EDUCATION UNDERSPEND WAS ‘SAVING’: DAILY DISPATCH

Eastern Cape departments defend their performance

THERE has been an outcry over the Eastern Cape government’s poor spending in the last financial year.

This comes after national and provincial treasury departments tabled their reports on Bhisho’s budget expenditure to parliament’s select committee on finance last week.

The province failed to spend R1.47-billion of the R57-billion made available for operational costs and R421-million for conditional grants.

The departments of education, health, human settlement, rural development and agrarian reform and sports, recreation, arts and culture (DSRAC) all underspent. Education boss Mthunywa Ngonzo said unspent funds intended for salaries were “savings” to pay the outstanding salaries of teachers.

Ngonzo said for the first time his department had underspent following years of over-expenditure caused by a collapsed human resources system.

He had intervened and terminated contracts of temporary teachers and reassigned excess teachers.

The 23 education districts would be combined into eight in accordance with municipal boundaries, while schools with a low number of pupils would be closed and merged.

“I’ve just set up a payment corporate services unit to deal with outstanding payments and 1 294 are currently being processed.

“I’ve identified 10 districts without capacity to process payments although the systems are there.

“I won’t call it sabotage because I’m not a politician, but although there are policies and systems in place it’s people who make things possible.

“I’ve taken a decision to centralise payments.”

Health provincial spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department had also made savings.

“The department is in the process of making appointments as the money wasn’t spent because it was towards the end of the financial year,” Kupelo said also adding that a roll-over of funds had been requested from treasury.

Human settlements spokesman Lwandile Sicwetsha said several interventions were undertaken to deal with spending on housing backlogs.

The department was also in the process of unblocking stalled housing projects.

COPE provincial spokesman Nkosifikile Gqomo said the party condemned underexpenditure and it was “scandalous” considering the number of poor people in the province.

Gqomo said this was a symptom of inefficient and poor administration.

UDM provincial chairman Max Mhlati, also chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, said a concerted effort was required by Bhisho to deal with poor financial management.

Mhlati said corruption was at the centre of poor spending.

DA provincial leader Bobby Stevenson said under-expenditure was due to poor planning and poor project and supply management.

Other affected departments were contacted for a comment, but no response had been received at the time of going to print. —