South Africa: Departments Called to Manage Delayed Schools Infrastructure Projects

Failure to ensure that implementing agents are held accountable for their projects has been linked to the provincial Education Departments' inability to deliver much-needed infrastructure.

This is the view shared by the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education during an infrastructure roundtable held with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and all nine provincial education departments on Tuesday.

The committee is on an oversight visit to the DBE's office in Pretoria this week, to discuss various issues affecting the sector.

The aim of the oversight visit is to find lasting solutions to challenges within the sector, as well as ensure accountability from the department.

During the meeting, the committee resolved that the DBE and all provincial departments must strengthen and standardise their service level agreements, and ensure a built in penalty mechanism to hold implementing agents accountable for any delays in delivering on infrastructure projects.

"The incessant delays have an unwarranted and unacceptable impact on the mandate to deliver on the constitutional promise of quality education to all. The committee is of the view that having legally sound regulatory frameworks in place will ensure accountability," committee chairperson, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said.

However, Mbinqo-Gigaba said the committee is also aware that in most provinces, implementing agents are the provincial Departments of Public Works, which "makes it difficult to build in risk mechanisms to hold Public Works to account".

"The committee thus supports provinces that have decided to build internal capacity to ensure that they are able to implement projects at an acceptable rate and pace," the chairperson said.

The committee called for strengthened monitoring and evaluation by provincial departments, coupled with consistent enforcement of consequence management against implementing agents, to enforce accountability.

"The committee is cognisant of the huge infrastructure backlog within the sector and the limited budgets within which infrastructure must be implemented. There is undoubtedly a need for an increase in allocation to eradicate infrastructure backlogs, but this is difficult in the current environment.

"This is why we find it unacceptable that some provincial departments are not spending their budget. Also, the quality of work versus the money spent remains a concern that must be addressed," Mbinqo-Gigaba said.

While the need for increased funding is acknowledged, the committee highlighted the unintended consequences arising from project delays. These include exacerbating the infrastructure backlog and the resource erosion caused by escalating input costs.

"The committee was informed that there is approximately 20% of cost escalation year-on-year for every delayed project. This is concerning in the context that there is currently insufficient budget to eradicate the backlog," she said.

The committee called for the provinces to share good practice and to exchange ideas on resolving the infrastructure challenge.

"For example, the School-based Infrastructure Programme implemented by Gauteng Provincial Education Department to increase the threshold of transfers to schools so that the department is able to provide the schools with additional funding to build the required learner spaces, can be adopted by other provinces. This initiative reduces the red tape to deliver infrastructure," Mbinqo-Gigaba said.

Redouble efforts to implement SAFE initiative

The committee expressed its disappointment in the delays in implementing Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative, and urged all role players to redouble their efforts and recommit to implementing this programme.

Launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018, SAFE is an initiative aimed at improving sanitation at some of the country's poorest schools.

Led by DBE in partnership with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), the Nelson Mandela Foundation and UNICEF, the primary objective of the SAFE initiative is to replace basic pit toilets with appropriate sanitation in accordance with the norms and standards for school infrastructure.

The committee will on Wednesday receive a briefing from DBE on the enforcement of its anti-bullying policy, the status and outcome of the 2021 school government body elections, and a briefing on the DBE's internal audit.

More From: SAnews.gov.za

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