‘Middlemen at the heart of poor school infrastructure delivery’ — EE
Public money meant for building schools is being siphoned off to third-party consultants and agents while Eastern Cape teachers and pupils “languish in crisis conditions”.
This is according to a newly released Equal Education report which scrutinises the role of middlemen in the slow delivery of school infrastructure in the province.
The report, compiled by a researcher at the education advocacy group’s Eastern Cape office, seeks to uncover a source of the province’s school infrastructure backlog — which, according to the report, is the worst in the country.
According to data contained in 2018 parliamentary response by the department of basic education, there are 471 schools in the Eastern Cape that are made of inappropriate materials. There are also 25 schools in the province lacking sanitation infrastructure, 105 without electricity and 49 without water.
Equal Education’s report points to the outsourcing of services to companies as a hindrance to school infrastructure delivery. According to the report these companies — known as implementing agents — are meant to bolster government’s capacity to deal with the backlog but instead contribute to the poor spending.
To compile the report Equal Education researchers say the organisation conducted a series of interviews with experts, consultants, implementing agent managers and directors, and government officials.
The report also uses information gathered at parliamentary meetings, reports, government documents and the auditor general’s reports.
To illustrate the role an implementing agent can play within a provincial education department, the report uses the example of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation.
In 2015, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation was tasked with developing necessary supply chain management and financial policies to assist with capacitating the department’s infrastructure delivery unit.
In December last year, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane released a report which found that the Eastern Cape Development Corporation had spent R300-million meant for “infrastructure and social development in the Eastern Cape, the provision of running water, electricity, sanitation, the replacement of mud schools and the refurbishment of hospitals” on buying t-shirts and to transport mourners to former president Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
In compiling the report, Equal Education had to rely on first-hand information from schools the organisation works with to trace the work of implementing agents. This is because there are large gaps in the information that is available in the public domain on the work of implementing agents, the reports says.
The report notes a pattern of implementing agents being allocated schools through the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative, but then not delivering as planned. The poor performance of contractors and professional service providers is one reason why implementing agents often fail to deliver on time, the report says.
According to the report, Equal Education has encountered cases where infrastructure has been delivered, but is of “such poor quality” that it endangers the lives of pupils. The report uses the example of Lingelihle Senior Secondary School in Qumbu, where a poorly-built wall allegedly collapsed and killed a pupil in 2014.
“Both contractors and professional service providers should be monitored by IAs [implementing agents]. While it would be unfair to state that all IAs are underperforming consistently, the slow rate of school infrastructure delivery and the failure of the State to meet the first norms and standards deadline, qualify their overall delivery as a failure,” the report reads.
The norms and standards regulations sets out deadlines for fixing schools infrastructure. The regulations say that by November 2016, schools must have been provided with access to water, electricity and decent sanitation.
In August it was revealed that the department of basic education would be appealing a judgment by the Bhisho high court which ordered Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to meet the infrastructure targets.
Equal Education’s report paints a picture of a service delivery chain in the Eastern Cape which has fostered relationships of unaccountability between government, implementing agents and contractors.
According to the report, it is near impossible for the provincial education department or the national department of basic education to understand why an implementing agent has procured a particular contractor.
“While there seems to be upward checks of financial accountability, with complicated layers of paperwork to be overseen at every level of governance, the ECDoE [Eastern Cape department of education], DBE [department of basic education], provincial treasury, and national treasury are failing to adequately monitor what is actually being built on the ground,” the report concludes.
The report registers that the problem of outsourcing in the education department is not unique.
“In the post-1994 era, a major innovation in South African governance was the contracting out of core government functions. Over 42% of government’s budget is spent on procurement of goods and services,” the report reads.
In the Eastern Cape, government is not directly procuring goods and services to build schools.
Instead procurement decisions rest in the hands of middlemen, the report says.