Despite high levels of spending of the government's Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG), dangerous pit latrines, crumbling mud classrooms and shortages of desks, chairs and other resources remain commonplace throughout much of the education sector. This prompted the parliamentary Appropriations Committee to ask if the education sector should be left with the task of struggling to improve its infrastructure, or whether this should actually be the responsibility of the Department of Public Works.
"Based on the submissions made to the Committee, the education sector seems to be struggling with handling the additional infrastructure responsibility, which is the core mandate of Public Works departments, and this may have a negative impact on the core mandate of the DBE [Department of Basic Education]," a Committee report concluded.
Reports tabled in Parliament by the National Council of Province's Select Committee on Appropriations, which separately considered the total expenditure of both the Early Childhood Development Grant (ECDG) and the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG), made it clear that while many provinces are spending 90 to 100% of these grants - and even overspending in some cases - delivery continues to fall far short.
Part of the Committee's mandate in its ongoing interaction with government departments is to monitor spending patterns on conditional grant allocations. The Committee recommended in its reports on both these grants that the answer was to be found in improved cooperation between the provincial government departments and the national Departments of Education and Public Works.
While spending of the grants is good in most of the relevant provincial government departments, delivery still falls way behind.
One of the main problems facing ECD centres turned out to be largely infrastructure-related, prompting the Committee to encourage provincial government departments of social services to work closely with the Department of Basic Education's Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) Programme and with the Public Works Department.
The shared obstacles in the successful implementation of both the ECDG and the EIG were summed up in the Committee's separate reports, which were tabled in Parliament late in August. They highlighted challenges in finding suitably skilled managers and engineers to oversee maintenance projects; procurement mismanagement and lack of capacity in provincial supply chain processes; disproportionately high quotes from service providers, especially in far-flung rural areas where vast distances push up travel and other costs; and labour instability along with community unrest.
These were identified as the main challenges preventing both the ECDG and the EIG from making a noticeable difference.
The reports also warned of the danger of over-dependence on government grants. "All provinces should guard against relying entirely on grant funding to improve education infrastructure. Grant funding should be continuously supplemented by their own equitable share allocations," one report stated, referring to provincial allocations from the national Budget.
The ECDG and the EIG are entirely different grants yet they ultimately share a common goal - that of improving the quality of infrastructure and resources at educational institutions for children from their very earliest years until the end of their basic education.
They have more in common than a broadly shared objective. The Committee reports both came up with a similar conclusion. While spending of the grants is good in most of the relevant provincial government departments, delivery still falls way behind. And it's the rural schools that bear the brunt.
The purpose of the EIG is to help accelerate construction, repairs, maintenance, upgrading and rehabilitation of new and existing infrastructure in schools and achieve acceptable minimum norms and standards, including in the provision of sanitation and toilets.
The ECDG aims to increase poor children's access to subsidised Early Childhood Development (ECD) services. This notion was first mooted in 2005 when a policy was adopted to ensure that every child has access to ECD services even if their parents or caregivers cannot afford it. The National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy, which gave effect to the introduction of the ECDG, was approved by Cabinet in 2015 and eventually established in the 2017/18 financial year to extend access to ECD services to all South Africa's children.
The Select Committee on Appropriations invited National Treasury to make presentations at both hearings. The National Department of Social Development appeared with its provincial counterparts in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West Province to make inputs on the ECDG's fourth term financial expenditure for the 2017/18 financial year, while the national Department of Basic Education was joined by the provincial departments of education of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Western Cape to make presentations on the EIG.
The Select Committee heard in separate hearings how despite consistent spending of these social grants, delivery remains well below target and it was clearly demonstrated that social grants alone will not solve the multiple problems in South Africa's basic education sector.
Looking at ECDG spending as at 31 March 2018, the Treasury reported that most provinces spent the grants allocated to them for the purpose intended, yet there was some under-spending in Eastern Cape, the North West Province and Free State. In this scenario under-spending demonstrates failure in service delivery.
Of the R56.4 million allocated to the Eastern Cape Province, only R27.7 million or 48.6% was spent. The North West Province only managed to spend 62% of the R32.7 million allocated to it and Free State did not do much better, at 68.8%.
The Committee found that delivery and output in the North West Province was hard hit by strike action while the Eastern Cape suffered mainly from delays in the recruitment process and shortages of technical skills.
Quotations from contractors were described as exhorbitant, especially when contractors had to travel vast distances to reach deep rural communities. The Northern Cape in particular found that because 2% of the population is scattered across almost 30% percent of the geographical area the vast distances involved in transporting materials and service providers proved to be a major cost driver.
Although rollout of this grant was relatively new, it soon became apparent that the R100 000 limit per ECD centre for maintenance was not enough, and this has had to be increased to R180 000 with effect from the 2018/19 financial year.
With regard to spending on the EIG in the 2017/18 financial year, National Treasury reported to the Committee that only Mpumalanga (at 93%), Limpopo (at 97%) and Gauteng (at 99%) did not manage to spend their entire allocations. Nevertheless, the completion of new and replacement schools in 2017/18 was well below target in most provinces, while the maintenance output performed slightly better.
Treasury indicated that R42 million from the EIG was made available in the 2017/18 financial year for the appointment of permanent officials in the provincial education infrastructure units. Yet there were still 135 vacant posts across the nine provinces as well as 41 posts filled by incumbents who do not comply with competency requirements. Progress was reported to be especially slow in the Free State and the North West.
The DBE reported that out of a total of 367 projects implemented, 202 had been completed. A total of 468 sanitation projects had been completed out of the 992 implemented. Regarding progress with water, the DBE reported that 681 out of 1 252 projects had been completed, with 372 out of 393 electricity projects completed.
Different provinces identified problems specific to their areas. The Free State Education Department (FSED) for example identified the following specific problems encountered in spending the EIG: Projects took longer than expected due to various challenges on sites, such as lack of contractor capacity. The FSED also wrestled with budgeting for the radical eradication of pit-latrine toilets.
The province also identified as a problem 2018/19 financial year budget cuts which it attributed to the shifting of funds to provide for free higher education.
Free State educationists also reported delays in the implementation of projects handled by the Free State Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.
The FSDE reported that all projects which were planned but not yet contracted, would be deferred to outer financial years in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework. The FSDE further committed to concurrence between the Free State Heads of Departments of Education and Public Works and Infrastructure in relation to project planning and implementation.
The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) reported the following ongoing risks and challenges:
The annual learner growth of, on average, 18 000, results in overcrowding.
Success of learner retention in the
The infrastructure budget remains constant, with no significant
Steep escalation of infrastructure delivery
The backlog in the maintenance of existing stock is
Non-availability of appropriate land, especially in the
Non-performing contractors, especially on maintenance
Crime and vandalism which negatively impact on delivery and maintenance of
The Committee report concluded: "The National Treasury, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and relevant Cabinet Committees should reconsider the decision to mandate the DBE to be responsible for the improvement of education infrastructure."