Second Adjustments Appropriation Bill: Department of Basic Education briefing; with Minister

Standing Committee on Appropriations

24 November 2020
Chairperson: Mr S Buthelezi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Standing Committee on Appropriations, 24 November 2020

The Standing Committee on Appropriation held a virtual meeting with the Department of Basic Education for its presentation on the 2020 Second Adjustments Appropriation Bill.  The Department detailed how it would be impacted by the adjustment budget.

The Committee was concerned about the amount of irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and wanted to know how the Department was planning to mitigate its effect as much as possible. Members asked about the effect in the decline in participation in the second chance matric programme, and what measures could be introduced to improve skills development and enhance employment opportunities.

The Committee asked whether the Department was aware of the teacher vacancy rates for subjects like maths, science and technology, and if the moratorium affected the filling of the vacancies. They also asked what the teacher:learner ratio was.

Other issues raised focused on schools’ infrastructure, with particular reference to the elimination of pit latrines. The Committee also sought details on measures to deal with school security,gender-based violence (GBV) and scholar transport.

The Department committed to submit written answers to the Committee within a week for some of the questions that were asked.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Minister and her team, and acknowledged the challenges faced by the matriculants, and wished them well in their exams.

Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, thanked the Chairperson, and detailed the challenges that the Department faced as a sector, which were mainly financial.

DBE on Second Adjustments Appropriation Bill

Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Director-General (DG), Department of Basic Education (DBE), delivered the presentation, the purpose of which was to present to the Standing Committee on Appropriations (SCOA) the overall impact of the adjustment budget, the detailed plan to use the R471.901 million roll over, and a summary of the financial and non-financial performance as at end of the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year.

The presentation covered the overall impact of the adjustment budget, the report on DBE infrastructure programmes, measures put in place to ensure the effective, efficient and economic use of the proposed allocations in the Bill, a summary of its financial and non-financial performance as at end of the second quarter, and additional information and recommendations.

The overall impact of the adjustment budget looked at the school infrastructure, the second chance matric programme, maths, science and technology, HIV & AIDS, and the Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme.

The report on the infrastructure programmes managed by DBE covered the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) programme, the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) and the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant (SIBG) programme, the proposed rollover funding, and the schools that refused mobile toilets.

[see presentation attached for details]



Mr O Mathafa (ANC) acknowledged the work of the Minister, considering that they were faced with financial constraints. The Director General had indicated that the reduction in the school infrastructure grant might also lead to an increase in costs, as well as fruitless and wasteful expenditure. That was a concern, because if they already anticipated that there was going to be fruitless and wasteful expenditure, the Committee needed to be furnished with measures that would be put in place to ensure that the situation was mitigated as much as possible. To get a sense of the irregular and wasteful expenditure for the previous financial year, what was the likely amount for the coming financial year?  Were there any investigations in the previous periods, as recommended by the Auditor-General (AG)? How far were the investigations, and were there any individuals held to account?

He said that the Committee was concerned about the reductions to the second chance matric programme. They wanted to find out whether there could be a way that they could find areas that could be reserved for the youth in terms of their participation in the employment market. He was interested to know whether the Department was aware of the vacancy rates for teachers of specific subjects like maths and science in the various provinces. How did the moratorium of filling the vacancies affect the reality of where they were having a high teacher vacancy rate in those subjects that were deemed as critical, going into the future of technology, science and mathematics?

Did the 224 schools targeted for rollover spending going forward include the 40 schools the DG indicated had refused the pit toilets? They had found that the pit toilets were not compliant with the norms and standards, and he suggested that there should be a thorough engagement with those schools. The Department should take the Committee into their confidence if there had been any engagement with those particular schools, and what measures were in place to avert the deaths that had been experienced, with school children falling into those pit latrines. Where accountability was required, was there any intervention that the Department was making with regard to the schools that refused to accept the mobile toilets?

Mr D Joseph (DA) said there were a few other structures besides the Committee that were doing the work -- from the Cabinet, and the technical team working behind the scenes before they got to the figures and the information that the Committee had to deal with. That part was important, but they did not hear a lot about it -- what happened behind the scenes, how National Treasury got to the figures, and they needed some information on that.

He was concerned about the reduced projects referred to by the DG on the infrastructure, water and sanitation. The basis of them going forward, building a capable state and creating a leadership force that must run this country in time to come, was impacted by that. They already had schools that did not have the required total of technical subjects, and further cuts would take away the opportunity from the critical maths and science skills that learners needed to play that role in society. What were they doing internally about the fruitless and wasteful expenditure? How was the Department going to keep pace with the progress required to remove the pit latrines, despite the budget cuts? Did it remain a priority to ensure that the norms and standards and human dignity in that area were maintained?

He said the dropout rate was a concern. It had always been, but the effects of Covid-19 had made it worse. Was it the Department’s decision to decide where the cuts were, or were they forced under the circumstances because the money was going to bail out South African Airways (SAA)? Could the Minister say if she supported the Committee, because they were all concerned about the money that was going SAA? Other Ministers should go public and state that they were concerned that all the money was going to SAA while the country’s future was at stake, because education and health were critical.

Mr X Qayiso (ANC) said that in a previous encounter with the Department, they raised some concerns, including under-spending, irregular and fruitless expenditure, but now it was still coming up again. He invited the Minster to visit Kgorathuto Senior Secondary School in Botshabelo, Free State, established in 1998. The school was so dilapidated and the things mentioned in the presentation did not match that school. He did not understand how underperformance, financial performance and under-expenditure could happen while looking at the condition of that school. it did not fit the explanation, because that school was built in around 1998 and it was so dilapidated. If the Minister could recall, a child from that school was recently struck by lightning and had died instantly with his uniform torn into pieces. The school was an attraction for lightning. During the by-election, when they were around the school, they had been told that the school had been submitting requests for assistance to revitalise and maintain the school, but they had not been given any attention by the authorities. They had made submissions for over 10 years without any success. It may not be justifiable to talk about the issue of Covid-19 being a blockage to the DBE completing some projects, because Covid-19 came around March this year. He urged the Minister to take some time and visit the school to check. What was the current teacher-learner ratio on each quintile school, per subject?

Mr Z Mlenzana (ANC) acknowledged that Ms Motsheka was one of the Ministers who was always consistent in being present when they had her Department presenting to the Committee. He raised a concern on school security. They had seen in Alfred Nzo, in the Matatiele area, an incident where gender-based violence (GBV) had manifested itself in the premises of the school, where the boyfriend had come in with a gun and shot his girlfriend on the school premises. The recent incident had happened about 400 metres from the school. Where was the school security located? When he talked to the district manager, he had said those security guards were carrying wooden sticks.

The Chairperson said what frustrated Members of Parliament, when they performed the oversight function, was that they struggled to find the right place to submit the complaints that they received and get an immediate response. He understood that education was a co-competence area, but as National Parliament, their contact point should be the National Minister or the Ministry of the Department of Education to raise such issues.

Could the DG share how the second chance matric programme had performed previously on maths, science and technology against the budget. It was important to know the historical performance of the areas that had been affected by the budget, because it answered some of the questions asked by Members. While money was important in dealing with those issues, it was not everything. They had seen in some instances where money was not a problem -- the problem was the effective use of it. They wanted an overview of the performance against the budget, because the National Treasury would come to them and say they had allocated the money and it had not been used. Allocating the money and seeing it being taken to the bank was not efficient, but costly for the country.

On the Funza Lushaka programme, which concentrated on foreign teachers, had the Department ever considered having a programme of getting retired maths and science teachers who were still in good health, as most of them taught under very difficult conditions yet had managed to obtain very good results. Was there any possibility of getting them to come and focus on these subjects? How was the infrastructure programme affected by lockdown? Every Department that had come before the Committee had complained about the budget cuts, but they had argued from their side that the budget cuts were temporary and not permanent. The President had shared the economic and reconstruction recovery plan (ERP) -- what did the Department see their role to be as far as the ERP was concerned?

Related to that was the question of local procurement. Did they have any idea how much of the material they were using in their environment they imported? Everything they imported contributed negatively to the gross domestic product (GDP) and economic growth, and amounted to exporting jobs to those countries. What could the Department do, using their buying power, to make sure that they promoted local production, leading to economic growth and employment creation in the country.

There was no proper scholar transport in the rural areas. School children still had to cross rivers to go to school. Did they have a plan to take care of that problem once and for all? He was aware that they were a National Department, and these challenges arose at the provincial level.

What was the role of the DBE with regard to private schools? There were a lot of these schools in Pietermaritzburg, for example, and they did a good job, but they did not observe national holidays like June 16, and that had a bad impact on the type of a child that they were raising. What could they do, because irrespective of whether they were in a private school, they remained South Africans? It was completely unacceptable.

Department’s response

Minister Motshekga requested that they be given time to go and prepare the answers to questions which were not part of the presentation, and for which they had not prepared. They were willing to come back and answer some of the questions around the Auditor-General’s (AG’s) comments, and would want to answer them precisely because they could not answer some of the questions generally. As the Committee would know, some of what would be ruled as fruitless expenditure by the AG may not even be fruitless expenditure -- it could be that they had not yet received a certificate from their service providers, and a number of other things. The DG would answer the question on the vacancy rate, if he was able to.

The Chairperson said they accepted the request, and the Department did not have to come back they could submit written answers.

Ms Motshekga said they would submit the replies within a week.

Referring to the schools that rejected plastic toilets, she said that during COVID-19, the Department definitely would not be able to remove all the mud schools, because the plan rolled out up to 2022. What the Department had decided was to provide plastic toilets, but some schools had said they would rather dislodge their pit latrines, clean them and make them safer, rather than using plastic toilets. They remained on the list of the schools that were supposed to be provided with toilets. They had indeed dislodged, cleaned and use the toilets, so it could just be a trust deficit because they thought the Department would not come back.

Their assessment of the maths performance was based on grade 12, and their evaluation indicated that the problems were in the lower grades, and by the time children reached grade 10 and had not acquired the necessary skills, in grade 11 and 12 there was very little they could do. They had put a lot of resources and attention where the problem was -- in the intermediate phase, grades 4, 5, and even worse, in grade 9 before they went to grade 10. They had decided that if they wanted better outputs, they were going to put in more resources at those levels, and they could assure the Committee that there was movement happening at the bottom.

The Department agreed that infrastructure was a problem. As a national Department, they did not deal with infrastructure -- it was the responsibility of the provinces, and “ring fenced” money was sent to them. The only two projects they accounted for was the SAFE project, because it was a special project where they had been given funding after a child had drowned in a pit latrine. The other project they accounted for was the ASIDI programme, which dealt with mud schools. Any school that was not a mud school was a provincial competency, and the Chairperson was right, it was a problem. All the money went to the provinces and once the money was appropriated to provinces, the provinces accounted for its prioritisation and also its implementation.

Regarding the school in Botshabelo, all the Minister could do was to inform the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) of the Free State of the problems that the school was facing, and ask him to please attend to it, because it was a provincial competency. She always received a list of challenges from Members of Parliament, and all she could do was to inform the MEC. Because of concurrence, the budgets were in the provinces, and the responsibility was in the provinces. She could not intervene because she did not have the budget to intervene in schools that were not mud structures. She acknowledged it as a problem.

On the issue of the security, when she was still the MEC, she had three times the capacity she currently had as the Minister. As the Minister, she had one office -- as the MEC, she had 12 offices and a head office, because the implementation was at the provincial level. What the national Department did was provide the policy, norms and standards, and they supported, monitored, and collected reports. However, school security it was a provincial competency. If she was asked about the policy around school security, she would have the answer.

The second matric chance programme was a new programme that was about three years old. In the first year, they had identified challenges where a lot of young people who dropped out of high school would be very enthusiastic and would register in their thousands, but when exam time came, they would run away. The DCB had decided to then give them more support, and other departments had also joined to say after they had obtained their matrics, they would provide them with skills as a way of responding to unemployed young people. In some instances, it became a matric rewrite programme where learners who had not passed very well came to improve, and they had done well. However, their target was young people who had dropped out of school and wanted a second chance.

Referring to the possible recruitment of retired teachers, she said they may be saturated as a sector. They were now sitting with unemployed young graduates with maths and science degrees. The reason why they still had foreign teachers was because there were deep rural areas where even retired teachers would not want to relocate to if they were staying in the cities. It would not work for them, but foreign teachers and maybe some young teachers were still willing to go there.

Scholar transport was a very sad situation. Every year they got reports of the budgets of provinces where funds were supposed to be used to transport learners, but there were never enough to transport half the numbers. This was particularly common in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. They had engaged with Treasury to cost what it would mean for it to do like they were doing with the school nutrition programme. They had tried to address it, and they were aware of the problem around scholar transport.

Private schools were allowed by the Constitution to be there, and they interacted with them very well on a number of programmes, and they provided support. They knew, as a country, that they had challenges in terms of integration, and it was an on-going battle. They used soft diplomacy with them, because they worked with them very well on other programmes -- they supported the government schools, they twinned, and they shared resources and expertise. 96% of the children in South Africa were in public schools, and if they could fix the public schools, they would have fixed the problem.

The DG responded to the question about material misstatements, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure. These were indeed the findings of the Auditor General in the last three years, and they were attributable to unreliable information that they received from implementing agents. They used ten implementing agents to roll out projects in the Department and in the nine provinces. Their material misstatements involved the information that was provided to them on a monthly basis when compared with the information that the AG would get from the implementing agent, and would find that the information did not tally. They had stopped using some of the implementing agents, such as the Independent Development Trust (IDT) and the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) because of that, both of which were entities of the government. They had stopped using the Department of Public Works at both the provincial and national level because of those findings. They had been warned by the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education that if they continued taking such consequence management measures, they would end up with no implementing agents to use for the delivery of their projects.

Irregular expenditure was occasioned by ignorance of Treasury instructions. Some of the implementing agents were of the view that Treasury instructions did not actually apply to them, but they had been told they were obliged to adhere to the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), so they were not exonerated from any Treasury instructions, and were expected to implement them.

The audit findings indicated they still had irregular and contingent liability, both of which were related to implementing agents, and not the Department.  The reason why they had included fruitless and wasteful expenditure in the presentation was that since professional work had been done on a number of projects they were supposed to deliver, if they did not get money, they were going to be forced to stop there. Even if they said that when money became available, they would implement, the Auditor General would classify the money used on professional work as fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The report of the AG for 2019/20 had indicated that they had done investigations on all irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of the previous years for the first time, and that they had carried out consequence management.

There was a Basic Education Employment Initiative, where the Treasury had made available R7 billion to employ 300 000 young people in basic education on a fixed term contract of about four months. They had put out adverts, and were at an advanced stage. They did not have information on the vacancy rate for maths and science teachers, but they would look for it. When he had referred to Funza Lushaka, it was not about recruiting foreign teachers, but was about preparing South African to take posts that historically had been taken by foreign nationals

The 40 schools that had rejected the toilets did not form part of the rollover. They were going to use the rollover for sanitation and to deal with inappropriate structures. When the officials had engaged with some of the schools that had refused mobile toilets, they had relented and accepted the portable toilets. When the money was made available to school governing bodies, some had been able to procure portable toilets, and it depended on the approach they were taking.

Structural problems in their economy included education, where the problem was that 90% of their schools were academically oriented and not offering certain skills -- not addressing technology and the skills which would increase the potential output that technical high schools could give them. Countries that were doing well economically were split between 30% academic and 70% vocational, or 40% to 60%.

The dropout rate was between 10-15%, and even during the lockdown it had not radically departed from that. There were parents who had still kept their children at home. The Department was hoping that the parents would release the children next year, since they would have seen that learners did not get adversely affected by COVID-19.

He had been in the Free State, but he did not have the name of the school in Botshabelo, or he would have visited it amongst the ones he visited. However, he would follow up with the school on the issues the Member had raised.

They had not worked out the learner:teacher ratio per subject. They just worked out the learner:teacher ratio nationally, and it was 1:33, and it varied from one province to the other. Some provinces had a much higher ratio because they were densely populated.

They were addressing the issue of GBV. When it came to the SAFE programme, which was part of ASIDI, the expenditure had been extremely low in the 2019/20 financial year because they had taken some time before they got implementing agents appointed for the SAFE programme. They had entered into an agreement with the implementing agents and contractors to work during the break, and that was going to push the expenditure even higher.

The purpose of the second chance matric programme was to increase the participation rate of young people who had not met the requirements of grade 12. The second purpose was to increase the number of those who passed very well and met the requirements, so they were able to go to university to pursue other pathways. Historically, the number of learners doing maths, science and technology had peaked, and some learners from previously disadvantaged communities were getting 60% and above.

Funza Lushaka could provide the statistics of how many students they were supporting, the graduation rate and how the reduction in the targets was going to impact the intake into the programme.

Three to four months of inactivity had had an impact on the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant. The expenditure pattern was beginning to peak, because they had four months of no activity in respect of infrastructure, and they were also adversely affected with the school infrastructure backlog because of the lockdown.

Their role in local procurement was that if they did not procure locally, it was declared as irregular expenditure, as it was part of their policies. They bought everything locally and they also informed implementing agents that they must not procure anything from outside.

They did have a plan for learner transport, which was going to match the demand and supply. they were over 80% with the demand that they were able to meet, and only  20% that they were unable to fully provide for.

They were the authority over all the schools, including private schools, and they did meet with them. The Minister met with them regularly. The DBS had no idea that they did not recognise and observe public holidays -- they had to observe and recognise them, and the Minister would raise these issues when she met with them.

They had experience a moratorium in the filling maths, science and technology posts. It had impacted their performance in terms of quality. The Minister would implement the results of Trends in Maths and Science Study (TIMSS), which was written in 2019. In some areas they had improved and in some they had not, and the reason was the vacant posts.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister and the Department for the responses and said they would await the written responses. There was a need for them to have a meeting with the Department, the AG, the Department and the National Treasury to sit down and talk about the audit matters, so that when the AG dealt with auditing it should not be a mechanical process.

Committee minutes

The minutes of 17 and 18 November 2020 were adopted without objection.

The Members were reminded that they had a meeting at 14:00 with the Department of Transport.

The meeting was adjourned.

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