The Select Committee convened on a virtual platform for a briefing from the Provincial Education Departments on the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown on schooling. Some PEDs were not only affected by Covid-19, but also uprisings in July. The Western Cape also had disturbances caused by violence in relation to the taxi strikes and clashes in the public transport industry. The meeting was to assess how these events have impacted on the departments’ programme of action progress.
The MECs were not present due to various reasons as were the Deputy Minister and Director-General of the Department of Basic Education. The Committee was displeased with this and lamented the absence of the political principals as their attendance was crucial for a fruitful meeting and that it was not the first time that this had happened. Members said the MECs must account to the Committee and the provinces. Members asked for the Committee to be respected and not undermined.
Members agreed to escalate the matter to the Chairperson of the NCOP, the Speakers of the Provincial Legislatures and the Leader of Government Business, especially as the postponement of the meeting amounted to wasteful expenditure. It was emphasised that children were not in school in some areas because of Covid-19, vandalism, and violence during the lockdown. If the people the Committee is trying to talk to in order to find solutions jointly were not prepared to meet with the Committee, the impression created is that they have better things to do than look at the impact of Covid-19 on teaching and learning.
The Chairperson opened the meeting by noting that the Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) of the Western Cape, Free State and Eastern Cape would be briefing the Committee on the impact and status of Covid-19 and lockdown on schooling. Some PEDs were not only affected by Covid-19, but also uprisings in July. The Western Cape also had disturbances caused by violence in relation to the taxi strikes and clashes in the public transport industry. The Chairperson wanted to check how these events have impacted on the departments’ programme of action progress.
The Committee was informed the Eastern Cape Education ME, Mr Fundile Gade, was unable to attend the meeting as he would be attending an EXCO. The Free State Education Mec, Mr Pule Makgoe, was unable to attend the meeting due to ill health. The Western Cape Education MEC, Ms Debbie Schäfer, was unable to attend the meeting due to prior commitments. The Deputy Minister of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) Dr Reginah Mhaule, and the Director-General of the DBE, Mr Hubert Mweli, would be unable to attend this meeting because of a joint meeting with the Department of Social Development (DSD). The DBE has sent senior managers to represent the Department in the meeting.
The Chairperson noted the various apologies of political principals who could not attend the meeting and noted that it was very sad the Committee was going to have the meeting with officials but not their principals. He asked the Members of the Committee to engage with the apologies and advise on the way forward.
Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) expressed disappointment that MECs did not attend meetings when asked to come before the Committee. She noted that this happened last week when the Committee had a joint meeting on education. Because the principals are the MECs of provinces and the Committee is the NCOP, the Committee is part of provincial government and the MECs are also part of the NCOP. It was disturbing that when the Select Committee wanted to assist provinces and listen to their issues, the principals are not available. She said absence based on sickness is understandable, but she does not know why the Committee is continuing with the meeting when the political principals of the relevant portfolios of the different provinces are not in attendance. There are issues that needed to be clarified with the principals themselves and not the department heads. As the Select Committee, they needed to work together to deal with the problems that communities are faced with on the ground as these issues are affecting children. She did not know why they were continuing with this meeting.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) agreed with Ms Gillion and asked how the Committee could continue without the MECs, who are not available today to engage with the Committee on important matters. These MECs are accounting officials and must account to the Committee about their provinces and to their provinces.
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KwaZulu-Natal) said that the Committee needed the MECs to come these meetings and account, especially considering that this is the second meeting where apologies had been given. Something needed to be done.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) agreed with the other Members and said that on the Tuesday of the previous week, the Committee tried to call the MECs, but some were not available. The Eastern Cape was there last week but she is shocked that the Eastern Cape was no present today because they knew this meeting was taking place. She said that it was worse that the Department was not present. It did not matter what other commitments were taking place, it could not be that the Minister, Deputy Minister and Director-General were not present. She said the Committee must be respected in as much as the Committee respects the departments. She agreed with other Members that there is no need to have the meeting because there was nothing to discuss with the officials. Had the Committee wanted to discuss with the officials, they would have called the officials specifically.
Ms Gillion proposed postponing the meeting and that the issue of absence be raised with the Chairperson of the NCOP to contact the Speakers of the Provincial Legislatures so that the issue could be taken up seriously. She said that the Committee is being undermined by MECs and as the Select Committee, they do not take kindly to this. The Committee wanted the Chairperson of the NCOP to immediately write a letter and correspond with the Speakers so that they can take it up on their sides and then come back to the Chairperson of the NCOP who can then report back to the Chairperson of the Select Committee.
The Chairperson emphasised that there are costs incurred for these meetings.
Those officials present from the various provinces were asked to introduce themselves.
Mr Livhuwani Mahada, from the DBE’S Director-General’s office, said the understanding was that the meeting was for the provinces and as such, the MECs should have been present. This was why the DBE delegated senior officials to be part of the meeting. In the apologies, it was noted that there was a Portfolio Committee on Social Development meeting on Early Childhood Development (ECD) which also requires the presence of the Deputy Minister and the DG.
The Chairperson reiterated that the Committee is not happy with the absence of the principals of the various provinces. If the Committee had been informed in time that the various principals were not going to make it, this meeting would have been called off. Because of the costs incurred for these meetings, this had been clear wasteful expenditure and this matter needed to be elevated to the Leader of Government Business.
Ms Gillion asked the Committee whether her proposal to elevate the matter to the Speakers of the Legislatures was seconded.
The Chairperson confirmed that he had made the ruling to elevate the matter in order to have fruitful meetings in future, unless there were members who objected. He expressed concern that children were not in school in some areas because of Covid-19, vandalism, and violence during the lockdown. If the people the Committee is trying to talk to in order to find solutions jointly were not prepared to meet with the Committee, the impression created is that they have better things to do than look at the impact of Covid-19 on teaching and learning. He understood the Minister’s involvement with ECD as it is part of what the Committee said needed to be done to finalise the transfer of ECD from Social Development to Basic Education, which is a milestone. He did not understand why they all, including the Director-General, needed to be there. The Chairperson thanked those officials who were present in the meeting.
The Committee decided to continue the meeting to deal with internal business.
Report of the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture on the Joint Oversight Visit with the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Provincial Education Departments
After consideration, the report was adopted.
Report of the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture on Budget Vote 37: Sport, Arts and Culture (2021/22)
After consideration, the report was adopted.
Committee minutes dated 02 June 2021 were adopted.
Committee minutes dated 03 August 2021 were adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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