The decision by the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, to stop payment of grants for infrastructure to provinces means less money for building, maintaining and upgrading schools. Further long term measures are required by the Minister of Basic Education to ensure that money for school infrastructure is actually spent and spent properly.
Last week the National Treasury announced that it would stop the payments of grants for infrastructure to all provinces except the Western Cape. These provinces have failed to spend their allocated funds from the previous financial year. Conditional Grants allocated to provinces can only be spent on the particular programme or allocation in question, and nothing else. Section 17 of the Division of Revenue Act allows the Minister of Finance to stop the payment of these grants if it is anticipated that a province will substantially underspend on that programme or allocation in the upcoming financial year. These infrastructure grants are allocated for the building, maintenance and improvement schools, roads and hospitals, among other things.
UNDER SPENDING A THREAT TO BASIC EDUCATION
Under spending on school infrastructure poses a serious threat the realisation of the right to basic education and the right to equality. School infrastructure is in a dire state. There are massive backlogs and vastly unequal distribution of resources in school infrastructure provisioning.
National data from the Department of Education shows that: 3 600 schools still have no electricity supply, 800 schools have an unreliable electricity supply; 2 444 schools have no water supply; only 7 847 schools have municipal flush toilets, 970 schools still do not have any ablution facilities, and 11 231 schools still use pit-latrine toilets. Furthermore, 92% of schools still do not have stocked libraries; 95% of schools do not have stocked laboratories; and 90% of schools do not have stocked computer centres.
Hundreds and thousands of learners from poor and working-class backgrounds are attending schools lacking in the most basic resources. These schools exist alongside other schools which are fully equipped and well resourced, attended mostly by learners whose parents can afford to afford to pay high school fees. Addressing theses shortages and inequalities should be a national priority if all learners are to be provided with an equal and quality education.
A SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION TO UNDERSPENDING IS NEEDED
The Minister of Finance’s decision to stop the payment of infrastructure grants to provinces is an urgent and desperate measure to address underspending and to hold the provinces accountable. But this alone is not a sustainable solution. Other important long-term measures are needed to ensure that spending occurs in a programmatic and sustainable way. Without long term measures, proper spending and accountability in school infrastructure provisioning cannot be brought about.
The Department of Basic Education has already acknowledged that spending on school infrastructure has been inadequate. Huge backlogs persist because there are no national minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. Even where money has been spent on school infrastructure, it has been without a clear policy framework. This has resulted in haphazard and uneven provisioning of school infrastructure.
The National Department of education set out to develop national minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure, recognising that a clear policy framework is required for improved accountability, providing guidance and oversight in school infrastructure spending. Provinces would be required to align their budgets and expenditure with these norms and standards – which would be the basis for the National Department holding the provinces accountable.
The National Policy for and Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment (June 2010) provides that the deadline for the adoption of these norms and standards was the end of the 2010/2011 financial year (31 March 2011). This deadline has come and gone and the Department of Basic Education has still failed to adopt the national minimum norms and standards.
Tomorrow, 13 April 2011, Minister Motshekga will deliver her Budget Vote speech in Parliament where she will outline the National Department of Basic Education’s budget for the Medium term framework. She will be outlining the budget allocations, which will include allocations for school infrastructure, while there is still no clear policy framework for the way in which infrastructure budget allocations are to be spent. This is despite her department having acknowledged how critical this policy framework (minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure) would be for accountable spending required to effectively address the massive backlogs in school infrastructure across the country.
While the National Treasury is being forced to stop the payment of grants for, inter alia, school infrastructure, the money that is still being allocated to provinces will still be spent without the necessary policy framework. It is imperative that the Department of Basic Education supports the efforts of the National Treasury in attempting to bring about accountability and proper spending on school infrastructure, by adopting minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure immediately.
EE CALLS FOR RESPONSIBLE SPENDING ON SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE
Equal Education calls upon the treasury and the Department of Basic Education to intervene directly into provinces to ensure spending of the monies allocated to them. Most importantly, EE calls on every community to demand schools that have all basic resources including libraries, laboratories, working toilets, and adequate classrooms. Minister Motshekga must empower her communities by finalizing national minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure in terms of section 5A of the South African Schools Act. These are the tools that communities need to ensure that provinces spend their infrastructure budgets.
The Minister’s failure to finalise infrastructure norms, despite EE’s persistent demands, is unacceptable.
Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, must speak about the adoption of National Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure in her Budget Vote Speech tomorrow! Without these norms and standards the Minister will be allocating money without proper measures for guidance and accountability, and in a way which ignores the problems of underspending and lack of accountability.
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