Cape Town - The spectre of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) being forced to keep textbooks under lock and key, instead of distributing them to pupils, in a bid to satisfy bean counters, came up as a matter of concern in the legislature.
The issue was raised during a briefing to the legislature’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) by the WCED, which included representatives from the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA).
The briefing was about how the department would deal with its 2020/21 audit outcome findings, in order to mitigate a future recurrence.
One of the major findings by the AGSA was about internal control deficiencies, and related to the management of school textbooks.
The department’s deputy director-general Leon Ely told the members of the committee that to correct the problem, it had come up with a textbook retrieval and retention management plan for schools, and had implemented it.
“What the department did was to put plans in place to make sure that all of our 1 500 odd schools now have controls in place, to ensure that they report accurately on the issue of textbooks,” said Ely.
He said the department had done this using its Central Education Management Information System (CEMIS), which all the schools have access to.
The AGSA’s Adam Louw said that, currently, they were busy auditing the WCED and, during the exercise, they would test to see if the new measures were working.
Committee member Andricus van der Westhuizen, of the DA, said that as a former employee of the WCED’s directorate of quality management, he was concerned that because of the emphasis on the department and schools being able to account for textbooks, pupils were losing out.
“I want to make the point that if you have a loss of, let's say, 5% or 10% of these assets over a year, that you know the educational benefits exceed the financial losses,” said Van der Westhuisen.
He said he hoped the department’s new retention, retrieval and retention management plan would not force schools to keep textbooks in their plastic wrapping, in the school safe, instead of handing them out to the children.
Committee chairperson Lulama Mvimbi, of the ANC, thanked the department for responding positively to the AGSA findings and for making a pledge that there would be no recurrence of the issues that had been flagged in the audit.
Other issues raised by the AGSA audit, under review by Scopa, were about financial management for the 2020/21 financial year.
During that year, the WCED spent R24 billion of an appropriated budget of R24.5 billion, which resulted in an under-expenditure of R556 321 million.