The joint Portfolio and Select Committees were briefed, in a virtual meeting, by the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape Departments of Basic Education on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on education in their provinces.
The Committees expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to receive information on what was happening in the provinces at first hand, rather than through the national Department. Matters which came to the fore included the way in which serious incidents of corruption involving the sourcing of personal protective equipment (PPE) was being tackled; how the need to provide adequate water and sanitation facilities for health reasons was putting a strain on the Departments’ budgets; the challenge of learners arriving at school without their mandatory masks; teachers and learners not returning after schools reopened, mainly out of fear of contracting the Covid virus; the need for extra space and school furniture to allow learners to adhere to social distancing in the classrooms; the different options being implemented to provide adequate nutrition for learners in less affluent areas; and the increase in vandalism and violence in the school environment during the lockdown period.
The KwaZulu-Natal delegation was commented for its comprehensive briefing, but the Eastern Cape team was strongly criticised for not adhering to its brief, and was told it would have to return to provide the Committee with the information that was lacking. This was the first in a series of meetings which the Committees would be holding with the various provincial education departments, and the Chairperson suggested that future meetings should be extended to four hours, rather than the present three, to enable the Committee to engage in thorough questioning.
Chairperson Mbinqo-Gigaba opened the meeting by greeting the Members, and asked if the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) formed a quorum. It was affirmed that the NCOP formed a quorum. She requested that a roll call be conducted, because the Eastern Cape (EC) and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) were present. Ms Noluthando Skaka, Committee Secretary, did the roll call for the NCOP. Apologies were received from Minister, Angie Motshekga, and Deputy Minister, Dr Reginah Mhaule, and Ms M Sukers (ACDP). There were no apologies from the NCOP.
The Chairperson said that KZN and EC were the first provinces that the Committee was engaging with directly to hear about the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic. The meeting was to establish how each province had managed to deal with COVID-19 issues, and if they were able to cope. Had they been able to use the funds that they were allocated effectively? If not, what were the issues that had been raised by the Auditor General (AG), and how had they responded to them, and all other issues that might have impacted the Department both negatively and positively. This meeting was important, because education generally, was the priority of the country. Since the Committee was at a national level, they were not closer to the people, like the two Departments in the EC and KZN, to know how the provinces were managing.
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Director General (DG), Department of Basic Education (DBE), commended the two Committees for having sought this opportunity to get an understanding of the challenges brought about by COVID-19, how the provinces had managed the system in this environment, and how they were responding to the interim report of the AG.
KwaZulu-Natal: Impact of Covid on Schooling
Mr Kwazi Mshengu, Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Education, KZN, started by thanking the Chairperson and the leadership for inviting them to the virtual platform to present the reports on how they had been managing matters since the outbreak of COVID-19. The Department’s related procurement had generated a lot of public interest and views.
He said their reports would tell the story as it was, including any shortcomings from their Department. They were open to accept comments on areas where they had not performed well. The report covered the work of the Department before and during the level 5 lockdown, as well as during the period when they had started to reopen schools, and the findings made by the AG in relation to the procurement.
The AG’s report had assisted them to uncover instances of corruption in the Department. Based on that report, senior people have within the Department had been suspended and taken through disciplinary processes. The Department would not co-exist with corruption. They had acted immediately where the AG had provided them with instances of malpractices. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) was still conducting investigations in the Department. All the officials were cooperating.
He indicated that KZN had a big system of education comprised of 6 148 schools which they had to manage on a daily basis. This meant there would be instances where there would be challenges that they would continue to grapple with, particularly around the provision of water in the province. There were schools in parts of the province where water scarcity was generally a problem. In other districts, they were trying to manage the situation of exorbitant bills that they received from the municipalities. They were contesting some of the invoices because they wanted to ensure that each and every cent was properly accounted for.
It was only in one instance that PPE had been delivered late, which had affected about three districts out of 12. The rest of the deliveries had been made on the Monday when the schools had already opened. But there had been claims that masks and other PPE had not been delivered, which was not entirely true. The Department had requested that if there was a school that had not received, or that claimed not to have received, masks or any other form of PPE or COVID-19 essentials, it should be given the name of the school so that they could attend to that situation. There had never been an instance where an allegation of the absence of the provision of PPE had been backed up by giving them the name of a particular school. Whenever they requested information, there was no name given.
The Department had observed instances where learners did not wear masks. They would leave home and go to school without a mask. Each of the 2.8 million learners had been provided with two masks, but the Department was hearing of instances where learners were going to school without a mask.
There had been an incident of rape when a learner had gone back home to fetch a mask. This had led to the provisions in the regulations being amended to say that schools had to provide spare masks at schools. The Department believed that regulation was being abused by learners. Parents must be responsible for their children, and should not allow learners to leave home without a mask. The Department was aware of the story of one school in Phoenix that was claiming to be short of COVID-19 essentials such as sanitisers and cleaning material. They had attended to that situation. The Department had taken the principal to task to say principals must indicate beforehand that they were running out of stock.
Dr Barney Mthembu, Deputy Director General (DDG): Curriculum, DBE, summarised the impact of COVID-19 on the curriculum in the province. Problems which were created by COVID 19 included school closures, diversion of resources, a lack of at-home learning material, and a restriction of movement which had led to the lack of financial resources for parents to pay school fees at that time. There was also a lack of reliable information on the progress of COVID-19 and school reopening, the fear of returning to school, and emotional stress. Because of COVID-19, there had been new financial hardships leading to difficulty in paying school fees, the stigmatisation of those affected, and a lack of maintenance in schools. Vandalism was an issue, as was the lack of teacher development during closure. The impact was both direct and indirect. The indirect impact was the number of school drop outs, loss of confidence and self-esteem, loss of quality curriculum coverage and slow progress in the attainment of the learning outcomes at the end.
There were school disruptions which had been caused by infections, where the Department had had to wait for the Department of Health to respond. Schools had been requested to close for some days at that time, which had caused some of the schools to be subject to a stop-start kind of curriculum coverage.
Schools had been vandalised, as had happened in different parts of the country. Measures had been taken as a province to ensure that they stopped the vandalism of schools
The shortage of classrooms and furniture in relation to class sizes was another problem. The main issue was how schools were going to practice social distancing when there was limited space. The class size was a critical parameter for the reopening of schools. The main question was, how they were going to double and multiply the classrooms and multiply the human resources? Those were the serious challenges of COVID-19.
There was a demand for mobile classrooms, but the Department did not have the resources to fund them. They had therefore decided that each district would get 100 mobile units. The shortage of furniture was another thing, because double desks could not be used as a result of the social distancing rule. The summary of the shortage of furniture indicated there were 1 560 schools which needed 84 000 desks and 53 000 chairs.
COVID 19 had increased the demand for water and sanitation, which had to put pressure on the available resources because these were non-negotiable. A number of schools were affected by water and sanitation challenges, and KZN had started with a programme of boreholes to curb this issue.
There was a demand for toilets. There were 798 schools which had requested chemical toilets, and 787 had been supplied. There was progress in the eradication of pit latrines. Learner transport was a challenge for the Department because social distancing and transport rules, so they needed three times the number of buses they currently had.
There was a need for extra teachers’ screeners and cleaners. The appointment of screeners was done in the province.
The number of school teachers and non-teaching staff that were affected by co-morbidities were: 2 621 teachers; 778 learners; and 178 non-teaching staff.
The absence of school nutrition during COVID 19 had led to the aggravation of hunger and starvation, because many learners and families were dependent on the school meals. The Department had developed five options for learners:
- Learners who went to the school to receive the cooked meal;
- Learners who came to the school, accompanied by parents, to receive meals;
- Parents coming to school to collect raw food;
- Learners coming to the school to collect a pre-packed cooked meal or raw food; and
- Parents coming to collect pre-packed cooked meals or raw food.
The Department provided psychosocial support per district. They had training, orientation and individual sessions.
The COVID 19 impact had affected the formative assessment because there was no time to assess learners formatively, because they had to do curriculum coverage. Formative assessment was done very informally in KZN schools.
Dr Enock Nzama, Head of Department, KZN Department of Education, concluded by saying that the education system had had to act as a provincial preventive measure in combating the spread of infections, but it had become a risk because of the past imbalances and backlogs. As a result, they had had to start afresh, looking at issues of hygiene and other factors. However, as a department of education, they had made an effort to ensure that they provided what was needed, in spite of the negative impacts.
Mr L Rambaran, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), KZN Department of Education, referred to the impact on the Department’s finances. During the budget processes, the Department had indicated the pressures that would arise from COVID-19 spending, so its budget was increased by R1 billion. The budget had also been reprioritised, with R52 million set aside in anticipation of the 4 000 additional substitute educators needed.
The budget had been reduced by R497 million, which would have a negative impact on the province, especially under non-negotiables, and on infrastructure as a whole. These cuts would cause a lot of challenges in regard to the affordability of upgrade projects at 467 vandalised schools. There were about 21 projects which were already in progress and committed, and these would not be able to be completed in time. They had made an appeal to the Minister of Finance, the national DBE and National Treasury.
Mr Rambaran reported on the AG’s findings. The initial major findings were the deficiencies identified regarding PPE supplies. There were initially 26 000 masks that had been delivered to one of the districts, and officials checking the quality of the masks had found them to be of poor workmanship. This had immediately been brought to their notice. They had informed the supplier and the supplier had immediately replaced the masks. All PPE would be quality checked by the Department of Health (DoH) going forward. The issue of deficiencies in PPE was not a major issue in KZN. However, they had also made sure that going forward, all PPE was verified to World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, especially the chemicals in the sanitisers and disinfectants.
Two senior managers at director level had been suspended. The legal unit of the Department had been mandated to pursue all possible avenues to recover funds that had been lost.
There was an issue of over-pricing involving about R316 000 which would be deemed irregular expenditure if not proved otherwise. There was evidence that the quantity of goods delivered did not agree with the quotation and invoices. The AG had found that there were goods to the value of R61 000 that had not been delivered. The Department had investigated this and had suspended the two senior officials. Going forward, the quotation evaluation and award committee would ensure compliance with specifications, which had to be done and checked by the end users and the DBE supply chain management before payment.
The next finding was around quotations from suppliers who were not registered on the central supplier database (CSD). Upon investigation, it was found that the officials were non-compliant and they were found guilty of not properly checking the registration of companies on the CSD when they made the award. Going forward, the nomination committee would first verify suppliers in the CSD prior to quotation so that this could be avoided. All suppliers had to be verified on the CSD to ensure compliance before quotation or before they had been called for a quotation, and also that awards were not made to suppliers who were not tax compliant. Suppliers asked for a quotation would need to produce a tax compliance certificate, and also when they were being paid.
There had also been possible cover quoting during the procurement process. The Department had received quotations totaling R491 625 from two related suppliers, one of which was awarded the contract. These suppliers had the same addresses and were owned by the same person, which showed possible cover quoting and went against Treasury regulations. Investigations had been conducted and legal services had written to these suppliers to allow them to make representations prior to a blacklisting request being sent to National Treasury. Two directors had been suspended.
The CFO concluded the AG’s findings on the first phase of the COVID 19 pandemic, together with the recommendations and implementations.
Mr Fundile Gade, MEC: Education, Eastern Cape, asked the Chairperson to allow the Department to split their report into two. The first would deal with procurement under the period of review, and the second would be about the schooling system and how it had responded during the COVID 19 period.
Ms X Kese, Financial Management Services, Eastern Cape DBE, spoke about the PPE procurement that they had embarked on as a Department and also the AG’s findings that they had subsequently received when they came to audit, as well as those of the SIU, which had done further investigation into the issue. The EC had not received funding for the PPE -- they had had to reprioritise within the budget of the Department.
The Eastern Cape had initially elected to use the National Treasury transversal contract for their supply of PPE. After they had submitted in their requirements for PPE, the National Treasury had indicated that it did not have capacity anymore, so provinces had to continue to procure on their own. The EC had done its procurement through advertising. It had issued expressions of interest and requested quotations from various small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). The aim was to ensure the process of procuring PPE in the province was fair, transparent and equitable, and had opted to use the model of appointing SMMEs for the acquisition of PPE.
They had made sure that the processes of procurement were compliant with everything that they needed to do. They had appointed a forensic audit firm to assist and ensure they followed proper supply chain processes. They wanted to be proactive to prevent any irregularities. They had incorporated their own internal audit risk management, their internal control unit and supply chain management (SCM). The Department then took the probity section, just to make sure that whatever they did was compliant.
She indicated the proactive measures they had taken to address any poor quality in terms of PPE. There were instances of poor quality that were reported from EC schools, and they had to take those articles to reputable institutions for laboratory testing. Hand sanitisers were taken to Rhodes University and also to Pathcare so that they could test whether they were of poor quality or not. They had come back to say they were indeed of poor quality.
There had been an underpayment of suppliers that was picked up by the AG, and also an overpayment of R373 833. This was just based on a sample that was done by the AG, but as a Department they had gone back to the full quotation just to make sure that they was no any other overpayment of suppliers.
The second presentation from the Eastern Cape highlighted very topical areas that had been affected by COVID-19. Being guided by the DBE, they had produced a statistically oriented report, which would be updated weekly showing or reflecting what was taking place in their schooling system. This would include attendance of schools by teachers and the attendance rate of learners, as well as the number of drop outs.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) welcomed and appreciated the presentations from the two provinces, saying they were assisting the Committee because they were getting first-hand information on what was happening in the provinces. One of the challenges encountered in the Portfolio Committee was that they got reports from the DBE. When the DBE was reporting on behalf of provinces, they often got contradictory reports which were in contrast to what was happening on site.
The second point he raised was the work of the SIU and the AG’s report. He pleaded to the MECs in the two provinces that the leadership of the provinces should themselves become an AG and SIU, even before these entities visited them. This would help in reducing a number of flaws before the SIU visited. The AG had indicated at their presentation last month that in the major provinces, schools suffered from the manner in which they allocated their tenders. Allocations given to suppliers who were not found on the CSD was an issue. This was a concern that should be picked up by the leadership of the province even before SIU or AG came to investigate the quality of the PPE in schools.
He made reference to the KZN report, and said he saw an issue in addressing grades which had suffered a lot of drop outs, because the assessment of drop outs could assist the Department in planning forward. He made reference to the EC report on curriculum coverage, that learning had gone on throughout the lockdown through virtual platforms in grades R and 12. His main concern was, given the rural nature of the EC, how that had become possible. There was the issue of provision of gadgets and also the network challenges, which was now also a challenge haunting the elite who were with them at the meeting on the virtual platform.
In the EC, they had talked about the educators with co-morbidities who had not returned. Such educators who had not returned must either fall under sick leave or special leave so that the Department could declare vacancies and fill in those posts on behalf of those who were not coming back. Educators could not stay at home in the name of co-morbidities any more. They should be declared sick so that the post was vacant and the Department could advertise the posts.
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) directed her questions to both provinces. How much had been budgeted for COVID 19 between March and July? How much had been spent in total on all COVID 19 related activities between March and July? How much had been spent on procurement of PPE from March to date? Could the provinces provide the Committee with the list of companies or suppliers, and when they had been established? What had been the value of the tenders? Could they provide the Committee with the list of the corrupt officials and directors who had been suspended?
Ms C King (DA) said that when it came to learner transport, the KZN Department had indicated that they may have a shortfall of 16 000 learners who were not going to be provided with scholar transport. She wanted to know what measures had been put in place in order to address this shortfall of learners who might not be able to access scholar transport. She was unsure if the Department’s scholar transport fell under the Department of Education or the Department of Transport. She requested clarity on that issue.
Given the level 1 lockdown, some educators would have to return to school. Of all the educators that had co-morbidities, how many of them had returned to school and what was the nature of the substitute educators who were currently at the schools? How long were their contracts? What was the plan for educators who had not returned to school, and how long would it be before they returned to school? The Department had stated they had a shortfall of R1.172 billion -- would they have enough to sustain them in the long run, especially when they had to consider PPE procurement for the next two years?
The feeding scheme question was also directed to the EC. Food prices had gone up and because of the lockdown, more people would be dependent on the school nutrition programme. Had they considered these factors, and what measures had they put in place to ensure that more learners that might be on the feeding scheme got proper nutrition, besides those who were at home and got food parcels? She wanted to know what the state of the EC’s infrastructure budget was, and how had it been affected by the COVID 19 expenditure. Since the e-learning contract had been interdicted, who would now be held accountable financially for this and for other implications this might have in the province? How much PPE procurement had been done? How many SMMEs had been chosen, and what processes were being followed for the second round of PPE procurement? Lastly, how many learners from KZN and EC had applied for home-schooling, considering the dropout rate?
Ms N Shabalala (ANC) said the questions that had been raised by the AG’s report had been clarified by the provinces with regard to some of the areas. She wanted to caution the Department that they could not be giving work to businesses which did not have tax clearance certificates as it meant they were not eligible to trade. They could not be giving work to people who submitted the tax clearance certificate afterwards when the payment had already been made. This had to be emphasised by officials in meetings.
She applauded the KZN Department on the suspension of officials who had been found wanting when it came to procurement issues. She asked whether the process of discipline had been started by the Department, or if they were just being suspended because sometimes people were suspended with pay, and that was another problem. She asked if the Department could give them the details of the disciplinary processes, and if they had started, so that they could fill the vacancies that had been left by those officials.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) asked about the mobile units that the KZN Department mentioned. They had initially mentioned that 39 559 units were needed, but obviously that was unattainable, and they had reduced that to 1 200 mobile units, which was approximately 100 to each identified area. She asked if these mobile units had been sourced and delivered and if not, when they would be delivered so that teaching and learning could continue. The Department had also mentioned that there were very basic needs still not being met at many of the schools, such as furniture shortages, and water and sanitation, which still remained a huge issue at many of these schools. She commented that there was still no proper infrastructure, and that much was still temporary infrastructure. She asked if more permanent infrastructure would be erected so they could do away with the temporary infrastructure.
Regarding the teachers with co-morbidities who had not returned to school, or those who were still placed on long leave, how was that situation being managed with temporary teachers? How many temporary teachers had been appointed and did they have any idea how long these temporary teachers would need to be employed and what the financial implications were?
She asked both provinces how many learners had not returned to school. Did they have the numbers, and if they did, how were they dealing with the situation? Had the names of the suppliers or companies that had been involved in over-payments, under-deliveries and shortfalls been noted? Had they been red flagged? What were the consequences for these companies? Would the EC and KZN schools and districts be using these companies again?
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said the presenters today had themselves suffered the death of technology, so what about the poor learners from deep rural areas and their educators? It should say to them that the Information Communication Technology (ICT) that they were boasting about was not working in those rural areas. She had heard during the introduction of the DG that they had mentioned a principal who had written something on social media and was going to be dealt with. She said this was the time for whistle-blowers to be allowed an expression of any communication of whatever type on whatever platform. What they were saying on social platforms would make them undergo a paradigm shift. They must accept criticism positively -- it would help them to approach their Department correctly and realign it positively.
She said the EC was scrambling to get schools with no toilets and shortages of water what was needed, but what it had presented was too good to be true and too simple to be accepted by the Committee. She mentioned one example of an infrastructure-dilapidated school. A school in Pietermaritzburg had problems beyond the virus, which meant that whether there was COVID or no COVID, there had been infrastructure deficiencies and to date nothing had been done to address them.
She asked about a truck full of PPE which had disappeared mysteriously in KZN and mysteriously reappeared, and the MEC had said someone would be held accountable in order to send a strong message, because no one could make things disappear and reappear at their own will. Throughout the presentation, only two directors had been suspended, so what about this case of the truck and the missing PPE? Had there been accountability for what had happened? She asked EC if they were aware of a primary school in Grahamstown which had been vandalised and valuable materials stolen. She had called the principal before the meeting to enquire about the state of the school, and had asked if that school was one of the 53 schools that had completed the vandalism repairs.
Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) said they had heard of only two directors who had been suspended, which was surprising if one looked at the degree of corruption that had actually happened. He asked why they were suspended. Were they suspended with the intention of charging them or disciplining them? Where were they based? Were they based at the head office of the province, or were they district based. He asked about the fatalities that KZN had experienced, both in educators and learners, respectively.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked what the Department would do to make sure that the PPE was delivered timeously to the various schools. When it talked about thermometers, she did not know how much it had paid for them or how much each one cost. She wanted to know, because some of them had been faulty. She had been to many schools were they broke very easily, so she wanted to find out how much was spent by each province on thermometers. Did the price also include the cost of maintenance? It did not make sense to buy a thermometer and within a month or week it was broken. In KZN, there was a school called Macekane Primary School which was in a deplorable condition. She was surprised that the presentation had said that the schools that had problems had been fixed, but that school had not been fixed. What were they doing to ensure that the school was fixed? The isolation room in that school was a shack. She asked if there was a budget that had been allocated to the school, because it may not be the only school in such a condition.
The other issue she had was involved sanitary pads, and had been going on in KZN since 2017. The HOD in the Department had been implicated because he had signed for the procurement of the sanitary pads. However, she had not seen any reference to sanitary pads in the Departments’ audit report, and despite this issue having been there for a very long time, nothing had been done. The HOD had not been suspended and no one had been implicated in the whole saga of sanitary pads, but R110 million had disappeared because they were not up to standard. She asked KZN to give a brief report of that issue.
She said that for the EC to say that everything was well was not believable, because many of the schools were not ready and could not reopen, yet they did not have learners that had dropped out. They had stated that they had 98% of all learners back at school. It would be sad to find out, when the matric results came out, that many learners have dropped out and that their figures were not truthful. She also did not understand that when they got to level one of the lockdown, the EC had said all the teachers had to go back to school, but they still had teachers who had not gone back. She asked where those teachers were, and what the state of those teachers currently was -- had they left, or had they been put into vacant positions.
The EC had said their grades R and 12 were having e-learning. She asked how a grade R learner did e–learning. She was confused, because private schools were complaining that their grade R up to grade 5 learners were not coping with the e-learning, so they were pushing for the schools to be reopened, yet the EC reported that they were able to cope.
She asked how the Department was going to catch up with curriculum. What were their intentions and what were they going to do next year? Were they going to promote learners to the next grade? What was the plan to address what had been lost in 2020 and incorporate it in the 2021 curriculum so that their learners were up to standard?
Mr E Siwela (ANC) commended the KZN Department for its swift action against officials who had abused procurement processes. He said suspension itself was not an end. They wanted to see disciplinary hearings against the officials and if found guilty of misdemeanours, appropriate sanction must be implemented.
He agreed that the presentation of the EC had highlighted a number of issues as rosy. If over 2 000 schools did not have the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign (QLTC), how difficult would it be to put infrastructure in place? Why did these schools not have these structures? Given the improvement that they had seen in the 2019 matric results, and with the COVID 19 in 2020, how likely was it that the results were going to improve? What would be the likely impact of the COVID 19 on the performance of the matric class of 2020, because that would be a test to indicate that the presentation that they received had been truthful?
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) asked about the suspended officials and what would happen when they had been found guilty. Would they be brought back to the Department with different titles and placed in different departments? The MEC had mentioned learners forgetting masks at home, and that the parents were not being responsible towards their children. The Department should realise that most of the parents left home around five in the morning to get to work, and these learners were looking after themselves. It was the schools’ responsibility to make sure that if a learner came to school without a mask, they should be given one. There must always be an extra mask at school to give these learners, because one could not put such a responsibility on children to make sure that they had masks.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) appreciated the work of the presenters for giving them a synopsis of what had been done in the provinces, since they did not have time to interact with them during this difficult period. She extended her condolences to officials, teachers and learners who had passed on in different provinces, especially the EC, as it had been badly affected. However, they had managed to carry on working and had to be applauded for that.
She was mainly concerned that the whereabouts of learners and teachers was unknown, since there had been drop outs from both provinces. What was the plan to make sure that the learners were traced and establishing whether they were still remaining at home because of the fear of catching the virus, or if their parents were involved, and were aware that their children were attending or not attending school. It was the teachers who were said to be not going to work -- what was the problem?
Regarding the Department’s consequence management, she fully agreed with Members that suspension of the two directors was not nearly enough. She was aware that some of the work was still in progress, and the AG had not completed his findings. It was only a fraction of the expenditure that had been audited, and her understanding was that there was still a lot that had to be done and that they were still going to receive reports on progress regarding those who had broken the law. She asked if any money or resources had been recouped in this process from suppliers who had not supplied, or any service that was not rendered. She appreciated the work the Departments had done under the cloud of corruption that hung over them and the government as a whole. She acknowledged the initiative they had taken to try to recoup whatever it was that belonged to government and the community and society at large.
Co-chairperson Nchabeleng asked both provinces what system they had used in procuring PPE and other COVID resources. He knew about the South African schools administrative system, and asked if they had used that. He did not think they would have had the kind of questions they had on this platform if they had used that system.
A commitment had been made by the KZN Department that they would ensure that all people and personnel in the supply chain would be taken through Treasury instructions. He asked if that had been done, and if they had, why they were going through the problem they were facing currently. The issue that worried him more was the violence in schools. There was a teacher somewhere in the Newcastle area that had poured hot water on children. He had been asked by a journalist what the Department was doing about the matter and if they were taking disciplinary action against the teacher. He had responded that the matter was not a disciplinary matter, but a criminal procedure matter. He wanted to check how far the Department had gone with those matters, and the fact that the same teacher who was said to be suspended had stories on social media that he was having contact with those learners, and that the learners physically saw him at the same school. He asked the Department to brief them on what was happening.
Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) asked both provinces about the AG report and the SIU investigation. Did the two provinces have an internal audit system? What were the precautions or measures to make sure that internally that all their processes were being checked when it came to finances and procurement? Both provinces seemed to have a problem with vandalism at schools, so the Departments must inform the Committee about the security and safety at the schools, because it seemed that it was a problem. She asked if the Departments used the budget given to them to deal with security companies, because the budget allowed for security at schools. This was because it protected the infrastructure and also protected the learners and teachers.
In the KZN presentation, they had spoken of pit latrines and their plans to make sure that all pit latrines were done away with. She asked for a timeframe of their removal. There was a budget for nutrition, and she asked for details on that. The water issues in both provinces looked good on paper, but in actual fact it was a problem and from a health perspective, with COVID 19, they also needed to have a timeframe for assisting schools that did not have sufficient water.
Chairperson Mbinqo-Gigaba thanked both MECs for participating in the meeting as requested by the Committee. She had few issues to raise with both provinces. The first thing was that the Committee had heard how they had provided psychosocial support, but her question was directed towards the children who had special needs, especially those who had hearing impairments and were at home at the moment. She said even if the Department did teaching visually, it was not going to be easy for the ones who could not hear. She asked how they had dealt with that particular challenge for learners.
KZN had given the Committee more information in their presentation, and they should appreciate that fact. She asked if the person who was presenting as CFO was the Acting CFO of the Department. She referred to the supplier had over-priced, and the R319 990 that they needed to retrieve from the supplier that was supplying PPE, and asked what happened? There was another shortfall of R61 813 involving another supplier that needed to supply PPE -- what had happened to that supplier also? Then there was a company in the province that had cover bid under different names, and she wanted to know what had happened there as well.
The Department had given work amounting to R521 000 to a company that was not tax compliant, and they needed to let the Committee know that this amount had been retrieved from the company. She also said there had been two quotations used in awarding a tender for R160 000 instead of three quotations, which was against the Treasury regulations -- could they get clarity on that?
She told the EC officials that their presentation had not given the information the Committee had requested. Firstly, the CFO had raised an issue of guidelines from the National Treasury, which had told them to spend the money themselves. However, she had not mentioned how much money they were referring to. By comparison, KZN had explained to the Committee the type and amount of money for COVID 19 they had used. EC had not mentioned how much they had received for COVID 19 and how the money was used.
The CFO had said the EC Department had appointed a forensic audit firm, and she needed clarity as to why they were appointing such an audit firm. Were they trying to tell the Committee that they did not have the capacity to deal with the COVID 19 finances, or that they would rather prefer to pay the firm themselves as a province? How much were they paying the firm?
Although the EC department had 12 districts, on most of the headings in their presentation they had been consistently referring to only two districts. This was a concern, because she was aware that the challenges in each district were different. She honestly felt the presentation was not up to the standard the Committee would have wanted, because in terms of the school nutrition programme, the infrastructure and so on, they had not fully covered the 10 other districts.
There had also been a Member who had raised the issue of drop outs, and how this had affected the EC as a province. In the EC, there had been a dropout rate from grade R of 307, while 314 grade 8 learners were also projected as drop out. She requested more information on the dropout rate. The drop out issue was being raised because the EC was a rural province, and a big one. It was also a province that was second from the bottom in terms of their National Senior Certificate (NSC) results. There was no clarity in terms of the school nutrition programme in the EC, compared to KZN. She said KZN had mentioned districts that had issues of water, but that was missing in the EC presentation. EC had water and sanitation problems, but nothing was mentioned as to what districts were affected.
The Chairperson said those were her observations. In her view, the EC had not been fair in its reporting of how they had dealt with COVID 19. They had not presented on the months of April, May, June, July and August. The report was focused mainly on September and October. She believed there was lot of flesh that needed to be put on their presentation as the EC provincial government.
MEC Mshengu said that Mr Rambaran was the acting CFO, but they were in the process of presenting the recommendations to Cabinet of who should be appointed as the CFO. They had run the process of interviews, and at the next Cabinet meeting they would be presenting their recommendations as to who should be appointed as the CFO.
Regarding the time frames for pit latrines, they had given themselves two years to complete their eradication in the province. There were 1 370 schools that had been identified as not having proper infrastructure. He could confirm that over 200 had been completed, while contractors were on site at others, and some were at the design and tendering stage.
He said the vandalism at schools would not be won by the Department alone -- they needed communities and the whole of society to rise and defeat the scourge. They needed the communities to stop being the market for stolen property. They needed the communities to stop harbouring the criminals and work with the Department and the police to give them all the necessary information. There were instances where security guards in KZN had been killed by these criminals in order to gain access to the schools. They had continued to mobilise their community strategy to re-fence the schools and make sure there was clear point of entry and exit, and had put community volunteers at the gates. Some of them had been killed and others injured, and some of the new fencing at the schools had been stolen by the communities.
The MEC responded to the issue of violence in schools, and commented that it was one of the problems that was rising rapidly. There was learner on learner violence, teacher on learner and learner on teacher violence. They were trying to contend with those challenges. They had taken a clear stance that issues of bullying had to be acted against swiftly and decisively. In the example of Newcastle, where a teacher had poured hot water on a learner, that teacher had been suspended and a disciplinary process was pending. He agreed that the matter was a criminal case, and confirmed that the police were following up on it.
MEC Mshengu disagreed that schools had to carry the burden of ensuring learners came to school with their masks. He believed it should instead be the parents’ responsibility and that they should not be entirely absolved from it. The Department understood that some of the parents would leave early, but it could not be the responsibility of the Department alone to ensure that learners always had their masks. The Department they bought each and every learner two masks. They only had stock that was sufficient in their schools to ensure that when there were real instances of learners who came without masks, they could provide for them. However, if they absolved parents from their responsibility to ensure that their children left home with their masks on, or even if they left early, they had to teach them that before they exited the door they had to have their masks on. They were not going to succeed as a Department by always replacing masks.
The MEC responded to the issue of sanitary pads and the HOD being implicated, and that allegation that nothing had been done. He said the reality was the opposite. Three senior managers had been suspended, or were on suspension and were attending disciplinary hearing processes regarding that issue. They were the DDG, the Chief Director and the Director who were responsible for managing the project. Resulting from the investigation that was done, the recommendation they had received was that a disciplinary process should be taken against the three employees. The Department had done so -- the case was in motion and they were currently on suspension. The report had exonerated the HOD. He was aware that most people believed that the HOD should be disciplined, but they were acting on the report from the forensic department, and as MEC he could not act outside the scope of what the report had recommended. The report had found that the HOD had been misled. The issue of sanitary pads had been around the oversupply, not the quality.
Mr Mshengu said the suspended officials were facing disciplinary processes, and by next week they should start to appear before the disciplinary committee. The approach was simple -- all cases should be dealt with in 16 days, or a maximum of 90 days, and that was why they were urging that if someone was suspended, disciplinary processes were done in the interest of justice and also in the interest of the stability of the Department. As to what the sanction would be, the Department did not want to pre-empt the process. They wanted the processes to be fair so that whatever the outcomes, they were not accused of having influenced them.
The MEC responded to Dr Thembekwayo, who had said the reports were too simple to be true. The Department would leave that to the judgment of the Committee – their responsibility was to provide the facts as they know them in the Department. They could not tell the Committee how to judge them, or whether to accept or reject their reports.
They had challenges with infrastructure as a province, as some of the schools were aging. They had taken the approach of going back to rehabilitate those schools. The process would be slow, given the absence of enough funds to move with speed. in terms of rehabilitation of such infrastructure.
With regard to the whistle-blower issue, the MEC said they welcomed whistle blowers, and any information that was directed to them would be acted upon to correct any wrong-doing in the schools.
The report of the truck that had disappeared with PPE was denied by the Department. The MEC said there was no truck that had disappeared with PPE, but there had been PPE that had gone missing at the district office level.
The MEC said the issue of water was a challenge in schools and communities, and they were dealing with it. The Department was unhappy with the charges being levied, and had communicated this to the municipalities. It had been reported that schools could go a day or two without water as they waited for a municipal truck, and in some cases the truck would be blocked by communities. There were instances where water would be accessed by some communities at night. However, they had started a programme of boreholes, having identified 1 500 schools that had water underground through a study conducted by the Department of Public Works.
He said the solution to the scholar transport problem was simple -- it required money. All they needed was additional funding. KZN was a rural province, but they only had R300 million that had been allocated for scholar transport. They had calculated it would cost total of R1 billion to run an effective scholar transport system in KZN to ensure every deserving learner was transported to school. The Department was currently reviewing the policy. The Department of Education was responsible for policy determination in so far as scholar transport was concerned, but the Department of Transport was responsible for the implementation of the scholar transport in terms of enlisting the service providers and management. The budget they got was taken to the Department of Transport to manage. The Department’s mandate was on education. They did not have expertise in the management of transport.
The HOD responded on the school in Pietermaritzburg which was described as dilapidated and the infrastructure was falling apart. Upon checking on their system and the sector responsible for infrastructure, they could confirm that the whole school was under renovation and that the Department of Public Works was already on site and the contractor had been appointed.
The statistics on Covid-related fatalities were that a total of 3 058 had been infected, of whom 2 270 were teachers and 452 were learners. The remaining 336 were non-teaching staff and officials. There had been 73 fatalities, of whom 58 were teachers, and 15 were non-teaching staff and officials. When it comes to fatalities they have lost 73 people. Out of 73, 58 were teachers and the rest were others such as school based servants, office based officials, which gives them a total of 73 fatalities in KZN. They had not lost a single learner in KZN.
There were over 500 toilets under construction, and 192 were in the tender and design stage. The problem that had constrained the Department would extend into 2022 was because of budget cuts. R400 million had been cut.
On the question of disciplinary action against officials who had been implicated in the disappearance of PPE, he had received the draft reports from the investigating officer. He was waiting for the final report so they could act quickly, but confirmed that in the report there was evidence of non-adherence to departmental policy in the manner in which the masks had been distributed, and some officials in the district who had been given task of distribute these masks had been implicated. The report would be sent to him on Friday this week, and he would act accordingly in this matter.
Dr Thembu responded to the question about applications for home schooling. They had received 406 applications, and 140 applications were rejected because they were for grade 10 to 12 learners. The reason for rejection was that the national policy stated that approval was granted only for compulsory school going age -- from 7 to 15 years – which was grades 1 to 9 only. The applications for grades 10 to 12, which was 16 years and older, were not approved, but they had tried to provide some kind of assistance to those learners with regard to the issue of the drop outs. The statistics they had was that the dropout rate for grade 12 only was available. They had not done the other grades, but they had send a template which started from the date on which the learner came back, indicating how many learners had not come back on the date of return, so they would get that information soon. However, in grade 12 they had 694 boys who could not be accounted for, which was an average of 57 boys per district, as well as 796 girls who they could not account for, which was an average of 64 per district. They had requested schools to get the principals to help them trace those learners, and find out who and where they were.
The other issue was an HR matter. The previous report had given them an average of 92.06% of teachers who had come back at secondary schools, an average of 95.5% who had come back at high schools, and 96.22% who had come back at the primary schools.
Mr Rambaran responded to the questions relating to the COVID 19 pandemic, and said the COVID expenditure had been indicated in the presentation. The current the state of the COVID expenditure for the Department as at the end of September was R748 million, of which PPE accounted for R579 million. There was a projection of another R300 million for PPE expenditure, and another R269 million for COVID 19 expenditure. They were expecting a projection of proximately 569 million at the end of the financial year, which was part of the over-expenditure that was explained in terms of the R1.172 billion.
The Acting CFO asked for permission to email of the list of companies with regard to the directorships and contract values that information to the Chairperson and the Members.
He asked the Acting Supply Chain Manager to respond to the concerns that had been raised by the findings of the overpricing, the cover quoting and tax compliance, etc.
Ms M Thusi, Acting Supply Chain Manager, DBE, KZN, said the Department had picked up a few suppliers that they suspected to have cover quoted. They had engaged with their legal services and letters had been written to those suppliers to give reasons why they should not be blacklisted by National Treasury. The Department had asked their legal services unit to look at options that were available for them to recover any monies that they may deem as having been lost to the Department. The SIU had needed some information on similar cases, and that information had been had been provided on issues of tax non-compliance. There had been a few suppliers that the Department picked up that had been non-compliant. In most cases, they had realised that those suppliers were actually non-compliant only after the quotations had closed. A supplier could be compliant today and non-compliant tomorrow. What they had done was to make sure that those suppliers were paid only once they were verified. They were engaging with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to report to those suppliers.
On issues where quotations were awarded, even though fewer than three quotations were received, they commented that during the hard lockdown of level five, they had struggled to get quotations. Under normal circumstances, suppliers would come and submit quotations, but due to the lockdown, some of the suppliers would email. She had realised there were serious gaps around the supply chain process. The supply chain was unique within the Department, and not only the DBE. For instance, one of the critical roles, such as contract management, was found to be inadequate within the Department. They had put together a turnaround strategy when working together with the provincial Treasury that could put the Department at a level where at least they could cope with the pressures that they were facing now.
MEC Mshengu answered the question of whether the Department had an internal audit system, and said that unfortunately in KZN the internal audit was a provincial audit system. The Department itself did not have an internal audit system, although it had an internal control unit. Going forward, they were having discussions in terms of establishing an internal audit within the Department, but that would also depend on budgetary constraints. At the moment, Treasury was also involved, and they did the internal audit of the Department. For PPE procurement, Treasury did a pre-audit before they awarded the contract, and that was also another control measure that they had put in place.
In responding to the question of the co-morbidities and how many people had applied for leave, he said 5 970 educators had applied. The Department had issued a circular notice after the pronouncement by the President that the country was moving from the level 5 lockdown. At alert level one, not all of the educators had returned. Of the 5 970, 335 had not returned, but 259 had taken leave, 40 had taken capacity leave because they were seriously ill, and 39 had taken maternity leave.
Even at the time before all the teachers returned, the Department had 2 015 substitute teachers, and they were still there. They had given them notice that their contracts would be terminated at the end of October. However, they were assessing the situation that where there were those who were still taking leave, the substitutes contracts would not be terminated if there was evidence that someone had taken leave, they would make use of the same substitute.
Eastern Cape’s response
MEC Gade apologised to the Chairperson and the Committee for the fact that there had been a missing link in the communication between them. The MEC took the responsibility and acknowledged that the report did not cover the entire COVID era from the beginning of the lockdown until today's date. He suspected there could be a possible miscommunication in the context of the area that could be covered. Therefore the report had been addressing the recent situation. It had not been a deliberate kind of effort to mislead the Committee or not provide the information that it required. He suggested that the Department should provide written information to the Chairperson and the Committee on the areas that they had not covered in the presentation. They would make a formal submission to the Committee in writing before the end of the week.
The Chairperson interjected, and requested that they call the Department again to come and present the report. She would ask the officials to communicate a date, because this was the Committee’s first meeting to interact with the provinces. The Committee would schedule for the Eastern Cape to come back and report to them.
The MEC agreed with the Chairperson’s resolution.
The Chairperson handed the platform to the DG.
Mr Mweli said the two provinces had reported on barring the issue of the procurement of COVID essentials. He had developed a reporting template of about 25 items, which amounted to about 100 questions that solicited information from all of the nine provinces. They were gathering that information through what they called one-on-one meetings with each of the provinces, allocating a minimum of two to three weeks to get the province to take them through the responses, and populating the template with the items that he had referred to. He would work with the EC to plug the gaps that had been identified by the Portfolio Committee. They would get ready to come and present together with the province on the details that the Committee was not happy about.
The DG cautioned on the issue of the dropout rate. He believed that it was too early to declare any figures about the dropout rate, as it might lead to a media frenzy. No one was certain about the dropout rate, given the fact that their own directives made provision for five categories of learners. Learners with co-morbidities were allowed to stay at home. The second category, learners with illnesses other than co-morbidities, were allowed to learn from home. Thirdly, there were learners who might be receiving an education through virtual or online learning, be it provided by the school or by a service provider other than a school. The fourth category was learners whose parents, out of their own volition, had decided to keep them at home, maybe out of fear or out of anxiety. The last category was home education.
The DG cautioned that it was too early to extrapolate drop out numbers. Departments were looking at the numbers as they were collecting data, and were verifying the data that they were collecting. Once they had done all the verification, they would get an indication of what the probable dropout rate might be. Parents could also bring learners back to school at the beginning of the year next year, because they might have elected to keep the learners because they believed that the risk for the virus would perhaps be less in 2021, and then release them to go to school.
The DG responded to the last point around curriculum coverage. They had presented the risk adjusted approach to curriculum and assessment to the Portfolio Committee. They had indicated to both the Select and the Portfolio Committees that curriculum coverage for grade 11 and the lower grades was a multi-year effort.
What they were planning with provinces already for grade 11 learners who were going to be grade 12 learners next year was early catch-up programmes, starting from 2021. Regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the matric class of 2020, they were still collecting data, and were doing their best to make sure that the grade 12 learners of this year were supported. They had been working with the provinces. He had been to six provinces. Of interest had been extra tuition during weekends, because many places of worship had not been fully active and therefore facilities had been available.
The DG would be going to the Eastern Cape on 23 October. He had been to KZN and to the Ugu district, and had been extremely impressed with what he had come across. The school attendance was at a100% on a Saturday and Sunday, when it was raining. This weekend, he would be going to Limpopo.
The observation of the Departments was that the provinces had been going all out with winter support programmes. Winter support programmes which would take about a week had been organised. Provinces had good walk-in facilities and residential camps that they were using, observing the protocols of physical distancing for basic hygiene, and safety requirements that were provided for in terms of the regulations.
The Chairperson thanked the DG and both the MECs from KZN and EC for attending the meeting. She asked the DG to make sure that the Eastern Cape came and presented as she had asked them to.
The Chairperson proceeded with Committee issues, and flagged the minutes that they needed to adopt,
The Committee considered the record of the virtual meeting on 6 October 2020, and the minutes were adopted.
The Chairperson recommended that the Committee should arrange to allocate four to deal with the provinces instead of three hours, so that that they got an opportunity to look into the reports and could interrogate them thoroughly.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mbinqo-Gigaba, Ms BP
Nchabeleng, Mr ME
Adoons, Ms NG
Christians, Ms DC
Gillion, Ms M
King, Ms C
Lehihi, Ms SB
Luthuli, Ms SA
Malatji, Mr T
Maleka, Ms AD
Mashabela, Ms N
Moroatshehla, Mr PR
Ndongeni, Ms N
Ngcobo, Mr SL
Shabalala, Ms NF
Siwela, Mr EK
Tarabella - Marchesi, Ms NI
Thembekwayo, Dr S
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