Underfunded: Section 27 and Equal Education have criticised the slow pace of school infrastructure projects. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH
Underfunded: Section 27 and Equal Education have criticised the slow pace of school infrastructure projects. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

On Tuesday, basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli confirmed MPs’ fears that school infrastructure budgets are set to be slashed by finance minister Tito Mboweni when he tables his medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS) in parliament on Wednesday. 

“The budget cuts are very deep. All the [school infrastructure] grants have experienced cuts,” Mweli told parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education.

The mid-term budget is expected to see spending cuts across the board, after the Treasury told government departments in August to draft plans to slash their budgets for the next three years, with a 5% cut in 2020, and further cuts of 6% and 7% in the two following years, respectively.

The Treasury told departments to look for ways to reduce their spending to minimise the impact on service delivery, which means infrastructure spending is likely to be one of the areas hardest hit in education. 

Tackling hazardous and undignified school sanitation has been prioritised by President Cyril Ramaphosa, following the deaths of several young children in school pit latrines in 2018. Last March, he ordered basic education minister Angie Motshekga to conduct an audit of school sanitation and devise a plan to rectify the situation. A month later, he launched the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative, which brought in the private sector to help tackle the sanitation backlog.

The audit found almost a third (6,938) of the 23,334 government schools had pit latrines on their premises.

The government has several initiatives for tackling the poor state of infrastructure in many public schools. The provincial schools’ build programme targets the provision of basic services and infrastructure, and is jointly funded via the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG), a ring-fenced conditional grant that is overseen by the national department and provincial allocations from the equitable share.

The national department oversees as second programme, the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), which aims to eradicate dangerous structures and provide basic services, and which is funded through the Schools Infrastructure Backlog Grant (SIBG).

The national department also manages the SAFE initiative, which aims to ensure schools have decent toilets, with support from the private sector.

The department of basic education’s chief director for school infrastructure, Solly Mafoko, told MPs that the current focus of school infrastructure programmes is on water, sanitation and building new classrooms. A total of R14.255bn had been allocated to infrastructure spending in the 2019/2020 financial year, of which R10.5bn came from the EIG, R2bn from the SIBG, and R1.7bn from the equitable share.

Briefing MPs on the progress made so far in 2019, he highlighted slow spending of the grants in Gauteng, Limpopo and North West, which had spent just 24%, 24% and 20% of their school infrastructure budgets half-way through the financial year, respectively. The figures do not include provincial allocations from the equitable share. 

His presentation also revealed slow progress in reaching the targets set for this year: by the end of September, 103 of the planned  776 toilet projects had been completed; 91 of the 515 planned water upgrades were finished; and only 158 of the planned new classrooms had been built. 

MPs across the political spectrum expressed frustration at the slow pace of delivery, with the DA’s Désirée van der Walt calling for stiffer penalities for implementing agencies that failed to do their jobs properly.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za