Billions wasted on Setas funding as skills crisis worsens

There has been a regression in Seta audit outcomes. (Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP)

There has been a regression in Seta audit outcomes. (Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP)

Auditor general Kimi Makwetu has expressed serious doubts that the controversial sector education and training authorities (Setas) are achieving what they were designed to do.

“It is not clear per the strategic plans and annual performance plans whether the scarce skills needs, as identified in the sector skills plans, are being addressed,” say confidential documents from Makwetu’s office seen by the Mail & Guardian.

The 21 Setas are meant to reverse the country’s skills crisis and thereby address the plight of the 3.4-million 18- to 24-year-olds who are not in employment, education or training. Tailored to facilitate training for industry needs, they are meant to enable youth participation in learnerships and apprenticeships, and provide career guidance.

Since their launch in 2000 under the labour ministry, the Setas have been criticised for failing to deliver and wasting billions of rands. Their 2014-2015 allocation is nearly R11-billion.

Knocking bodies into shape
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande vowed to knock the troubled bodies into shape when he took them over on assuming office in 2009.

At the centre of the auditor general’s doubts are persistent governance and management defects. The unreleased documents show that only four Setas achieved clean audits over the past two years, and six scored dismal findings that included inadequate project management, high numbers of vacancies and a “lack of consequence management for poor [or] nonperformers”.

“Generally, there has been a regression in Seta audit outcomes for 2013-2014,” the document notes. “Performance management systems at Setas are ineffective ... There is currently no follow-through by the Setas to determine whether learners that have been supported with skills development levies have since been employed. As a consequence, the impact of projects being implemented by the Setas cannot be seen.”

The Setas also budgeted large amounts for research “on a yearly basis ... yet the impact cannot be seen”. 

Skills transfer
There was “significant dependency on consultants to execute management responsibilities” at the Setas, but this has not resulted in skills being transferred to employees.

The documents are part of Makwetu’s interim audit into higher education and training institutions, the final version of which he will present to Parliament next month.

One of the six with the worst audit findings is the Local Government Seta, which is under administration “due to a near collapse of all management and governance processes under the previous leadership”, administrator Nqaba Nqandela said.

Another of the six, the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Seta, “believes that most of the matters raised by the auditor general in previous audits have now been adequately addressed”, said spokesperson Elmine Baumann.

Not much progress
By contrast, Makwetu’s documents say this Seta has “not made much progress … mainly due to the late implementation of action plans by management”. 

Nzimande appears to see matters differently. In February, he told a municipal bursary ceremony in Pietermaritzburg that the bodies “continue to make a significant difference in the national and provincial economy” by meeting their intended functions.

“The Setas have developed excellent projects aimed at addressing some of the key challenges faced by young people in accessing education and training opportunities,” Nzimande said.

The department had not responded to questions and repeated requests for comment by the time of going to press.

Bongani Nkosi

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