In a virtual meeting with the Minister and Deputy Minister in attendance, the Department of Basic Education reported on its 2019/20 final quarter targets and expenditure, noting deviations and mitigation measures.
The discussion focused on the improvement of the infrastructure at rural schools; the necessity that schools have water and sanitation; the need to adapt so all learners can access online platforms due to the Covid-19 pandemic; the mishandling and underspending of the ASIDI infrastructure programme and the hiring of incompetent building contractors; and consequence management for underspending.
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga noted prior to the presentation that she had received an update on school nutrition which she is willing to share with the Committee.
Department of Basic Education (DBE) 2019/20 Quarter 4 Performance
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, DBE Director General, did not go through the whole presentation due to reasons of time. Achievement of performance targets was 61% for Quarter 4 compared to 86% for the previous year. The January-March final quarter targets were difficult to achieve.
Programme 1: Administration
Visits to provinces were curtailed by the lockdown and the Department had to find different ways in reaching out to the provinces. Internal Audit had been doing a lot of work going out throughout 2019/20 to deal with challenges DBE was confronted with.
Programme 2: Curriculum Policy, Support & Monitoring
Unachieved targets were:
- Number of training sessions of CAPS for Technical subjects monitored: Limpopo and North West cancelled the training sessions due to service level agreements not signed with the service providers so the planned monitoring could not take place.
- Number of advocacy campaigns conducted on the Rural Education Framework in the provinces: Visits to Eastern Cape and Western Cape were cancelled due to lockdown.
Programme 3: Teachers, Education Human Resources & Institutional Development
DBE achieved all the indicators. This is probably a first-time achievement for this year (see document for details on human resources, labour relations and conditions of service).
Programme 4: Planning, Information & Assessment
The targets and outputs for schools built, sanitation facilities and water provided through ASIDI for Quarter 4
were given and the results were poor. ASIDI targets were not achieved due to non-compliance by implementing agents who did not perform according to the quarterly plan. The letters of non-compliance have been delayed in lieu of a more direct monitoring approach. There are no more monthly meetings with all implementing agents in the same meeting. This has been replaced with weekly one-on-one meetings with each implementing agent individually. A senior professional programme manager has been assigned to ASIDI on a full time basis. The reporting templates have been refined, with focussed tracking of targets. Non performing implementing agents are not allocated any additional projects. Penalty clauses are being enforced for underperforming contractors. Valid extensions of time claims will be evaluated and adjudicated by the recently appointed quantity surveyors. The DG and the Eastern Cape HOD met with the Eastern Cape Black Contractors Association (ECBCA) and the disruptions stopped after an agreement was reached for more opportunities to black contractors in future.
Implementing agents, especially the new ones, were approved. The Minister is with the Department every week and says they must come up with a way to speed up delivery. They are behind but the 2021 financial project won’t have sanitation programme to implement because it will all be completed. Many schools said that with the level 2 lockdown, many constraints have been removed so things can go faster for sanitation delivery. A rollover of R474m has been requested and approval has been received for use of the Programme Support Unit to manage the Sanitation Appropriate for Education Initiative (SAFE) programme.
The target for the percentage of underperforming schools visited at least twice a year by district officials for monitoring and support purposes was also not achieved. Towards the end of Quarter 4, these schools could not be visited due to lockdown but action was taken for the schools to not remain behind. A lot of activities are taking place to support districts (see document for details).
Programme 5: Educational Enrichment Services
Sports and enrichment activities stopped due to the lockdown (see document for details).
Of the 2019/20 DBE appropriation budget of R24.465 billion, 97.5% was expended which is a slightly lower figure compared to 2018/19 which was 98%. The following challenges were noted:
• Underspending due to delay in delivery of the IT equipment including tablets for schools as a result of the COVID 19 outbreak as well as delay in invoices for travelling and subsistence. The Department has requested rollover of R20 million for these orders/commitments.
• Overspending due to interest paid to contractors due to late payments of invoices on construction projects. The interest charged has been disclosed as fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
• Underspending due to high construction costs contactors where charging the Department on water and sanitation projects resulting in delays as well as disruptions by business forums.
• Savings realised due to non filling of vacant positions due to the restructuring of the Department.
• The National Assessment tender was cancelled as the bids submitted lacked a suitable service provider.
• Learners with Profound Intellectual Disability conditional grant withheld to Free State due to underspending.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) thanked the Director General for his presentation. She asked what happens to matriculants who cannot have face-to-face learning – are they given classes? If they must write at end of year, what plan the department has for them? What kind of support are those matriculants receiving at home? Savings were made on nutrition and transport, thanks to the redirection of funds, and she asked about the way forward with that money. On the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) there are so many schools needing to be built, but the ASIDI programmes are being closed off. Yet there are so many challenges, especially in Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal, as mentioned by the DG. What plans are in place to deal with this? Sanitation was resolved because it was required in preparation for schools’ readiness for reopening. For pupils to go back to school, the requirement by the Health Department was that all schools must have water and good sanitation. However, the DG had initially said that in many schools this had not been the case, whereas he was now saying that all schools have sanitation and water – meaning that he is contradicting himself. She requested the DG to give a precise idea of that and to know what happens if a school does not have those basic needs. She asked how one responds to a school such as is frequently found in the Free State, when there is no water. Water authorities cannot reach those schools every day with water trucks so how does the Department intend to solve that?
Ms C King (DA) said that DBE is consulting with NEDLAC on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill but she wanted to know whether it would be opened for public consultations.
Ms King asked about the Department backlog when it comes to building schools. She had visited schools and many are still waiting for construction. DBE is being placed under major pressure – how do they go about finding implementing agents and properly hire people to build proper schools. One cannot give that job to people who do not have the skills for that.
Ms Mashabela asked how much DBE spends on court cases. She referred to Programme 4 Planning, Information and Assessment and asked about the underperformance in spite of penalty clauses. How will this be prevented in future? She asked what DBE does in cases where there is underspending on the ASIDI school infrastructure programme due to high construction costs contactors where charging for water and sanitation projects which resulted in delays of the project.
Ms Moroatshela referred to Programme 4 on provision of water and sanitation infrastructure. Schools had reopened but the provision of water remained a challenge and DBE has a key role in providing water. She agreed with Ms Marchesi who said it would be difficult. She attended a district committee whose report stated that they were fighting hard to address the issue of water. However, when she spoke to someone directly, the person said: “There is no water programme in almost all five municipalities”. The Department should not simply rely on the district report but should also interact with the municipalities. She asked if an honest study could be undertaken on whether tanks given to schools would be filled with water on a day to day basis, and if this could be observed and verified. She issued a plea to DBE to assist in making a real study to ensure there is water in the schools.
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) asked about the non-payment of educators who had been pensioned off in 2019 What is supposed to happen about this non-payment? What is the difficulty for them to be paid their pension? She knew two teachers who had died so far before receiving their hard-earned money. She spoke of procurement irregularities in provinces especially one that she had referred to the Mpumalanga Department of Education about the improvement of fourteen schools in that province. She will forward this information to the DG so that he can provide feedback on that programme. Also, she sent a specific request about the problem at a Mamelodi school where there was a big strike because of the appointment of a principal without the knowledge of the governing body. They had asked her to enquire about this and ask if DBE can please intervene and provide a solution to the problem. The third question is about a Limpopo school which was in the media actually and she had asked questions about this. The school had 600 learners and educators using only one toilet – yet there is emergency sanitation funding available? Can that school be provided with some more toilets? Please intervene as sanitation remains a headache for that rural school. Her next concern was about teachers with type 2 diabetes. They have been asked to go to work despite the Health Department saying they were classified as being at risk. She will send enquiry on that.
Dr Thembekwayo addressed the Minister, Deputy Minister and DG saying that the Committee does not see accountability for the progress in money expenditure. Can those responsible for those programmes appear before us to be accountable for the underspending?
Ms N Adoons (ANC) declared that she would try to stick to the agenda and presentation. She was aware that the identified challenges are related to the Covid-19 outbreak and the DBE programmes have acknowledged underspending when funds were provided. In the Eastern Cape and KZN hijacking procurement funds was very current and happened a lot. It happened all over, not just in the education department. Hijacking funds via procurement was criminal and should be addressed. She did not want to accuse people of not doing their work. Schools belong to the community not to departments. Water and sanitation are crucial and DBE could not afford to have those departments not using the money given for that. Failure to use funds properly should be a criminal offence.
Ms van der Walt (DA) pointed to the ASIDI Quarter 4 outputs. Are we taking the correct action? Look at all the deviations, all the reasons for those and the corrective actions. That is where our challenges are. The underperformance by our contractors challenges the programme. We read about all these implementing agents. No business can manage to meet deadlines if you have hired the wrong people. People are using other people’s money and are not being held accountable. How are we going to change it? We cannot deny that our children need successful delivery so we must hire the proper people who know the job and know what to do because our teachers and children are the ones who will lose in the end. Minister Jordan once said ‘It’s time to whip people who are not doing a good job’. She was very disappointed with the Quarter 4 Report – we still have not done much and we are behind. Even since the lockdown, schools have been vandalised, we are losing control of the most basic needs of our schools. She was very disappointed.
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) spoke about ASIDI and said the DG had made a promise to get the money back. A commitment was needed where that was concerned. Terrible school infrastructure had been found in Limpopo. She asked the DG if the Committee could have a breakdown of the complete project plan. Slide 58 shows the case of learners with special needs. DBE developed an online desktop monitoring tool to monitor 50 special care centres not monitored in 2019/20. She asked if the centres were properly registered, if the centres had access to therapeutic support and what actions DBE had taken to accelerate access of disadvantaged learners to the curriculum.
The Chairperson agreed that there had been underspending. Also, some pupils and schools were using really poor equipment. The Department could not afford to underspend on them. They really have to do the job and needed to do a proper job. She indicated that much was being done and the Committee's unanswered questions were gradually being dealt with. It was careless and negligent to underspend where there was a proper programme for a school. That underspent budget could not be lost. She was happy that 97% of the budget had been spent but 100% would have been better.
Minister Angie Motshegka said they would reply to the best of their abilities. As far as the matriculants are concerned, it was not about their level of preparation. It is about technical failures like working with them online, and yet when they go to write the exam they are carrying the wrong number. We did have a lot of programmes on the radio to help prepare them.
In answer to Ms Marchesi's question on how we prepared matriculants during lockdown, when we reopened only Grades 7 and 12 came to school. In public schools we had a huge turnout. Almost 99% came back and those who did not return explained why they did not return such as unplanned pregnancy. We had many radio and TV programmes but we were only able to reach 30% of matriculants because in some areas they do not have TV for example.
On monitoring, there are NGOs, very credible institutions, who are helping us to collaborate with provinces. We needed to validate our information to ensure that under Covid-19 we get as much good information as we can. The monitoring was not done by ourselves only but by credible bodies including school governing bodies. As far as accountabilty is concerned, some provinces are doing very well. They do not all work perfectly but there is a general sensibility about providing good service to our people.
Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule replied to the questions about specific schools. The Minister had said that her eyes are wide open. If one sees something happen in a school or province, one should write to the Minister and not wait until a meeting is convened. Immediate reporting would improve service delivery. Some questions could not be answered immediately. These questions must be asked in advance and the answer could have been provided at the start of this meeting.
The Deputy Minister noted that Ms van der Walt had spoken about suitable contractors. This country followed laws and if someone met the requirements, that person would be appointed for a particular project. If the person did not finish the project that would suggest that the person does not take toilet building and the needs of schools seriously. Such a situation would then need to be dealt with by law enforcement as that is criminal. The Ministry would respond to the submitted questions. If people refused to let their children go to school due to the Coronavirus then a platform would be provided to help parents and children with learning from home.
Director General Mweli replied that in the presentation DBE has indicated the support that is given to schools. The Deputy Minister had said that both the parent/guardian and the school provide that support. The state is represented by the school. Of course the problem of providing food to the children also comes into subject. The Minister says that if you can provide a plan to better the help to schools, you may do so.
Mr Mweli said that transport is difficult because some kids school in the morning some in the afternoon. In the time of Covid-19, there are so many special provisions, we need to identify R600 million for all that. Many municipalities are unable to provide such services. The morning meetings are also about ensuring that we take this to where it belongs and it belongs to the municipalities. We will not dump schools and leave them without those services. The Minister says she wants to take those portable toilets out of the way quickly because it is demeaning to people to use them. They are a good solution to pit latrines but they must be replaced by proper toilets quickly. Some projects will have spillover of course but not too many hopefully.
Mr Mweli said DBE received public comment feedback last year and it took us almost a year to be able to answer to all of them.
Mr Mweli said the Deputy Minister replied to the need to hire proper contractors who can build proper schools. On paper the contractor may appear competent, but in real life they may lack skills, so the Department would have to do a thorough selection process when choosing those companies.
He said Ms van der Walt would be happy to know that DBE did not allocate projects to Independent Development Trust (IDT) because of its poor performance. Fruitless and wasteful expenditure would be covered. The full figures had been provided and there would be 1223 completed projects. We must be sure about appointing reliable contractors because the only way to build is to rely on contractors. Mr van der Westhuizen had been appointed to help deal with infrastructure implementation. The projects were to be completed by the end of 2021. On the challenges of water as well as the water tankers, there was no intention to drop schools. At no stage in the running of the schools would proper water and sanitation be unavailable. Members of the Committees were to inform DBE as soon as they can so DBE has the opportunity to do things properly and promptly.
The Director General thanked the Committee for their observations. We will continue to do our best hopefully next time we will have even better news. We do recover the money needed to get people to do their work. We do track the learner attendance rate daily directly these days and we improve on that ability. The team is working on increasing opportunities for young people. We have been open and frank. Perhaps that is our weakness but we never attempt to hide anything from the Committee and we will continue to work as such.
The Chairperson thanked the Director General for the Quarter 4 overview and adjourned the meeting.
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