Equal Education says R431m spent on 'unnecessary decontamination' could have built five schools

29 January 2021 - 18:20 By belinda pheto
Equal education says the R431m used by the Gauteng education department on the deep-cleaning of schools could have been used to build five new facilities in the province.
Equal education says the R431m used by the Gauteng education department on the deep-cleaning of schools could have been used to build five new facilities in the province.
Image: 123rf

Equal education says the R431m used by the Gauteng education department on the deep-cleaning of schools could have been used to build five new facilities in the province.

This week, it emerged that the department spent the money from June last year, when schools reopened, until December.

Equal Education said on Friday that Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi owed the public answers, including how the spending on deep-cleaning was authorised when it was not required by the basic education department's Covid-19  standard operating procedures.

The education activist organisation said the investigations must be swift, and any reports must be made public.

Lesufi this week said he wrote to the Special Investigating Unit and the auditor-general to investigate whether due process was followed.

After news reports on the huge expenditure on deep-cleaning, the department released a report this week, detailing how the money was spent and why it found it necessary to spend it.

According to the report, the process of decontamination and deep-cleaning was aimed at limiting the survival of coronavirus and minimising the transmission in Gauteng education facilities.

The report details the work done by more than 100 companies, with some of the companies scoring more than 40 projects last year.

“The decontamination, disinfection and cleaning of educational facilities commenced in June in preparation for the opening of schools on June 8. This disinfection involved 2,207 schools and the 38 admin buildings. The case management strategy, in the beginning, was based on the understanding that after a person(s) had tested positive, the facility would have to be decontaminated, disinfected and deep cleaned. The work was generally only paid from September 2020.

“The overall costs are linked to activities since the resumption of schooling in June. The invoices have only been paid in September as they were delayed as a result of Covid restrictions, certification and verification processes with the schools,” reads the report.

Equal Education, however, was adamant that Lesufi’s department needed to account why public money was spent on “fogging”, despite the department of basic education’s Covid-19 standard operating procedure explicitly stating that fogging was not recommended.

The organisation said education departments must spend their budgets responsibly and transparently, especially given the budget cuts the sector has experienced.

“Wasteful spending is especially unacceptable right now when money is desperately needed for school infrastructure and school meals. Decreases to the education infrastructure grant (EIG) have resulted in more than 300 Gauteng school infrastructure projects — costing R223m — being stopped or delayed. The national school nutrition programme did not get any new money from the Treasury last year, even though the DBE has said that it might run out of money to provide food parcels.

 “Now, more than ever, the government needs to use public funds ethically and efficiently. The struggle against inequality demands a capable and ethical government,” Equal Education said.

The organisation said the allegations are especially disturbing because the budgets of the department of basic education and provincial education departments are extremely tight, as the National Treasury is giving less and less money to the sector.

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