South Africa: The Mpumalanga Department of Education has noted the gazette published this week in terms of the Division of Revenue Act, 2022 (Act no: 5 of 2022) as amended, which provides information on adjustments to existing allocations to provinces in the 2022/23 financial year.
As stated, the Department notes that the allocation of R311,949 million could not be transferred to the Department, given that the Department was perceived to be underspending on the school infrastructure grant.
This is indeed a bitter pill to swallow, considering the huge backlog as well as the need to improve school infrastructure within the Province.
As things stand, a number of schools within the Province are either overcrowded or require some form of fixing. There is a huge demand for building new schools in a number of needy areas. It stands to reason, therefore, that the Department will be concerned when an allocation for improving school infrastructure has to be stopped, as it happened this week. This is not something that the Department takes lightly.
The Department wishes to state on record that the genesis of this commenced when there were allegations made publicly about possible corruption that is taking place within the Department on infrastructure-related projects.
These allegations necessitated the HAWKS as well as the SIU to begin to probe the authenticity of the allegations, and the investigations are still ongoing.
While that was unfolding, about six Senior Officials within the Infrastructure Chief Directorate resigned their posts, thereby leaving a void that was not foreseen and that had a serious negative impact on the implementation of infrastructural projects.
These resignations included the posts of the Chief Director: of Infrastructure, Director: Of infrastructure planning and Director of Infrastructure Implementation.
It was the first time that the Department experienced an exodus of officials within one unit at that scale and at a go. Subsequently, the Department appointed officials in acting capacities to advertise the posts and, at the same time, make sure that the implementation of projects is not compromised.
The sudden amendment to the grant framework, which brought a 60/40 split between maintenance and capital, equally meant that the plan to accelerate the construction of Capital Projects had to be reviewed and that in itself caused some levels of delays.
It is for this reason that the recorded low expenditure is only on maintenance projects. Capital is already overspending. When acting officials were appointed around August 2022, the infrastructure expenditure was below the expected norm and seriously so, but they worked around the clock to push it up to where it is. Otherwise, it could have been worse.
We should also note that the persisting rains within the Province throughout the year as well as load shedding, added salt to injury as it slowed down some of the projects in the implementation phase, and as such, payments couldn’t be processed as planned.
To ensure that such lapses do not occur in future, the Department has since been granted leeway to utilize Multiple Implementing Agencies to fast-track the implementation of infrastructure projects.
These include the Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport, IDT, DBSA and the Mpumalanga Regional Training Trust.
An Acceleration Plan has since been developed with all the Implementing Agencies and was submitted to the Department of Basic Education, and there is high certainty that it is already yielding the expected results, improving school infrastructure delivery within the Province.
The Early Childhood Development Infrastructure Projects are allocated to the Mpumalanga Regional Training Trust and are at an advanced stage. They will be able to complete all the projects before the end of the financial year, and the allocation will be spent accordingly.
The Executive Council has appointed the Chief Financial Officer for the Department with effect from the 01 January 2023. This is already strengthening financial management within the Department.
The Director for Infrastructure Delivery has also been appointed effective 01 January 2023 in an effort to improve the management capacity within the Infrastructure Chief Directorate. The recruitment process for other posts is at the advanced stage.
Indeed, the Department is hopeful that it has turned around the situation and that school infrastructure projects will be implemented without fail, thus creating conducive learning and teaching environment throughout the Province.