The Western Cape Education Department briefed the Committee on the budget cuts and the need to reprioritise its programmes and projects. The Department reported on the need to shift some of the funds within the programmes. This as the Committee considered the 2023 Western Cape Adjustments Appropriation Bill.
The Committee asked for a better explanation for the shifting of funds within the programmes and also what the Department was doing to contribute to the intergovernmental dispute.
The Committee deliberated on Vote Five: Education in the Schedule to the Western Cape Adjustments Appropriation Bill, 2023. The Vote was supported, with the ANC voting not to support it.
The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill was referred to the Committee by the National Council of Provinces. The Committee agreed to have its initial briefing on the Bill in the last week of Jnauary 2024.
The Chairperson directed Committee Members to the blue book and pages 71 -84 for Vote Five (Education) and invited the Members to raise their questions.
Mr K Sayed (ANC), referring to page 71 regarding the aim, asked what kind of provisions were made in the budget to avert the issue of learners not being placed in schools by January 2024.
On page 73, rollovers in public special school education, he asked what the progress was regarding the expenditure of those funds. What caused the delay in expenditure of conditional grants and the updates on the procurement of the toolkits?
On page 74, on primary level realignment of funds for municipal services, what necessitated the shift of funds to public special schools? Did it have something to do with the steep municipal rates?
Mr F Christians (ACDP) said that the Department had made money available for funding the 2023 wage agreement so it had to adjust money from programme two, programme four, programme five and programme seven. This was on page 74.
On page 84, the national government also gave R943 million. What was the total cost the Department had to pay towards the wage agreement? What was the total cost of the provincial and national Department? He also asked how adjusting the budget affected the learners and educators in terms of the outcomes.
On page 75, where there was reprioritisation of funds towards programmes, he asked for an explanation.
Mr M Kama (ANC), on page 71, in terms of the appropriations, said he welcomed the allocation from the national government which was around the implementation of the 2023 wage agreement. Noting the lodging of the intergovernmental dispute against government, he found it interesting that, on page 73, there was a reprioritisation of the funds meant to fund the shortfall of the 2023 wage agreement being shifted towards the funding of the back-on-track programme. Why were the funds being used for other programmes while on the other hand government represented lodged disputes but used the funds for a different programme than what it was allocated for?
On page 75, subprogramme 1.2 corporate services, he asked what the funds thereunder were earmarked for, how did the savings occur and why did the savings occur. Why was the Department transferring them to Wesgro? What work was Wesgro doing for the Department? Given that these schools had clear ties to Israel in the province, was Wesgro involved in any way in promoting Western Cape education abroad in countries like Israel?
On subprogramme three on special schools, he said that funds were shifted from special schools to ordinary public schools, an amount of about R29.8 million. He asked what the total amount that had been shifted from special schools to ordinary schools was in the budget, what infrastructure challenges could have been addressed through the budget, and how the shift would affect special schools' understanding. He acknowledged that there had been public outcry around the issue of access to special schools and their availability as well.
Mr Brent Walters, Head of Department, reminded the Committee that the wage agreement was a R1.463 billion shortfall for the Department, even though it received the R835 million net adjusted appropriation overall. The Department did receive extra funds but it is still R500 million short of what it needed to get equilibrium as to where it is. He said the conditional grants were also reduced, with the Maths, Science and Tech Grant being reduced by R4.2 million. The Early Childhood Development (ECD) grant was reduced by R14 million, the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) was reduced by R1.56 million and the HIV grant was reduced by R3 million. The net effect was that the Department was actually not given what it was supposed to be given as a Department upfront to cover salaries. The Department was still R500 million short plus the conditional grants were cut. So when that was taken into account, is what the Department could actually do to be able to address the shortfalls. The Department was grateful for the money that came to service the wage agreement, but it was not enough to reach equilibrium. At one point, there was an indication that 78% of the agreement would be funded but essentially, only 68% was funded. That difference when dealing with big numbers greatly affects business.
He said that the Department was transferring funds to Wesgro because the Minister launched a programme in the year called Edu Invest, where it was looking at how it could stimulate private sector investment inside education to make sure that the burden was equally shared in some way so as to provide service to the learners and that was essentially Wesgro as a partner agency which was looking at investment nets into the education sector.
Mr Leon Ely, DDG: Corporate Services, said that the toolkits were ordered and delivered and the Department had also spent most of that money. As far as the adjustment budget was concerned in terms of the payrolls, obviously, there were various descriptions it used so where the word misalignment is used or realignment, that was a technical term where the Department was classifying between categories in either goods and services or transfer payments but the funding had not been shifted away from the purpose itself. It was all technical adjustments made because when the budget is drawn up in the first instance, the Department put in a particular category and then the adjustment budget allows it to be a bit more accurate in terms of where the funding needs to be allocated in terms of those categories however within the programme.
He said there was no back-on-track reprioritisation, and no funds were shifted away from compensation to back-on-track. If one looked at the tables carefully, they were actually not the same things. Funding was shifted from one place to the other but it was a reclassification within the back on track program itself.
Mr Ely said that shifting funds from the infrastructure programme was just realignments within the infrastructure programme. The Department was just shifting funds away from particular categories like special schools but these were realignment issues where projects were also being realigned and shifted within the same programme. They were more technical.
The Chairperson interjected and asked the Department to explain what realignment was.
Mr Ely said that realignment meant that, as a Department, it was not shifting funding away from the programme as it was obviously still within the programme. He explained that when a budget was drawn, the same was done with particular assumptions while monitoring the progress as the year goes. Certain budgets, such as infrastructure, are reduced and therefore some reconsiderations are necessary in terms of the projects as well. That was why there was a shift from special schools to public schools in terms of project realignment. The Department was therefore not taking money away from that particular programme when it talks about realignment.
Mr Haroon Mahomed, DDG: Curriculum Management and Assessment Management, indicated the Department was monitoring carefully the impact the programme was having on learners and teachers and the signals were very positive.
Mr Alan Meyer, DDG: Institution Development and Coordination, in reply to Mr Kama, added that there was a rollover because of the nature of the assessments that were needed took longer in terms of research process and so on. All of that has been procured and the last invoice will be added at the end of the particular month.
The Chairperson asked whether the Department dealt with the municipal issue.
Mr Ely said he had done so when he responded to the issue of misalignment explanation.
Mr David Mayiner, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Education, in response to Mr Christians, said that national government had imposed very significant budget cuts and had not funded the full cost of living adjustment leaving a R537 million shortfall and, of course, conditional grants, especially the EIG which had been cut by R179.4 million.
The budget cuts were unprecedented because this was the first time they were imposed by the national government in a year, meaning they applied for the current year and had immediate effect. Some of the budget cuts, including the conditional budget cuts, were imposed very late in the financial year, as late as 23 October this year. It was a massive blow to the education departments in all provinces across the country. If one went back to the national medium term policy statement, the National Minister of Finance and National Treasury put the consequences of the budget cuts quite well when they said provincial departments would be constrained in hiring additional teachers which would lead to larger class sizes and higher learner to teacher ratios possibly resulting in weaker education outcomes. The consequences of national budget cuts and the failure to fund the full cost of living adjustment would have significant consequences not just for the education department in the Western Cape Province but for education departments across the country.
Mr Christians referred to page 78 on conditional grants and said there was a reduction in the Maths Science and Technology Conditional Grant due to fiscal consolidation. He found this concerning as the province was struggling with math. With the budget cuts and bigger class sizes, he was concerned that the quality of education was being diluted because the province already had huge class sizes in certain areas.
On page 84, funds were shifted to the Office of the Premier for rendering legal services. He asked whether that was concerning the intergovernmental dispute and whether that was the only contribution going to be made by the Education Department. On page 84, he asked for clarity on the funds going to violent support through the life orientation programme and whether it was necessary to shift funds to another programme.
On page 77, subprogramme three, Mr Sayed asked what was the justification for the shifting of funds to be utilised for maintenance and other capital infrastructure needs at schools.
Mr Kama said he was confused about the issue of shifting of funds and the explanation given. He understood the table as an indication of funds that were shifting because the left of the table would provide from where the funds were shifting and on the right was where they had been shifted to. In his first question, there was an amount of R12.5 million that was being shifted from education management to goods and services. On page 77 of the R29.8 million that was being shifted from special schools, he asked whether that meant that there was no infrastructure maintenance needs in the special schools. Could the Department not have used that money of R29 million to address infrastructure challenges in those special schools?
Mr Walters said that the Department was underfunded but it was running the biggest and oldest state in the country. Maintenance was required in the schools and there was also growing demand which was also unprecedented. The demand was getting worse each year and it had to cope with having to balance two things. The Department has to cope with building new infrastructure to be able to address the growing demand and it is not funded to the extent that it can do both completely and so what was in the budget and adjustments was a balancing act that the Department always has to cater for because it is not fully funded.
Infrastructure is quite expensive and also takes time. The Department has to make choices and so the choices are influenced by the need to maintain but also having to service the new learners that are coming into the system and growing each year. It balances the two and does its best under the circumstances.
In response to Mr Christians, Mr Ely said clearly that the Department would not be able to consolidate the Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST) and pure mathematics, as it required an overall approach and he believed the Department has done the correct educational thing by starting to look at the foundation phase. All of that may not be the instant solution that the people who have oversight of the Department want to hear but one can only build the system from the bottom.
Mathematics was a subject where if there was no proper foundation, then there would be nothing to build on when one got to the more senior levels. Many learners across the world struggle with mathematics, except in some Eastern cultures, where discipline and repetition are at the centre of the culture, so they are able to cope with mathematics in a much easier way. For the country, the Department is starting from the bottom and in the end, it can get to a situation where it has as many students as possible taking mathematics at a grade 10 level. Besides the foundation phase, a lot of effort had been going into the foundation phase but also to the introduction to algebra which was now in grade eight.
On Vote One and legal services, he said that as of now, the Department is the main user of legal services which was a centralised function inside the Western Cape Government so that would just be cases being handled by legal services on behalf of the Department.
Referring to page 73, Mr Ely explained the Department is shifting money from the back-on-track programme for compensation in education management to the programme on goods and services required for the back-on-track programme. That was why he said it was a reclassification within the same programme, not shifting funds.
On page 77, the adjustments dealt with a number of things, including assumptions and reality. The Department does have pressure on maintenance as far as public ordinary schools are concerned and it was a question of where it spent most of its money in terms of invoices coming through. It therefore has to cater for those where certain programmes have run quicker or faster than others therefore it is not saying that certain programmes were more important than others.
On page 84, the amount for legal services was R858,000, not a million as Mr Christians was reading it.
Mr Mahomed said that the Shukuma project was a project between the Department and Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (DCAS) involving a pilot that had been running in schools in hotspot areas, where there are high levels of violence. The school works to supplement the life orientation program and has recruited and trained facilitators drawn from universities and the broader societies that go in and work with learners who are manifesting signs of trauma. Generally, the project has made quite a bit of progress, and participants are expressing appreciation for the opportunity to de-stress from the trauma they experienced. The project was ongoing and they have started with about four schools and now have plus 50 schools.
Minister Mayiner said that the funds for legal services were unrelated to the intergovernmental dispute. The funds are to provide additional support to the Department and the Ministry in the numerous legal matters and appeals that both deal with during the course of the financial year.
Ms Christians asked what the Department was going to do to contain intergovernmental disputes, if any.
Mr Sayed asked the Department to confirm whether building and construction work had been halted in the province.
On page 78, dealing with the national conditional grants that will be cut, the Chairperson asked if the national Department gave reasons as to why they were making those cuts in those grants and the specific amounts.
On page 79, she said that the Department was receiving extra money for the Solar PhotoVoltaic amounting to R37.6 million and the infrastructure service delivery pressures of R56.4 million. Was the Department taking the LED money and giving it to solar? Was it covered by the province? Where was the R56 million for infrastructure delivery pressures coming from?
Mr Walters said that on the national department’s decision to make budget cuts, all the departments across the country were asked to do a trimming exercise and the national department was not immune to that. Some of the conditional grants were protected; they indicated that those not protected had to take a 9% cut across the country in every department. The national department also had to give up a level of funding to treasury. The cuts were driven by the fiscal pressure placed on all departments across the country.
He said that the WCED was trying to ensure that, in the end, schools become self-sufficient and use natural energy therefore pushing the idea of solar.
Mr Ely said that the R37 million was additional funding received from provincial treasury for the solar project because there was a strategy on less dependence on the grid. The Department received those funds to promote that project.
In response to Mr Sayed, Minister Maynier said that school building had not been stopped in the province and in fact, contractors were working hard to put up infrastructure and would be pushing through much of the builders' holiday.
In response to Mr Christians, he said that the Department supported the Department of the Premier with National Treasury representing the whole government, including the educational department, in the intergovernmental dispute. The Department of the Premier would be representing the WCED and discussing how national government will make R537 million in yearly shortfall for the cost of living adjustment.
There were no questions from the public, and the Chairperson thanked and released the Minister and WCED officials from the meeting.
Committee Report on Vote Five: Education in the Schedule to the Western Cape Adjustments Appropriation Bill, 2023
Majority of Committee Members supported the Budget Vote, noting the minority vote from the ANC not to support it.
The Chairperson asked the report to be flighted, and read it out loud for the Committee to note.
The report was adopted.
Consideration of the referral of the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, S76 [B2b-2022]
The Chairperson asked that the amended National Council of Provinces (NCOP) programme be flighted, noting that the programme served as a guideline. The Committee would consider this as it planned its first briefing on the BELA Bill.
Mr C Fry (DA) moved that the Committee have its first briefing on the BELA Bill the week after schools open in the last week of January 2024.
Mr Christians supported this.
The Chairperson said that the Committee had received a request from the Homeschooling Association to be kept up to date on the BELA Bill, and she had asked the Committee’s Secretariat to add them to the stakeholder list and emails.
She also asked that a letter which she was copied in be shared with the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS), as they asked to give an expert briefing to the Committee on the BELA Bill.
Mr Fry asked that the Committee engage with the outreach department of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) to facilitate the transport and the attendance of the public once they confirm the dates and locations of various public hearings.
Mr Kama asked whether the timelines being discussed were sufficient to allow the Committee to discharge all its functions.
The Chairperson replied that the NCOP programme serves as a guideline. There was a judgement on the separate constitutional duty upon provincial duty regarding public participation and ensuring that such participation was meaningful. She said the province also had to develop its own programme as the WCPP. She confirmed that during the initial briefing on the Bill in the last week of January 2024, the Committee would use the same session to decide on issues of public participation as well as expert briefings. This would be determined by how big an impact the Bill was going to have.
The Committee adopted its report on the Annual Report of the WCED for 2022/23 and the minutes of 20 October 2023.
The Chairperson thanked everyone for their attendance and adjourned the meeting
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