The Portfolio Committee and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) met on a virtual platform to receive a briefing on school infrastructure in terms of the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) and the Sanitation Appropriate for Education(SAFE) initiative. The ASIDI focuses on providing appropriate buildings, water and electricity for previously disadvantaged schools, while SAFE provides appropriate sanitation at schools previously dependent on basic pit toilets.
The Department described how it had established a schools register of needs in 1996 which had been updated over the years, and how it had whittled down the needs to the present date. There had originally been about 1 000 schools made entirely of inappropriate materials, but this had been reduced to only two, and they were being replaced in the current financial year. Other achievements had been reducing the number of schools without a water supply from 8 823 in 2006, to 14, which would be connected this year. The 15 263 schools with no electricity supply in 2006 were now all connected, and the 3 265 schools with no toilets all had toilets now. The 9 600 schools dependent on basic pit toilets in 2006 had been cut to 667 sanitation projects, which were scheduled for completion in 2023/24.
The DBE highlighted numerous challenges, and outlined a comprehensive strategy to overcome them. This provided that project scope and budgets would be based on the updated National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) data, with a seven-year planning horizon. It would also headhunt to fill critical built-environment vacancies, and formalise the implementation of protocol agreements.
The Committee welcomed the improvements regarding school maintenance, and also appreciated the close monitoring by the DBE of the implementation. Despite the lengthy implementation period, Members were cognisant of the financial restrictions affecting efforts to address all the issues at once.
Members highlighted that the ASIDI infrastructure delivery was hampered by the challenges of ineffective local contractors in the provinces, and recommended that the Department address the lack of quality and accreditation of local contractors. They expressed concern that no funds had been allocated to building libraries and laboratories. They related this to the recent survey indicating the alarmingly low level of reading for meaning by many learners. They urged the Department to revisit the strategy and prioritise building libraries and laboratories.
DBE briefing on school infrastructure
Dr Granville Whittle, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Educational Enrichment Services, Department of Basic Education (DBE), presented the briefing on the school infrastructure involving the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) programme, and backlogs.
The Department compiled the school register of needs in 1996 (SRN-1996). This was the first database that included every school in the country, including their geographical location, the condition of buildings and the facilities available. It updated the survey, released the SRN-2000, and developed the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS-2007).
In 2011, the Department of Basic Education launched the ASIDI programme, which focused on;
- Appropriate buildings for schools made entirely of inappropriate materials;
- Appropriate water supply to schools with no water;
- Appropriate sanitation at schools with no toilets; and
- Appropriate electricity supply to schools with no electricity supply.
In 2018, the DBE launched the SAFE-2018 initiative. This programme focused on appropriate sanitation at schools dependent on basic pit toilets.
The School Infrastructure Backlog Grant funded both the ASIDI and SAFE programmes. The Department submitted weekly progress reports on the ASIDI and SAFE programmes to the Minister.
The number of operational public schools had initially increased from 27 004 in 1996, to 28 876 in 2007, and had then decreased to 22 589 in 2022.
Schools made entirely of inappropriate materials
It was estimated that in 1996, about 1 000 schools were made entirely of inappropriate materials. In 2011, there were initially 510 schools on the ASIDI programme, but this has since decreased to 332, and 330 of these have been replaced. The remaining two replacement schools were scheduled for completion in 2023/24.
Schools with no water supply
The SRN 2006 recorded 8 823 schools with no water supply. In 2011, there were initially 1 117 schools on the ASIDI programme, which had subsequently increased to 1 306. Of the 1 306 water supply projects, 1 292 had been completed, and the remaining 14 water supply projects were scheduled for completion in 2023/24.
Schools with no electricity supply
The SRN 2006 had recorded 15 263 schools with no electricity supply. In 2011, there were initially 902 schools on the ASIDI programme, but this number had decreased to 373. All of the 373 electricity supply projects had been completed.
Schools with no toilets
The SRN 2006 had recorded 3 265 schools with no toilets. In 2011, there were initially 701 schools on the ASIDI programme, which had increased to 1 087. All of the 1087 sanitation projects have been completed.
Schools dependent on basic pit toilets
The SRN 2006 recorded 9 600 schools dependent on basic pit toilets. In 2018, there were initially 3 898 schools on the SAFE programme, which had decreased to 3 395. Of the 3 395 sanitation projects, 2 728 had been completed. The remaining 667 sanitation projects were scheduled for completion in 2023/24.
Dr Whittle said the lessons learned had highlighted the importance of weekly meetings with operational teams and the executive management, the implementing agents, and weekly progress reports to the Minister and Deputy Minister.
The challenges encountered by the DBE in implementing its infrastructure programmes included:
- Limited reliable planning data;
- Over-complicated planning and approval documents and processes;
- Multiple designs and specifications;
- Time-consuming procurement processes;
- Limited local-economic stimulation;
- Significant over-crowding, sanitation, water supply and maintenance challenges;.
- Capital projects not aligned with national priorities;
- Interruption by business forums;
- Over-reliance on implementing agents; and
- Poor performing service providers.
To address these challenges, the Department has adopted the following joint strategy:
- All B-5 project scopes must be based on updated NEIMS data;
- No investment in small and unviable schools;
- All B-5 projects must be based on a seven-year planning horizon;
- B-5 capital and maintenance projects must be aligned with national priorities;
- Headhunt to fill critical built-environment vacancies;
- Enforce the Electronic Facility Management System (EFMS) as the sole reporting tool;
- Share lessons learned across sectors; and
- Formalise implementation protocol agreements.
See attached presentation attached for further details.
Mr B Nodada (DA) said the NEIMS report was usually released in April, and the last report received by the Committee was in April 2021, which highlighted that over 5 000 schools had non-functional toilets, 5 800 had an unreliable water supply, 500 had asbestos roofs, and 400 schools had mud walls. Was an update on this report to be released in 2023?
The SAFE project should provide the number and type of projects to deal with inappropriate infrastructure. How would the projects identify the specific issues and provide an updated list of schools requiring intervention?
He recalled that the ASIDI programme was supposed to conclude in the current financial year. However, the budget indicated its extension to 2025. Several schools had been removed from the list and sent back to the provinces. He asked what commitments would be provided to ensure oversight mechanisms for the schools referred to the provinces.
He questioned the building methods used and the over-reliance on implementing agents (IAs). He asked whether the DBE had conducted best practice research on the school built in the Western Cape in 65 days, compared to the regular 27-month delay of schools built by the IAs.
A model for schools to collaborate with donors has been utilised in Cape Town, and recently in Gauteng. Had the DBE reviewed such an option for enhancement, and developed a strategy accordingly?
Clearly, with R129 billion required for national infrastructure, the DBE required support, especially as it obtains only 17% of the national budget. Ultimately, fast-tracking was required. Did the DBE have a strategy in this regard?
The strategy on slide 36 indicated that no funding had been allocated to building libraries and laboratories. Mr Nodada referred to the recent study indicating the alarmingly low level of reading by many scholars which may impact their viability in the employment market. He asked whether the Department would revisit the strategy.
Ms M van Zyl (DA) expressed her condolences to the families of the learners who had lost their lives in a car accident in Mitchells Plain.
She referred to ASIDI’s four sub-divisions, and highlighted the schools built with inappropriate materials. Had the schools that were completely built with inappropriate materials been eradicated?
She shared Mr Nodada’s concerns about the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) schools built with asbestos. She pointed out the deficits in building schools with asbestos and pit toilets. Had all the schools been reported on properly, nationally and provincially?
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) emphasised that proper infrastructure affected the lives of children. Service delivery should not be politicised.
He noted the constraints due to the lengthy backlogs, and welcomed the positive achievements mentioned in the presentations.
Infrastructure delivery in terms of the ASIDI was hampered by the challenges of the local contractors in the provinces, especially in the Eastern Cape. He was concerned that the Department may not be addressing issues such as the lack of quality and accreditation in prioritising local contractors.
Mr Nodada added that minimum safety standards must be implemented and monitored in the rollout of the ASIDI and SAFE programmes. He reiterated the importance of monitoring the schools referred back to the provinces, particularly those identified as having dangerous infrastructure. What monitoring mechanisms were in place?
In terms of slide 37’s “blended finance model required”; what models were being referred to? Why was the building delayed? What was the cost of the delay? What engagements were conducted with the Presidency?
He asked how the DBE maintained schools built under the ASIDI programme. Were the maintenance project plans in place centrally, or was it the responsibility of the schools?
He asked for an update on the infrastructure norms and standards strategy.
Approximately 6 000 non-viable schools had been closed. He asked how the DBE had balanced the closures and overcrowding challenges by building new viable schools, for example.
The Chairperson noted the substantial amounts allocated to infrastructure. She asked what anti-corruption monitoring measures were in place, and whether officials declared their assets and financial interests. Were the schools' expenditure monitored?
Mr Solly Mafoko, Chief Director: School Infrastructure Planning, DBE, responded that the norms and standards had been published for public comment. The DBE consolidated the comments for onward submission to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) in October 2022.
The NEDLAC process culminated in the report received on 20 April 2023. Subsequently, follow-up questions were processed by the task team. The consolidated feedback would be presented to the stakeholders. Thereafter, the document would be presented to the approval structures for completion at the end of 2023.
Mr David van der Westhuijzen, Head of Infrastructure, DBE, responded to the question regarding no funding being allocated to building libraries and laboratories, and agreed with Mr Nodada’s request to prioritise the building of libraries. He said investment was determined by order of magnitude backlog value and future scenario planning in this regard. He emphasised the substantial amount required to effectively implement the scenario planning spanning a period of seven years. Understanding the magnitude of the challenge and collaborating effectively was essential.
The DBE had observed that some provinces had stopped their sanitation projects as soon as it implemented the ASIDI programme. This was not the plan. The ASIDI had been established to assist existing projects.
Responding to the Western Cape initiatives, he commented that Gauteng was also vital. On overcrowding, whether or not schools were closed on the grounds of viability was irrelevant. It did not change the overcrowding issue. Overcrowding was due to the migration of learners from rural to urban areas in all the provinces.
It was essential to work with school governing bodies (SGBs) on dealing with the issue of overcrowding. Framework contracts effectively ensured the fast-tracking of the building of new schools. Various models were in place, such as the aforementioned framework contracts, the conventional model, and the patent construction models. The DBE would explore all the available models. It would also explore the special intervention programme to address overcrowding.
The challenge of overcrowding was serious. The DBE conducted a school-by-school analysis to ascertain the number of overcrowded schools. It was aware that the statistics were less than the actual amounts. It would work closely with the provinces on this matter.
The special purpose vehicle announced by the Presidency entailed a blended finance model. It had been assessed that loan money would be availed to the provinces. However, this has raised concerns and is currently a subject of discussion in Treasury. Technical implementation issues had thus delayed the pilot projects.
The overall budget requirements were from the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) budget. To address the infrastructure backlog, it was vital to ask what the provinces were doing.
One of the aspects of project management of the EIG/Equitable Share (ES) split for 2022/2023 was that the monitoring and reporting were ongoing. The DBE was hesitant to claim that it had addressed the challenge nationwide. ASIDI had identified the schools structured from inappropriate materials and this was updated accordingly. The core reconstruction programme addressed the schools without toilets.
He requested the Committee to report any schools without toilets, and schools with pit toilets, for the DBE’s intervention. When the provinces identified their projects, the DBE requested supporting documentation. The capital projects of the provinces and national departments must be aligned.
Regarding maintenance, he said that the contractor was responsible for the site until the process was practically completed and handed over, or until the school occupied the site. The DBE had submitted the basic and clear maintenance guide to the schools.
The NEIMS report was critical and had been created in 2007 as a powerful tool containing all the assets in the database. A cost model was developed as part of the tool to quantify the backlogs. However, subsequent discussions had resulted in a revision of the provincial statistics which had resulted in reliable data. Thus, there were contradictory reports. The Department would also engage with the provinces to obtain the most reliable reports. The DBE differentiated between schools built entirely from inappropriate materials and those built from appropriate materials.
Dr Whittle said that the Department would respond in a written response to Mr Nodada’s question on the challenges highlighted in slide 35.
Mr Van der Westhuijzen said that, as a unit, they were not involved in selecting the contractors. The Department did not employ contractors directly. All the work was conducted by IAs, who were required to follow open tender regulated processes.
Mr Mafoko confirmed that the declaration of financial interests was submitted annually. Senior managers submitted at the beginning of the year, and junior staff would do so in June.
Mr Van der Westhuijzen added the numbers indicated how substantial the maintenance costs were for preventative and repair maintenance. They were estimated at R98 billion, and the essential question was how the DBE could compel the provinces to budget accordingly.
Mr Mafoko said the grant frameworks were amended in 2021/22, to the effect that 60% of the education infrastructure grant allocation must go to maintenance. In the first year, the provinces had resisted, and currently, several provinces were struggling to maintain their commitments. The DBE continued to monitor compliance.
The guide was released on training schools to implement maintenance approximately four years ago. In 2024, new SGBs would be elected, and they would be trained on the matter.
Day-to-day maintenance training was also provided to principals and SGBs. The DBE noted that some provinces were not following the guide and training. Thus, refresher training was provided.
The maintenance allocation for the Eastern Cape had indeed been reduced. However, the DBE intervened and the matter was resolved.
Mr Patrick Khunou, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DBE, said that previously, government officials on level 13 and higher had to disclose income and expenditure. It had been extended to levels ten and onwards, and any lower staff member in the supply chain was required to declare.
Mr Nodada appreciated the comprehensive overview, but noted the need for a quicker turnaround time to effectively resolve the backlogs. He requested the DBE to present the options to the provinces, particularly the rural areas, to resolve the backlogs.
The Chairperson took cognisance of the contributions. She requested written responses to share with the Committee.
The Committee considered the draft minutes of the previous meeting held on 23 May, and the draft report on the provincial public hearings report on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill [B 2 – 2022] in Limpopo. The minutes and report were unanimously approved and adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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