Education heads need finance 101

More than half of South Africa’s provincial education departments are in an administrative and financial mess, seriously undermining learning and teaching in the already embattled education system.

In a survey of the provinces, the Mail & Guardian was told that among other problems:

  • the Free State education department has overspent its budget by almost R1-billion
  • ;
  • teachers’ posts have been frozen in Mpumalanga
  • ;
  • in Limpopo, Free State and Gauteng teachers or support staff are often not paid, or are paid late
  • ;
  • in Northern Cape, schoolchildren have no transport because bus operators have not been paid
  • .

Education experts and teachers’ unions blame a lack of management skills.

Said Jerry Kuye, director of the school of public management and administration at the University of Pretoria: “It is a case of the lack of understanding of the POLE concept—planning, adequate organisation, ability to lead with the propensity of understanding the concept of leadership and appreciation for evaluation and monitoring.”

John Pampallis, director of the Centre for Education Policy Development, said there is a need for more planning and monitoring in the provinces and greater accountability of officials.

The Eastern Cape department of education remains the worst hit. Earlier this year the national department of education stepped in to tackle the collapse of schooling in the province.

As in the Eastern Cape, which has had a succession of education ministers and department heads, the absence of leadership in the Free State and the Northern Cape is blamed for the millions of rands overspent on budgets.
In the Free State the department has not had a head since early last year, while Northern Cape education minister Archie Lucas was removed last year.

According to Louwrens Strydom, of the teachers’ union Naptosa, Northern Cape overspent its R2,3-billion budget by about R600-million in the 2008/09 financial year, while Free State went over its R6,7-billion budget by close to R1-billion.

Strydom said: “We keep getting told by the department that they can’t pay because there’s no money and they’ve overspent by a billion.”

As a result, schools in the Free State had not received subsidies and could not pay their debts or even purchase paper for photocopying.

“Teachers look at alternatives—using blackboards, making copies at their own cost, dealing with matters orally, and dealing with topics planned for a later stage that do not need photocopies. Unfortunately some just do nothing,” said Strydom.

He blamed poor financial planning, adding that the persistent “chopping and changing” of personnel undermined the smooth administration of departmental finances.

“The departments are now spending the current budget to pay last year’s debts. We envisage a situation where six months down the line they’ll face the same financial dilemma,” he said.

The Free State department said it had underspent by R8-million against an adjusted budget of R6,7-billion in 2008/09 .

The province’s appropriation statement reveals underspending in various programmes due to “insufficient funds” but overspending of R335-million on staff salaries due to the higher than expected general annual pay increase.

The M&G has also learnt that, until recently, the transportation of learners in the rural Northern Cape was disrupted by the department’s failure to pay bus operators.

André Joemat, acting head of the Northern Cape’s education department, denied that the overspending was close to R600-million, but said he could not disclose the pre-audited amount. “The department’s overspending in the previous financial year is mainly attributed to pressures experienced in compensation of employees.” Joemat confirmed that they experienced problems with payments to bus operators in the last financial year. “This was as a result of cash flow constraints within the department. This problem has, however, been rectified and we are now working closely with transporters to prevent a recurrence of this problem.”

In Mpumalanga, Walter Hlaise, of the education union Sadtu said vacant teaching posts were frozen because of weak financial controls.

“Schools cannot employ full-time personnel because of widespread corruption in the department,” Hlaise said. Recently, Jerry Tshoba, chief director in the department, and a deputy director general designated as the chief financial officer, Michael Mogorosi, were dismissed for fraud and negligence in the management of state funds.

In Limpopo, Sadtu’s George Modumela said it has become the norm for the Education Department to pay temporary teachers late or not at all. In North West budgeting problems have resulted in staff shortages and the termination of temporary teachers’ contracts, said Sadtu’s Brian Setswammung. The Gauteng education department’s failure to pay teachers and support staff has been widely publicised.

Duncan Hindle, director general of basic education, conceded that there were problems in some provinces, but said they did not warrant national intervention. He said the Eastern Cape government had approached the department for help. As provinces were constitutionally autonomous, this was the only way the national government could get involved. “We can only intervene in response to a specific problem,” said Hindle.

Kuye, meanwhile, said there is no shortage of financial resources in the system. “What we see is a collapse of capacity and the ability to understand the appropriation of resources.”

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book.
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