Gauteng ‘under-spending’ on early childhood

The Gauteng department of education has spent only a tiny portion of its budget for early childhood development (ECD), the Democratic Alliance claims.

This, despite Gauteng education minister Barbara Creecy’s commitment in her July budget speech to “a quality education system [that] begins right at the start of a child’s school life in Grade R”.

“We need to improve the quality and sustainability of primary, secondary and special education schooling across all grades and phases including Grade R,” she said.

But departmental spokesperson Charles Phahlane strongly denied under-expenditure in the first quarter. “The work has been done the invoices have just not been captured yet,” he told the Mail & Guardian on Monday.

The DA’s Khume Ramulifho had said in a statement on the weekend that the department should by this stage of the 2011/12 financial year have spent about 25% of its ECD budget — but had used only 14%.

Phahlane said “the work” so far done included ensuring supplies of textbooks and other learning materials and training practitioners.

“Activities took place and the invoices will [still] arrive This doesn’t mean that the work wasn’t done,” he said.

Spending on track
Ramulifho’s statement referred to the Gauteng finance department’s first quarterly report, tabled last week, which said the education department had spent only 14% of its total annual budget in the first quarter of this year.

Creecy’s budget speech showed R588.6-million had been allocated to ECD — which is 2% of the department’s R25.9-billion budget.

ECD refers to the care of children from birth to nine years old with the active participation of parents, caregivers, healthcare workers and other providers.

“If spending was on track, then about 25% would have been spent in the April to June quarter,” Ramulifho told the M&G.

“So payments were not done during the quarter under review. If Charles [Phahlane] claims they were made, maybe they were done in July or August — which confirms under-expenditure.”

Phahlane admitted there had been under-expenditure on ECD in the past. “That’s why the minister decided that funds would be decentralised from a provincial office and will go to school governing bodies,” he said.

“The first tranche was transferred at the end of July and the next tranche will be transferred at the end of August.”

Creecy said the ECD budget would partly go to establishing an additional 700 Grade R sites.

“This will increase access by the 2012 academic year to at least 92000 Grade R learners at regulated and registered public sites and 5152 learners in independent sites,” she said.

Gauteng has about two million learners in more than 1900 schools.

Addressing the “challenge” of spending on ECD, Creecy said in her speech that the department had established a “dedicated team to manage the expenditure and process to universalise Grade R”.

Ramulifho claims the ECD programme has never spent its entire budget.

“This undermines the urgent need for proper education during childhood learning,” he said. “If learners lack skills from the foundation phase, it impacts negatively on how they perform with literacy, numeracy and languages in later years.”

He said Creecy had committed, in a meeting with the DA, to spending the ECD’s entire budget in every quarter but has so far failed to do so.

“The DA urges the minister to stop talking and start acting.”

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