Western Cape Adjustments Appropriation Bill: Education

Education (WCPP)

28 November 2022
Chairperson: Ms D Baartman (DA)
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Meeting Summary


The Western Cape Education Department presented the budget adjustments as indicated in the current financial year and the experienced changes in various programmes. The highlighted project of importance was the Build Programme which had a major increase in budget of R2.5 billion compared to R1.3 million allocated in the previous year. The project was said to continue through holidays to fulfil plans that had been set in place and avoid further delays. The Department was confident in accomplishing the said task but did indicate that factors such as vandalism, which may occur within the communities, were an aspect that was out of its control.

Upon deliberations, the Standing Committee also reported on Vote 5: Education in the schedule to the Western Cape Adjustments Appropriation Bill [B3 - 2022]. The Vote was supported and the ANC and Al Jama-ah expressed their minority view not to support the Vote.

Meeting report

Opening remarks

Mr Brent Walters, Head of Department, Western Cape Education Department (WCED), started by highlighting and summarising the indicated shifts made by the Department. He stated that the budget had shifted from R28.032601 billion to R28.05454 billion with a net additional appropriation of R17.853 million. The contributing factors were said to be rollovers of R8.872 million from the MST grant for the delay in delivery of machinery and equipment which could not be completed by the year’s end. A rollover of R7.441 million was allocated for the Training and Support Toolkit which was specifically for learners with profound intellectual disabilities and R8.44 million was allocated towards courier services for the June and November 2021 National Senior Certificate examination –this was being corrected. He added that there was also a shift in funds between Votes, with the Department seeding R4.1 million to Vote 1 for competency-based assessments for schools and IT services and R2.7 million to Vote 13 for the At Home Learning Programme. There was also a shift of R33 million to programme five from programme one for high school improvements, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) corporate refresh, and the Microsoft Schools Agreement. There was a shift from programme seven to programme one towards examination and education-related services, specifically for ICT corporate refresh. A shift to programme two: Public, Ordinary Schools from programme five: Early Childhood Development for school furniture, transfers for institutional operations. A shift of R130 million from programme six: Infrastructure, to programme two for institutional operations primarily to smooth any demand within the programme in terms of the big build programme.   

The Chairperson said she would take the first round of questions in the following order, pages 67 to 70 and 71 to 75 for the second round. After that, questions from pages 76 to 80 and 81 to 95 would follow. 
Mr K Sayed (ANC) highlighted page 67, Table 5.1: Infrastructure Development. He stated that there was an indicated shift of R130 million from infrastructure development funds to various other programmes. He said that he acknowledged that his query was also tied to page 71, where the reasons for shifting the funds were attributed to challenges experienced within the built environment. He indicated that he had two clarity-seeking questions. He asked for details about the challenges that led to the underspending of funds which were shifted to various other programmes. Secondly, he stated that he wanted to understand how the shift impacts the main goals announced in the previous week by the Member of the Executive Council (MEC). He added that the creation of 36 000 seats in schools in the upcoming year was a good goal and inquired on whether the Department was still on course to deliver such given the budget shift.

On page 70, under programme five, he highlighted a reallocation of funds in terms of Early Childhood Development (ECD) due to the savings identified in the sub-programme. He asked why the funds were not rolled over to other Grade R-related expenditures.

Mr Walters reminded the Committee that the Department had R2.5 billion in the infrastructure budget, which was a massive increase from the R1.3 million allocated in the previous year. He stated that in a prior presentation before the Committee, a number of risks had been communicated and some had already been realised. He added that one or two projects had been stopped and this was essentially a way of ensuring that the allocated funds would be spent.

Mr Salie Abrahams, Deputy Director-General: Education Planning,   Western Cape Education Department, corrected the statement made by Mr Walters and said that the infrastructure budget allocation in the previous year was R1.7 million which meant that there was a 40% in the current financial year. He further explained that R1 billion of the allocated R2.5 billion was assigned to maintenance work, preventative and corrective maintenance and R130 million represented 5% of the total budget for the year.

He said there had been a combination of procurement issues experienced with various partners who had put out maintenance work early in the year. However, these issues have been resolved by the Department of Transport and Public Works. The Department had also tried hard to direct some of the maintenance work and allocate funds to schools as more schools were being empowered to do more
infrastructure work.

He said that the mentioned R130 million represents a portion of the maintenance budget that would not be spent but work would still continue and would be accelerated so that it could be completed by 31 March 2023. He added that there was a lag in the payment of bills and the mentioned R130 million would still be needed to pay for the maintenance work that had been delayed. The Department would also work with the financial team to pay invoices in the following financial year.

He clarified the question of whether the Build programme would be compromised and indicated that it would not be. What had been done, similarly to the R1 billion for maintenance, was that additional funding had been allocated towards the capital works programme as savings were generated and other projects had not materialised.

Mr Leon Ely, Chief Financial Officer, Western Cape Education Department, addressing the question on the ECD, stated that when the budget was prepared, the Department took note of the scenarios around Grade R which were not going at a pace that had been projected for the year. As a result, savings had been gathered but this did not affect service delivery as staff members were given permanent positions. Also, around the ECD site, he stated that the Department was not receiving the anticipated claims which resulted in the accumulation of savings that were shifted to other programmes.

The Chairperson opened the floor for questions from pages 71 to 75.

Mr Sayed highlighted page 73, sub-programme 2.4: Conditional grants, the reclassification of the expenditure within the national school nutrition programme conditional grant. He asked about the Non-Profit Organisations (NPO) that were funded in the programme, what their work entailed and the criteria used in selecting those to be funded.

He asked the Department whether there were updates on the progress regarding the finalisation of the tender for the 2022/24 period.

The Chairperson highlighted page 74, subprogramme 5.4: human resource development. She stated that it had been indicated that an extra R1.6 million would be moved toward tuition payments related to the ECD practitioners. She said she knew it had been mentioned that the claims from the ECD for things like registrations were not coming in quickly enough. She asked if this was for returning or new ECD practitioners and what exactly the funding was going to be used for.

On page 75, under adjustments, funds are shifted to the Department of the Premier for the competency-based assessments. She said she understood the change regarding the information technology resources and services, but wanted clarity on what the shift to the Department of the Premier was for and why the specific department was in charge of such and not the WCED.

Mr Walters said that when the Department appoints any person, checks are conducted to determine whether the individual has the required skill set for a specific position. He added that there were a number of tests that the Department of the Premier conducted in partnership with psychologists. These are then used by the Department and are paid for.

Mr Ely said that the classifications for conditional grants used were according to the standard chart of accounts which refers to NPO institutions, and in the current case, refers to schools when the Department makes transfer payments towards them. He clarified that the mentioned “NPOs” did not refer to outside bodies and that in the programmes, the Department procures services instead of making money transfers to schools.

He stated that the tender process was finalised and would be awarded soon.

Addressing the question on the EDC practitioners, he indicated that each year two lots are taken in, one that is existing and one that is coming in. He added that funds depend on the intake and are adjusted accordingly due to the estimates made.

The Chairperson inquired about the number of ECD practitioners to be funded and tabled pages 70 to 80.  

Mr Sayed highlighted page 76, Table 5.3: Infrastructure development. He asked if the Department was concerned with slow spending and what mechanisms had been implemented to curb or avoid underspending. He added that he acknowledged that not everything was in the Department's hands or that they had complete control.

The Chairperson applauded the Department on the change in reporting format and said that she was unsure whether the WCED or the Provincial Treasury was responsible for such changes, but they were noted and appreciated.

On page 78, programme three, regarding the independent school subsidies, she said she was aware that a number of these schools had not received payments, which were a bit lower than the average from the previous year, and that payments were only released once the schools became complaint. She asked whether there had been any progress in document submissions from the schools, as one would hate for schools to be missing out on funding simply because they were sending in incorrect documentation.

Mr Abrahams said that on the R2.5 billion budget, the Department would have worked to meet a 
cash flow of around R260 million a month. Referring to his earlier explanation, he said that the R1 billion for maintenance work was an aggregation of many small projects. The rapid build programme approval enabled one of the critical shifts to move the work from minor maintenance to more significant capital works projects. This would be accelerated by securing land and buildings to construct new schools.

He highlighted that more money had been spent on expenditures as R4 209 million was spent in November, and a shift to bigger capital works projects which had been accelerated into construction through due diligence, had been made. He added that the right processes meant that the entity had a better risk mitigation strategy.

He mentioned that there were two key activities that the Department was busy with, this being the establishment of 852 classrooms which are ordered in bulk, and an active strategy for the work is to
mobilise management contracts. He added that there was a work package in place that covers not only the tabled R2.423 million but the R100 million in excess. The challenge, however, was that the current period of the work that needed to be done was during year-end and an additional step had been taken by the Department to proactively engage management contractors. The contractors had agreed to work through the summer holidays, which was documented in writing. He stated that work would continue through traditionally lower months of spending, December and January, although he did have some concerns. The Department had seen the need to be more proactive and engaging in community engagements, as there could not be any more delays on the ground.

He added that there were a number of risks that were being mitigated and that other matters circumstantially moved around the infrastructure sector such as procurement issues and mobilising contractors. He said that such risks do not go away and that the Department employed an active
risk management strategy where R1 billion needed to be spent by the financial year-end which entails a combination of shifts to big capital works, and shifts to bulk classroom buying. He stated that working with contractors through the holidays was going to be pushed and communicated publicly.

He said he had spoken in the Standing Committee about making schools safe, specifically schools on the waiting list. He added that the other key intervention, in terms of spending, was accelerating rehabilitation upgrades, and repair activities.

Addressing independent schools, Mr Ely said that the Department does try as best as possible to assist such schools. The issue noted was that the schools were required to jump through a number of hoops and requirements, particular to such schools, which become applicable before the Department issues any approvals. He said that he was aware of such because he had been contacted by an independent school which he could not assist as the query was not related to requirements aligned with the WCED. He added that the Department would likely comply and make payments to the schools if departmental requirements were met.

The Chairperson said that the current Minister, in his previous job, had a red tape reduction unit, and as the representatives spoke about all the red tape, she wondered whether the entity had such a unit.

Mr C Fry (DA) noted that on infrastructure development, the percentage spin on the budget was a mirror image of what happened in 2021/22. He asked whether suppliers and vendors worked through the 2021/22 festive period and if the same would happen in the current year.

He noted a seasonality trend where the budget spent for the first six months is less than the budget spent for the following. He asked about the monthly seasonal trend because  there was a traditional dip in December and January.

He voiced that he was concerned about materials planning, as within the construction industry, projects are highjacked by a cabal of people using extortion practices and material spending. He asked if there would be enough material to justify the 66% budget spending even though the budget increased from R1.7 billion to R2.4 billion. He indicated that he was aware that the Department said funds would be spent and asked whether this was realistic, as he was not sure it was.  

Mr Walters agreed that there was a pattern and stated that the budget had been spent in the previous year. He said that with the plans, the Department was confident that the funds would be used.  

Mr Abrahams stated that the pattern observed was around the second year of the maintenance contract and the distribution of the work. He said that what was done differently was that the Department had put in place a contingency plan where infrastructure planning would be a multi-year activity. Then, plans that had been set in prior years would be implemented. He stated that within the work programmes, there were big infrastructure projects which were in the pipelines, and together with a combination of an operating model, change had been done internally and this could be shared with the Committee where the need arose. He added that the Department also directed its own management contractors and five construction companies were being directly managed. These had been asked to work through the holiday period, which would be the first time such has occurred.

He mentioned that in the previous year, funds had been allocated to capital works, however, in the current year, given the scope of having to take on the very ambitious rapid build programme, the Department had made its plans public and they had to manage the risks that came with such projects.

Mr Abrahams said that the entity had been assured that the needed materials were available but there were concerns about the availability of cement and the ports being shut down. The Department was also working with traffic services to allow trucks, bringing material, to be on the road.

He said that for the Committee’s appraisal, the Department was more accurate in the exact work which needed to be done and the communities targeted. He stated that the Department was confident in the work that needed to be done, mobilised contractors, and the availability of materials. What they were not confident about were the communities where projects would be implemented as there are factors that cannot be controlled. He added that the task was sizable and ambitious and some risks had to be mitigated through the holiday period. He took note of the concern and said that the Department would continue to actively communicate the progress.

Mr Walters said that the area of red tape involved economic development but there was work being done. He stated that although people might speak on the subject, the Department was guided by rules and regulations. He further said: “Watch this space and see if we improve in terms of our speed in delivery”.

The Chairperson said that she was being ambitious as the Committee holds the Department to very high standards.

She indicated that pages 81 to 95 were being tabled.

The Chairperson thanked those in attendance and said that the year had been tumultuous, and with all that had occurred, the Department had outdone themselves and as the Committee, they were proud. She added that when the representatives go to recess, they should take time to rest, read to their children and spend time with family and when they return, they should be refreshed because, in the Western Cape government, there was still a lot of work that needed to be done.

On behalf of the team, Mr David Maynier, Western Cape Minister of Education, thanked the Chairperson for her kind words. He said he was delighted that Mr Fry and Mr Sayed picked up on the rapid build programme and added that they were pushing through into the holidays. He highlighted that this was unprecedented and symbolised the Department’s commitment and determination. He added that leave in the infrastructure and finance environment had been cancelled to execute the biggest, fastest, and most ambitious rollout of school build in the province. He said that they had been clear to the Committee about the risks but were, nevertheless, going to push ahead.

The Chairperson opened the floor for public representatives to ask questions but there were none.

The Department was excused and the deliberations on the Vote were initiated.

Mr Fry, Mr D Plato (DA) and Mr F Christians (ACDP) supported the Vote.

Mr Sayed expressed the minority view of the African National Congress (ANC) to not support the Vote as the reasons had been stated and Mr G Brinkhuis (Al-Jamal) seconded.

The Chairperson read out the report for the adoption of the Vote as follows;

“Report on the Standing Committee of Education on Vote 5: Education in the schedule to the Western Cape Adjustments Appropriation [Bill B3 2022], dated 28 November 2022.

The Standing Committee on Education having deliberated on the subject of Vote 5: Education in the schedule to the Western Cape Adjustments Appropriation Bill [B3 2022] Committee in terms of Standing Rule 188 reports that it supports the Vote. In accordance with Standing Rule 90, the ANC expressed its minority view to not support the Vote.”

The report was adopted.

The Chairperson inquired on whether there were pending questions.

Mr Sayed said that he was not aware whether any regulations had been put in place for working during the holiday as there may be opposition. He asked whether there was a labour and supply plan because holidays are when builders and suppliers take leave.

The Chairperson asked about the number of ECD practitioners being funded by the extra R1.6 million.

She thanked the Committee for the robust engagement and acknowledged that education was the second biggest budget in the Western Cape and that it was not always easy to get to everything. She added that she believes that Members of the Committee were committed to the Department and ensuring that education for all learners in the Western Cape province improves.

[Meeting adjourned]


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