By Anthony Benadie MPL, Spokesperson on Education:
Schools in Mpumalanga are paying as much as R1335.17 per month to their municipality for learners to use flushable toilets.
This is according to information received from the provincial department of Cooperative Governance where in a reply to a DA parliamentary question, the department confirmed that municipalities were charging a sanitation levy to public schools.
The DA visited approximately 100 schools at the start of the 2015 academic year where many challenges were highlighted, including the shortage of suitable toilets as well as levies charged by the municipality for the use of flushable toilets.
The DA has established that schools are being charged various rates for toilet levies depending on the municipality’s affordability and viability. For example Umjindi municipality charges R21.89 per toilet therefor a school with 45 toilets like Emjindini Secondary School pays R984 .96 per month while a school like Barberton High School that has 61 toilets will pay R1335.17 per month for learners to use the toilets.
According to information received from the department of Education, 708 schools in the province do not have adequate access to water and sanitation with 15 schools having no toilets at all. During the DA’s oversight visits, the majority of schools expressed the need for more toilets as the schools are overcrowded yet this increasing need for more toilets is overlooked by the education department.
In her response to questions submitted by the DA, department of Education MEC, Reginah Mhaule stated that the district offices had confirmed that no toilet levies were being charged by municipalities.
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Quintile 1 to 3 schools, which are listed as no-fee schools, are solely reliant on the department for all monies needed to function yet the department of education claims to be unaware of toilet levies burden that they carry.
It is unacceptable that MEC Mhaule as well as the district offices claim not to know about these levies; especially when the MEC announced that this financial year, the department would spend R202 million upgrading schools’ water and sanitation infrastructure.
The department of Cooperative Governance has also confirmed that schools can apply to their various municipalities for special exemptions and rebates.
The DA urges all public schools in Mpumalanga who are struggling to meet their monthly obligation to duly apply for the special exemption at their local municipality. The DA will conduct a best practice bench marking exercise to determine if the paying of toilet levies is a national phenomenon or is just restricted to Mpumalanga.
Public schools have enough to deal with without the extra burden of having to pay to use toilets. The department of Education must make it a priority to find alternatives to this financial burden on schools.
The DA believes that the money spent on these levies could be better applied to improve other infrastructure challenges facing schools.