Debate On The 2009-2010 Education Service Delivery Report
By Roman Liptak MPL

 

Kwazulu-Natal Legislature Pietermaritzburg: 30 November 2010  

Honourable Speaker

 

Last week’s debate on mid-term finance reviews and indeed the debate earlier today underlined the challenge of underfunding in our Department of Education. We are aware that additional funding is required for FET colleges, a shortfall in the 2009 and the 2010 wage agreements, OSD costs, Early Childhood Development and, perhaps most urgently, that underfunding in education is posing a challenge to the examination process in the province. The shortfall for examinations has been mitigated by a mere R10-million allocation in the Adjustments Appropriations, which this House voted on a short while ago.

 

At the same time, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that education spending remains the government’s largest item of spending, both nationwide and in this province and that teachers’ salaries constitute the single largest line item in the respective budgets. The wage bill is staggering and made more ominous every year following wage agreements. Twice before, in 1996 and 2007, did the wage negotiations result in a dramatic expansion of teachers’ benefits, most recently with the introduction of OSDs.

 

As in our consideration of expenditure on ordinary goods and services across the provincial government, we are quite right to ask if we are getting value for money in exchange for funding the Education Department’s enormous wage bill. The department’s answer to this question should be more rigorous performance assessments of its employees, and a more comprehensive crackdown on ghost teachers and absenteeism in the classroom.

 

It is a well-known fact that budgets for capital expenditure suffer tremendously in the period after the annual wage agreements. Capital expenditure revolves in a vicious circle. Poor spending has served in the past as a powerful incentive not to invest in capital developments, especially where past spending records were dismal. This has obviously impacted on maintenance of the existing infrastructure and service delivery backlogs, which continue to be among the worst in our province. For all the money and effort poured into education, our rural and township schools still reflect the economic realities of their location.

 

A few comments about the latest public service strike. More than 2.5 million schoolchildren were adversely affected by striking teachers and officials in KwaZulu-Natal alone. The department’s District Offices were also hard hit by the strike with most operations brought to a standstill. The ANC-aligned teachers' union Sadtu went further than usual to issue a directive to teachers and principals, urging them not to cooperate with the department. This made the task of obtaining information from schools virtually impossible. We are yet to assess the full impact of the strike once this year’s matric results are in. Common tests for the first and second quarters of this year have already revealed that Grade 12 learners did not perform well and the strike probably made the matters worse.

 

Education was the only government department to respond to the strike with a sensible “no work no pay policy” and for this it deserves praise. It is to be hoped that this policy will be emulated elsewhere for the duration of future strikes. I hasten to add that we all respect the constitutional right of teachers and other civil servants to strike and often we sympathise with their demands. But, at the same time, we must recognise industrial action for what it is. It is certainly no paid holiday. The principle of “no work no pay” should be strictly applied by all provincial departments in future with the necessary measures in place to ensure that strikers’ salaries are docked with immediate effect.

 

Perhaps the most newsworthy part of the MEC’s service delivery report dealt with the termination of his department’s contract with Ithala. The reason for this was problems in the ing of schools, such as compliance and delivery challenges, which threatened service delivery in the Department of Education. The fact that a government department cut its ties with a government-funded development bank is in itself an indictment of Ithala’s shambolic project management.

 

The decision to terminate the future working relationship between the department and the bank, with the exception of four projects in progress where Ithala has already been appointed as contractor, appears to have been made under pressure from communities waiting for schools. This is an example of the civil society in action and we hope that the pressure from the recipients of projects contracted to Ithala elsewhere will force the bank towards the necessary restructuring of its operations and business practices.

 

I thank you.

 

Contact: Roman Liptak, 078 302 0929