The affordable education loan option
Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Education Department’s financial woes have gone from bad to worse.
On Tuesday it was revealed in a report to the provincial legislature’ s portfolio committee on education that R600 million - which should have been spent on new school buildings and books for pupils - would now be used to pay employees.
The meeting resolved that KZN Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni would bring the department’s situation to the urgent attention of the executive council.
Last month, education HOD Nkosinathi Sishi warned the legislature’s finance committee that he would have to rob Peter to pay Paul to be able to afford the salary increases owed to teachers, that had been accumulating since 2008.
This was at the time of the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) strike, which disrupted the matric trial exams.
MPLs yesterday heard that the department also had 1 866 “unfunded posts” - positions which its current, smaller budget did not cater for - and 800 vacancies, which it could not afford to fill.
The financial report stated that its budget had been under “extreme pressure” over the past few years, because it had consistently been too small to accommodate increases in teachers’ salaries that were agreed to at a national government level.
The department has therefore cut R1 billion from various critical service areas: goods and services, buildings and fixed structures, and machinery and equipment.
This included R155m from “learner and teacher support material”, R500m from infrastructure, R60m from training and development, and R20m from the stationery and printing budget.
Sishi said that taking money meant to build schools and provide each child in the province with a textbook was the “worst” of his last resorts, but that he had no choice.
He said that the department would still have the grant that came from national Treasury to spend on infrastructure, but that some of the companies building schools had already stopped paying their sub-contractors in anticipation of next year’s budget cuts.
This had affected the construction on some schools, he confirmed.
Sishi said that the amount by which the learning material budget would be slashed amounted to 20 percent of the total sum, meaning that the department had taken another step backward in trying to ensure that there was a textbook for every child.
The ratio in KZN was one textbook to five pupils, Sishi said.
The province also has a R80bn infrastructure backlog.
The chairwoman of the portfolio committee, Linda Hlongwa, said she was sure that there was “money sitting somewhere” which could be diverted to the department.
Hlongwa said that if South Africa could afford to build stadiums, it could afford to put money into education in KZN.
She said that if the funds were not forthcoming, the transformation of the schooling system might as well be shelved.
Already, the department could only spend R982 on each pupil, when other provincial departments could afford R1 059 a pupil.
The KZN department was “grossly” underfunded, she said.
But Hlongwa was also concerned that the department would earn itself another qualified audit opinion next year because it did not have adequate monitoring and compliance systems in place.