THE Eastern Cape education department has hired Statistics SA to count its pupils, teachers and schools for once and all.
Education MEC Mandla Makupula announced at a portfolio committee meeting in the Bhisho legislature on Tuesday that StatsSA would be paid R28-million for the job.
An award-winning Daily Dispatch investigation revealed that taxpayers were funding pupils at non-existent boarding schools in several education districts across the province.
There have also been reports about the department funding thousands of “ghost pupils” at “ghost schools”, as well as schools where pupil numbers had been inflated.
It will also help clear “ghost teachers” from the department’s system.
Makupula told stunned MPLs that the verification exercise in more than 5 600 provincial schools would help curb the rampant inflation of pupil numbers, which influences state funding.
Makupula told committee members that StatsSA had indicated it would finish the job in two months and would report back with “credible data” on his desk by June.
“The challenge we have in the department is to have credible data.
“Once information is not credible, your planning will always be found wanting.
“It’s quite expensive, but we think let’s bite the bullet in order to get quality information that will give us a lasting solution to our challenges,” Makupula said while delivering a political overview report.
To allay the committee’s concerns, Makupula said a province such as Limpopo, which had far fewer schools than the Eastern Cape, had undergone the same exercise and were invoiced R25-million by StatsSA.
Although committee members agreed to shelve discussions around Makupula and HOD Mthunywa Ngonzo’s departmental overview reports for their meeting on May 7, committee chair and ANC MPL Mzoleli Mrara yesterday told the Daily Dispatch that the committee viewed the expenditure as wasteful.
“We regard this revelation as a wasteful expenditure because there is a directorate in the department responsible for such audits.
“They should get that information from their institute in Stirling, East London, where that unit is based.
“If they cannot provide such information, then we do not know what their function is.
“Just recently, we were stuck without money to hire teachers, but now this,” said Mrara.
“However, we are in dire need of a credible database in the department because all the wrongs there are on the basis of assumptions and not credible information.
“So if StatsSA will correct that, then we will have to support the move.”
He lambasted state agencies such as StatsSA and the Special Investigative Unit for charging “exorbitant amounts” from other state entities, saying it was wrong that they competed with private consultants.
However, DA MPL Edmund van Vurren said the department should be given the benefit of the doubt as an independent verification would be to their benefit.
“However, if there is no credible data by June as promised, we will have no option but to go for the jugular,” Van Vuuren said yesterday.
In his political overview report, Makupula told committee members of departmental plans to release and replace teachers on prolonged sick leave and of rationalisation and realignment of schools.
The report gives an update on the filling of vacant posts in the department.
Makapula also committed his department to delivering learner support material and to completing the school syllabus by the end of August. —