Bailouts should have gone to school kids, Equal Education tells Mboweni
The government should prioritise the wellbeing of children instead of tolerating mismanagement, inefficient spending and the looting of the state's coffers.
Lobby group Equal Education made this comment following Wednesday's tabling of the medium-term budget policy statement by finance minister Tito Mboweni.
Equal Education said bailouts given by Mboweni to a number of state-owned enterprises could have been used to cover “urgent priorities” in the country's schools.
While the government was able to fund bailouts for almost every entity, including SAA and Eskom, pupils had to contend with reductions in projected spending on education and cuts in infrastructure grants, it said.
It gave examples of what the bailouts to these entities — which have been mired in mismanagement — could have been used for in schools.
The organisation said the R26bn bailout for Eskom could have been used to eradicate all school infrastructure backlogs in the Eastern Cape and the R5.5bn granted to SAA could have been used to build 56,000 school toilets in Limpopo. The R3.2bn given to the SABC could have been used for scholar transport for 540,000 learners in KwaZulu-Natal.
Equal Education said projections for allocations to basic education in the 2020/21 financial year had seen a pattern of downward revisions.
The organisation said Wednesday's medium-term budget policy statement announced cuts to all conditional grants, except for the early childhood development grant and the grant for pupils with disabilities.
It said the budget for the school infrastructure backlogs grant (SIBG), which allocates money to the department of basic education to build schools, continued to decline, with a projected R350m real decrease in the next financial year.
Equal Education said the SIBG funded the nationally administered accelerated schools infrastructure delivery initiative (Asidi). From its inception in 2011, Asidi had been allocated a total of R15bn, but spending on this programme had been erratic.
The organisation said efficient spending of SIBG funds was another challenge for the education department.
“While they have, on average, spent 70% of the budget per year, Asidi's progress with meeting its targets over the past eight years has been worryingly slow.”
Equal Education said Asidi continued to perform poorly in the first half of 2019/20 and did not look set to meet its annual targets.
“Between April and September, only 11 schools were built against a target of 51.”
Equal Education said the country's education system was fraught with inequalities that favoured those who could afford to pay and access better-resourced schools.
It said the education budget was one of the tools the government could use to address these inequalities and ensure that all learners had an equal opportunity to have a good basic education.
“At some point the government has to be brave enough to ensure that the difficult trade-offs it has to make prioritise the wellbeing and rights of the people and children of this country, instead of tolerating mismanagement, irregular and inefficient spending and the looting of the state's coffers.”