of completed projects.

The SAFE initiative challenges were highlighted:
• In 2019/20 DBE had to do planning and implementation concurrently which is not ideal in the industry. For the next financial year, DBE is planning to allocate the projects well in advance to avoid this.
• The procurement process is delaying the commencement of construction. The simple fix here is that DBE should ensure that implementation commences at the beginning of the financial year.
• Project monitoring has been a challenge. DBE plans to remedy by increasing the capacity to monitor project implementation. DBE will have to ensure that project monitoring is jacked up to ensure targets are met at the appropriate time.

In conclusion, DBE’s plans to improve infrastructure planning, delivery and maintenance were noted:
• It is working on the Integrated National School Infrastructure Sector (INSIS) Plan which aims to profile the infrastructure needs of all schools in the country in line with norms and standards. Currently there are ten different plans, nine provinces and DBE but these are not integrated.
• Revise the Education Infrastructure Delivery Model to address expediting delivery of infrastructure projects, controlling the costs and improving the contracts management process.
• Develop standardized floor layout plans and technical specifications for all education facilities.
• Establish an Education Infrastructure & Management Agency or Bureau at a national level for central facilitation and coordination of the projects.
• Revise its prioritization model to use condition assessment as a determinant for the Project Priority list.
• Utilize data from Stats SA to track information like population trends to take current and future population dynamics into consideration in planning. This would avoid white elephants where a school no longer has learners. Schools must have a critical mass of learners for a period of time.
• Review the relationships with implementing agents and strengthen consequence management by imposing penalties for non-compliance with progress delivery, deducting management fees for non-compliance and withdrawing projects as a result of poor performance.
• Strengthen its internal technical capacity to implement projects as well as implement employee retention strategies for built environment specialists.

DBE highlighted its plans about funding and partnerships. To ensure sufficient funding is allocated to the equitable share the EIG must be ring fenced so it is solely used for its prescribed purpose. The EIG funding is to be allocated on a business case. It is looking at diversifying funding modalities for school infrastructure.

Discussion
Ms T Marchesi (DA) commented on underperforming implementing agents. She asked what has been done to ensure that under performing and non-performing implementing agents are cut off. The Committee is aware that there are only a few and the agents themselves know they are needed because of capacity so they have nothing to lose. She asked if DBE has considered opening up to international companies to assist government when we are failing to find capable implementing agents within the country. If someone is contracted to do a job they should be able to do it and DBE should not be running after them. DBE is looking for more and more checks and balances making it seem that it is at the mercy of implementing agents.

Last year DBE also promised that retention will be increased but there is no increase in the briefing. She asked a list of non-completed schools exists that indicates how long they have been incomplete.

Another puzzling matter is that the Committee is told that DBE does not have proper data when it comes to schools toilets. Are there not auditors within DBE who will have the numbers so that there are no conflicting figures? Equal Education Law Centre and Section 27 briefed us last week and they came with different data from DBE. Why is it that there is not accurate data?

Ms Marchesi asked about the budget cuts due to be announced in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement the next day. Has DBE been privy to information on how it will affect School Infrastructure that it can share with the Committee on a preliminary basis?

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) agreed it was confusing to get different figures. Can DBE clarify the conflicting data? He raised the methodology for prioritization of funds which he admitted was a tricky question to answer. It is problematic to hear an MEC boasting of having built a school for R17million, for example, when in the same province there are schools which are in need. We do need schools that are up to standard, but it would be unfair to give one learner food whilst others just get crumbs. He asked about a more even and reasonable manner of determining priorities.

He raised concern about the vacancy rate in provinces which are far behind in progress. There should only be serious reasons for not being able to appoint people at the right time to necessary posts. Why can they not cope within the time frame they have set for themselves and their own targets?

He pointed to the Summary of Projects Completed in Q1 and Q2 of 2019/20. There seems to be a mistake in the reporting of the targets on page 18 of the presentation.

Ms D Van der Walt (DA) noted the underspending and the EIG allocations. What is the consequence and impact on a province or implementing agent if they do not meet the deadline? She has been in this committee since the previous minister but a sense of urgency does not seem to be there for provinces. It is prioritized by the minister at national level. Education is an essential service and so there should be harder penalties. In the past they asked for blacklisting or withholding money for non-performance. Something serious has to happen but it is not happening. Consequence management needs to be taken more seriously.

This applies to maintenance as well. She recently visited a school in Rooiberg in the Thabazimbi area, which used to be mine offices. It is not conducive for teaching learners and staff are living there in terrible conditions. Maintenance is not happening. DBE should find ways to encourage maintenance at both the larger and smaller, daily maintenance level. She would love to see DBE spend 60% on maintenance but she does not have faith that it will happen by 2025.

She asked for the reasons for and impact of tenders being cancelled and having to restart. Perhaps the Committee should call in the MECs of the provinces predominantly underspending under 30% to explain what is happening. It is not fair for the Committee to continually gripe at the national department. It could be beneficial to also call Department of Public Works.

She noted the IDMS report on slide 19 speaks about a target of 30 for school halls. She made a practical suggestion to have school halls that can be divided into two classrooms as a cost-saving solution.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked about the linkages between these infrastructure projects and other programmes and other government departments. Upcoming programmes that we are excited about such as vocational training for students exiting in Grade 9 – has that been factored in and linked to infrastructure planning? She has not been in the Committee long but it seems as if they are working in isolation. A lot of money is being spent in the infrastructure programme but government departments fail to work together to reach government objectives. These are 1) skills development 2) uplifting communities and getting people off social grants and 3) young people benefitting from training or small business. It is a reality that small business may not have the capacity compared to the entities being used but we must reach our objectives as government.

She requested a list of the vocational schools that are going to be built and that are available. A lot of young people sitting at home would like answers and to be linked to programmes according to their needs. Our constituency offices need this information.

Special schools were brought to the attention of the Committee by the Equal Education Law Centre. How many special schools are part of this programme per province?

The money spent on our schools to ensure that DBE services our people is a huge amount. How much of that money has been spent on projects to date yet physically nothing has happened in the province. She agreed about the Committee calling in the MECs to give answers.

Ms N Shabalala (ANC) commented that looking at last week’s presentation by Equal Education and Section 27 together with today’s, the Committee is able to get the whole picture and not just half the story. She suggested that information should be consolidated to show the research done by independent organisations as well as government briefings so that discussions are balanced. She congratulated DBE as the report received is helpful and shows that progress is being made. Nonetheless, the Committee would love to get such a report on a quarterly basis.

She raised a concern about overall expenditure at 30 September by different provinces. Perhaps it important to get a follow-up from provinces to say why these provinces have not performed, especially Gauteng, Northwest and Limpopo. Why are they still not doing the work they are supposed to do? The implementation of programmes is not done properly hence the level of overall expenditure. DBE needs to focus and check what is going on in Limpopo considering this and last week’s reports.

Turning to the overall performance of the MTEF budget, she said well done to DBE because looking at sanitation, the implementation shows progress. The 100% implemented electricity scopes deserve applause. The only area she is concerned about is infrastructure and DBE should pull up their socks there.

A newspaper article yesterday reported a Durban school where a student incited others to throw their exam paper in the toilet. This incident should be followed up.

DBE should follow up to check on the MOU between KZN province and the City of Durban on the provision of facilities. This MOU is one solution that was working whilst she was based at eThekwini. This could be one of the solutions apart from the implementing agents.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) said the DBE report received today gives the Committee an opportunity to compare what is happening in DBE and what has been said outside of DBE. This report shows work is happening although more needs to be done. He is confident that in the near future most of these problems will have been solved. Turning to slide 19, the target for additional classrooms seems to be way behind and he is interested to know if this target will be met by the end of the financial year.

Where provinces are allocating little or nothing to EIG, he questioned if DBE has any leg to stand on to force the provinces to allocate more money. He also questioned the infrastructure prioritization model and gave as an example of a school where the sanitation is good but the classrooms are in terrible condition.

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) thanked the Minister together with her entourage led by the Director General. The future of this country lies in the hands of our children and this is indisputable. It is clear that we need to invest in our children’s education because an uneducated nation will produce a doomed future.

He welcomed the progress report on infrastructure planning and delivery. The performance at the end of the Sixth Administration will in the main be judged by how we shall have performed in infrastructure delivery. Safety in schools is also a challenge but delivery of infrastructure rests at the core of that too. This is how the world outside, including our own communities, is going to judge the government. He cautioned against apportioning blame to one person when we must in principle join hands.

The National Development Plan states clearly that we have a duty to ensure that all schools meet minimum standards of infrastructure and commit to progressively upgrading school infrastructure to meet optimum standards. Given this, he felt that all in the room were on the same page about the importance of infrastructure. He noted that the three provinces Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape were allocating little to nothing of the equitable share component for infrastructure. He encouraged everyone to join hands so that if something becomes insurmountable to handle, this should be openly shared. Are we going to leave this as is where provinces getting EIG assistance fold their hands and do not contribute anything? This situation should not be treated as normal. The Committee can come up with a recommendation to say to provinces that there must be contribution from the equitable share.

He supported the comment by Ms Shabalala about the disparity in the reports. We should be aware that Portfolio Committee meetings have both ears and eyes and the nation is watching and listening as we speak. The Committee should have got the DBE report before the Equal Education and Section 27 reports so that we send one uniform message to the outside world. There are many organizations with an interest in education but the Minister is the final arbiter in the delivery of education as entrusted by the President. The government should find ways and means to liaise soberly with these stakeholders to brief each other, especially those who address the Committee. People have a tendency of taking what comes first as the truth. Even as we try to do damage control this remains an issue as that message landed earlier. He is pleading with the Minister for better coordination with stakeholders. The report received last week was unpleasant and those directly linked to schools could see that it may not have been the whole picture.

He supported the plea by Ms Van Der Walt about the importance of daily maintenance of schools. He started school many years ago but schools then were built by communities. It is not easy to determine what can best be done to foster ownership of schools by our communities. This cannot be the Minister’s baby alone but should be a partnership. We should not create a situation where we are always pointing fingers to blame. Community disruptions like that the burning of the Vuwani schools should be utterly condemned. There is deliberate carelessness in the maintenance of our schools and this will cause vicious cycle of building schools and having them vandalized. His final plea is that the Committee joins hands to see how best to foster ownership of schools even when the community has not contributed to the building of that school.

The Chairperson appreciated Mr Moroatshehla's passion. She said the Section 27 report presented to the Committee on 22 October 2019 focused on schools in Limpopo with pit latrines and alluded to cases where DBE progress is lacking in the eradication of pit latrines but this briefing shows progress in these provinces. Does the presentation on page 7 include those particular schools with pit toilet challenges?

Turning to the Total Infrastructure Budget on page 9, does DBE have project scoping plans for each province where the execution of infrastructure provincial planning is monitored on a regular basis? How often are progress reports received? She noted Ms Shabalala's proposal to have these reports on a quarterly basis.

On the Provincial Allocations on page 12, do these allocations speak to the strategic plans of provinces because the Committee is going to have to meet with provinces? This was also requested in the last meeting.

Page 13 speaks to technical workshops projects. Only the Northern Cape has targeted two and this is concerning as all the other provinces have no such plans. When we have significant need for mathematics and science learners and the announcement of technical subjects being introduced, one asks why there are no plans or targets to ensure these facilities are realised.

Page 16 shows the provinces lagging behind in spending which is a red flag. She asked the reasons for the underspending. How does DBE monitor these provinces to ensure they improve their spending patterns?

Page 18 shows progress on new and replacement schools, where Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West are a concern. She asked if this was due to planning from previous years or other challenges such as community disruptions.

She said the Committee should commend DBE for filling about 75% of the human resource positions reflected on page 21 but would also like feedback on what DBE has done to addressing this challenge.

Minister's response
Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, stated that she understands the frustration of Members about infrastructure. One of the major challenges in school infrastructure is that there is a huge backlog. It is one of the most difficult areas for this sector. This is infrastructure used by young people who are energetic and have a higher frequency of damaging property.

Another major challenge in urban provinces is the ever changing dynamics of population demographics. Planning in DBE needs to keep up with a volatile urban fabric. She agrees with Members that another major challenge is DBE’s capacity. Implementing agents are limited, and whilst DBE wants to be patriotic it is a problem when they are not able to deliver. Nonetheless, with the current political atmosphere it is going to be difficult to avoid communities and we should find a way of managing community relationships to avoid community disruptions, which can be very violent. It is rightfully so that communities feel that ‘nothing about us without us’ and it is important to foster ownership rather than having programmes rejected from the start.

The Minister made a point about the competence of the National Department. DBE monitors and allocates the money from Treasury but it cannot make decisions on how to spend that money. Infrastructure is a provincial competence and it is the province’s responsibility to spend the money after allocation. DBE has asked Treasury for capacity to support but DBE is not meant to be implementing school programmes.

The Minister made it clear that provinces were cooperating with DBE and did not deserve to be wholly bad-mouthed. Simply because the province has its own built capacity in DBE issues are resolvable. There are rules about these relationships. The law does not allow us to take one another to court. She made it clear that DBE is not responsible for infrastructure per se. However, DBE should be asking how we leverage the fact that money comes through us and our role is to allocate. It is important for DBE to focus on it is core functions.

On the coordination of government and non government reports, the Minister made it clear that she has no say in this. The Committee should invite people to brief it. DBE cannot take responsibility for where organizations the Committee invites gets their information. DBE has verification teams that go on its behalf to do verification because DBE does not run schools. Even the information that comes from provinces should be verified. There is no deliberate misleading by DBE as is suggested by people. The education sector would not survive without NGOs. There are a lot of NGOs the government is working with and DBE appreciates their value. They are not ignored but it cannot choose to address the loudest one when they decide to work outside our platforms.

Addressing future budget cuts, the Minister confirmed that there are budget cuts. DBE has been instructed by Treasury to look at where we can do further cuts and Treasury itself is doing its own budget cuts.

Director General's response
Mr Mweli echoed the Minister saying that we are looking to some deep budget cuts. All the grants have experienced cuts but that information will come out properly in the Medium Term Budget Policy Speech.

On consequence management, for a long time not anything was being done in the case of implementing agents. In the committee meeting on the DBE Annual Report, the DG did indicate that they have written to each non-performing implementing agent asking them why DBE should continue doing business with them when they are not performing. They are dealing with all of them without discrimination. In the SAFE project they have excluded many implementing agents who have a track record of underperformance. After the Annual Report, the DG has also written to each one of them because the irregular expenditure comes from them. DBE has indicated that it is going to recover every cent. They have deadlines to pay back and if they do not pay back they can be held to account legally, which is possible with non governmental entities.

Within DBE consequence management is also being taken seriously. DBE is making sure it takes disciplinary action so that even if one has moved mountains, you are penalised. These are the consequences that the Portfolio Committee had instructed the DG to mete out.

He said that Mr Mafoko could address retention but in the case for instance where a company gets liquidated, retention is not helpful and this happens more often than not.

The DG confirmed that DBE is not at the mercy of implementing agents. He has told implementing agents that the money allocated to them reflects in the books of DBE and if they do not exercise good governance DBE would cut ties completely.

He noted that unfortunately some of the requested data, such as the list of non-completed schools, is not readily available but it can be brought to the Committee.

On the conflicting figures, the DG said that it is very easy to verify statistics. There may be variances but it is simple to check what Stats SA is saying. DBE information is audited by the Auditor General. How the whole country is funded is based on the stats collected by StatsSA. Everything in the country is based on these statistics. Nevertheless there will always be variances because there could be interventions and sometimes DBE is unable to keep up to date. There should always be room for a small margin of variance and these are ordinarily noted as findings.

The DG stated that DBE had met with Equal Education and DBE appreciated the information shared at the request of Equal Education. Section 27 has not met with DBE because they have not made a request. DBE is holding public information that can be shared with any organization that makes this request.

The DG acknowledged that priority planning is a challenge they have noted. The cost of some schools is completely unreasonable. If one gets the exact figures, they are shocking. He assured Mr Ngcobo that DBE is working with provinces to try and address this.

On some provinces not filling human resource posts, Mr Mweli replied that DBE has reported before and continues to report. The best that can be done is to keep on monitoring and urging provinces. However, DBE cannot force them – as according to the Constitution. DBE’s entry point is through the conditional grants. The Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) which presented to the Committee recently, should have explained the zero or very little allocation of money to infrastructure. If we take away the EIG and ASIDI, the equitable share is what is left behind. The lack of contribution is causing the challenges such as the maintenance backlogs. He speculated that the explanatory response from provinces would be fiscal constraints.

The DG reminded the Committee that this is the Quarter 1 and 2 report and infrastructure projects do not move in a linear motion but rather along an S-curve. Some projects will start late and then pick up. Addressing consequence management briefly, the DG stated that they are tightening their MOUs and timeframes to address the underperformance there. Blacklisting is not an avenue accessible to DBE because all that needs to happen is termination of that contract and service.

On the suggestion that building school halls that can get divided used to work in the past but seem to be creating challenges, especially regarding disruptions.

The DG admitted that in linkages with other programmes and other government departments, DBE has fallen short. It has not mastered working together. He briefly noted the concerns raised by the Committee on community relationships with the implementing agents. Often the government uses big companies because they perform and communities are left feeling excluded and neglected from the opportunities forming part of a government project.

The expenditure of the provinces has been explained and he suggested that they not be too harsh because it is only the first and second quarter. The DG was grateful for Ms Shabalala’s consistent encouragement of DBE when it performs well. Where there could be problems and real cause for concern is potentially the North West Province as they had the same problem last year. In the third quarter DBE should be able to indicate where the real causes for concern are.

DBE will look at the exam disruption incident in the Durban school as this did not feature in their daily report. The suggestion to look at the MOU between KZN and the City of Durban is also noted.

Addressing Mr Siwela’s question on priorities, the DG conceded that there are difficult decisions that need to be made. He believed that classrooms and sanitation should be ranked the same.

In the case where provinces allocate less or little, DBE can only persuade provinces persistently to pay attention to the equitable share but there is a limit to what can be done in trying to persuade them, as has been alluded to by the Minister.

Addressing Mr Moroatshehla’s comments on the equitable share, the DG says he has noted that the Committee as public representatives has committed to assisting them with this. Government should be working together as a whole, including the NCOP, although he is not sure to what extent the National Assembly and NCOP can work together to strengthen oversight.

On the plea about the coordination of information he assured the Committee that presentations can always be improved upon but they are guided by the Committee's instruction. They try and give the Committee as much information as they have so that the Committee is able to get a balanced view.

Mr Mweli agreed that fostering ownership of schools is a responsibility that all role players will have to help with – public representatives and ordinary members of communities alike. There is a problem of community disruption because communities do not have ownership of their schools. In Vuwani we could have had more damage had it not been some community members who refused for their schools to be burnt. A school used to be one of the sacred places.

The Minister added that youth came from other areas to damage the schools and not necessarily the communities themselves. The DG thanked her and agreed.

Mr Mafoko replied to the question on retention and said that there has been an increase in retentions. Per the Schedule of Allocations for retention, DBE would remain with 5 to 10%. What DBE has done now in all the new project is increase this to 15 to 20%. The challenge here is that this can only be done for new projects as old projects are bound by their contractual stipulations, which is where the biggest challenge lies. DBE is still dealing with this backlog. All new projects have been changed to 15 to 20%.

Mr Mafoko said that tenders were cancelled if when the tender was advertised there was a misunderstanding about the DTI requirements. If DBE went ahead with those tenders those projects would have been declared irregular expenditure which must be really avoided. It is important to allow the process to run. DBE also experienced contractors under-quoting in order to qualify. These are the two major factors leading to delays.

On the number of technical schools being built, this information is not readily available but will be provided.

In terms of linkages with other programmes and departments there is room for improvement in some cases. On the electrification programme DBE works very well with the Department of Energy. On the three stream model and the Early Childhood Development (ECD) transfer, DBE is already talking to provinces so that for instance DBE whilst reviewing norms and standards can proactively factor in the Grade RR issue.

Mr Mafoko stated that the DG addressed it well in saying that the S-curve in infrastructure affects the report. What DBE reports on is schools that have reached practical completion. He is not apprehensive that DBE will not meet its target for additional classrooms. He is of the opinion that the target will be met.

He commented on the prioritization of programmes. Currently the majority of projects are related to water sanitation and additional classrooms. If we add more weight to a particular programme, the others will suffer. Basic services are a priority and there is no way that DBE is not going to meet that target. The budget has been loaded towards sanitation and additional classrooms as a priority.

On provinces that are not performing, DBE has quarterly meetings but for these particular red-flag provinces DBE has an intensive session with those provinces. In the North West DBE has also put in the Programme Support Unit (PSU) to assist the province to improve their strategies. When DBE goes back to Limpopo it aims to develop a turnaround strategy. Further, special attention will be paid to the North West if there is such a need.

He replied that Gauteng is being monitored by DBE but it is not worried because of the S-curve. Having investigated in the past, DBE found that the money was indeed going to infrastructure.

Mr Mafoko assured Ms Adoons that DBE has requested information from Limpopo province specifically addressing the pit toilets as alleged in the Section 27 report and it will follow this up. DBE needs to check if the schools raised as a concern are covered by the projects that are to be completed in 2019/20.

On project scoping plans, the presentation indicated how funding is allocated to a province. In June of the previous financial year, the province submits draft plans, which DBE evaluates against its priorities. There is a to and fro between the two until DBE approves. The final allocation is based on that and monitoring is done based on that business plan. What the Director General has requested DBE to change is to look at national priorities first and then the province can add its own provincial priorities starting in 2020/21.

He assured the Committee that new and replacement schools is an annual target and the progress is not yet of great concern. Towards the end of third quarter, if progress is still low, more intensive questioning will happen.

Mr Mafoko noted that DBE has recently received resources. 80% of their work is on ASIDI and 20% on the EIG. He confirmed that the interventionist approach is beginning to yield results as a result of additional resources in DBE.

Ms Van Der Walt (DA) said that she agrees that provinces are a different sphere of government but there is nothing wrong to call on them to explain how they work. She made the suggestion that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) can call on provinces if this does become problematic.

Ms T Marchesi (DA) asked to make a comment about the Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) curriculum. Members have been inundated with emails about this. She suggested that the stakeholders sending these emails should have an opportunity to present to the Committee, now that they’ve heard the side of DBE.

Mr Ngcobo (IFP) remarked that he attends more than one portfolio Committee. The Minister and the Director General have a responsibility to attend portfolio Committee meetings. He is happy that the Minister for Basic Education and the Director General are attending Committee meetings and are respecting this Committee.

The Chairperson echoed that the Committee appreciates this attendance.

Meeting adjourned.

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