Education Budget Vote: Department Skillfully Dances Around Thorny Issues

Dr. Allan Grootboom, MPL DA Northern Cape: Spokesperson on Education The Democratic Alliance (DA) is appalled at the Northern Cape Department of Education (NCDoE), which either chose to avoid or totally fudged answering serious service delivery questions posed to them during a Portfolio Committee meeting today. This is in light of a Education Portfolio Committee meeting in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature (NCPL), where the MEC of Education, Griezelda Cjiekella, and her senior managers appeared before Members of the Provincial Legislature (MPL’s) to present their Budget and Annual Performance Plan (APP) for the 2013/14 financial year. It is necessary to remember that the NCDoE was appearing for the second time before the Portfolio Committee, as the officials had previously been summarily thrown out of the meeting by the Chairperson, Bongiwe Gigaba, for coming unprepared, as the Departments HoD had been absent. The DA welcomes the Department appearing before MPL’s this time prepared, and for having presented their Budget and APP well. However their smug attitudes and avoidance of questions posed to them on issues currently affecting residents and learners of the Northern Cape is totally unacceptable. The bottom-line is, the Department simply did not or at times inadequately answered the serious questions posed to them. Some of the questions which were avoided by the Department were, in relation to the proposed roll-out of universal Grade R services. We asked how the Department would accredit, monitor and evaluate the Community Centers intended to be included in the provision these services. The DA wanted to get assurance that young learners in these facilities would be safe and that they would be getting a quality education during their foundation phase. Encouragingly, the NCDoE has initiated a separate and boosted infrastructure programme, which we welcome as the DA. However we know full well in this province that these are the very funds which tend to fall victim to the clutches of the corrupt elements in our society, who prey on the construction contracts. The DA has publically driven the issue of the serious backlog of infrastructure and crucial facilities like laboratories, libraries, and computer centres in our schools. Earlier this year we cited the National Department of Basic Education’s 2011 National Education Infrastructure Management Systems (NEIMS) report, which revealed from a sample of 611 schools in the province, that only 180 schools had laboratories (29.5%), whilst only 313 had a computer centre (51.2%), and only 179 had libraries (29.3%). To our astonishment, the NCDoE officials were not aware of these figures and went as far as denying the existence of such a study, and stated that they had based their infrastructure spend and allocation on studies they conducted way back in 2006. This is either a case of sheer incompetence, or of a Department fumbling in the dark when it comes to issues of addressing infrastructure backlogs. Other questions which were fudged or ignored by the NCDoE related to the issue of Greenpoint High School, which although has finally had the extra classrooms they needed delivered, have reported that they did not have any school desk and chairs in them. The Department denied any information of this. The Department also avoided answering questions about when 5 teachers in Kuruman, who have yet to receive their salaries after five months, would be paid. It was especially disheartening to have sat in the meeting and have the Chairperson of the Committee shield the Department from further scrutiny, by disallowing us the opportunity to pose follow-up questions. The DA will not allow this behavior to go unchallenged. We will be submitting all questions which were ignored or fudged by the Department to the MEC of Education. We believe the people of this province deserve answers to these issues which affect their day-to-day experience of how the NCDoE at times fails them.

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