DA provincial education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren was sceptical of national intervention in provincial departments, saying previous interventions had not met with much success.

BASIC Education Minister Angie Motshekga is poised to place the embattled Eastern Cape Education Department under administration.

Motshekga told journalists in Parliament yesterday the issue had taken centre stage at a meeting she had in the morning with President Jacob Zuma.

She said Zuma had given Eastern Cape Education MEC Mandla Makupula and his senior managers until the end of today to come up with a convincing plan to turn around the fortunes of the department, failing which it could be placed under administration.

“We’ve agreed with the president that if nothing satisfies us by this Wednesday we will then move to the next step,” she said.

Provincial department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani declined to comment on the matter last night.

However, it is understood the department had not planned to make its turnaround plans known until the court case brought against it by teachers’ unions and schools in the province was concluded.

On Monday night, Makapula told a group of angry parents at Port Elizabeth’s Sanctor High School: “We are working behind the scenes at fixing this.

“I just cannot tell you what we are doing because of this court case,” he said.

He was referring to court papers filed with the Bhisho High Court last week by Port Elizabeth lawyer Mike Randall, on behalf of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), the Westering high and primary schools and the SuidAfrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU), seeking urgent re-employment of 6 282 temporary teachers.

The matter is set to be heard tomorrow.

Motshekga, however, said she did not want to “pre-empt” what the next step for the national department entailed, but an insider close to the discussions said a proclamation had been prepared to allow her to take over the running of the department.

But this is subject to discussions between the national Education Department and the Eastern Cape provincial cabinet.

Placing the provincial department under administration would mean that the national government has lost confidence in Makupula’s ability to manage the department.

The last time such a drastic step was taken was in June 2008 when then health minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang appointed a team of officials from the national department to run the finances of the Health Department in the Northern Cape.

The Eastern Cape Education Department has come under fire following revelations that it overspent by R625-million on the payment of salaries.

It is estimated this would have risen to more than R1.9-billion by the end of the financial year at the end of March.

In a bid to cover up for the overexpenditure, the department terminated the employment contracts of over 6 000 temporary teachers despite an existing need for their services.

“There is a serious problem in the Eastern Cape . . . transport, school nutrition and the ongoing problem of infrastructure and more critical posts of temporary teachers,” said Motshekga.

It is understood provincial ANC political battles are at the centre of the management crisis plaguing the Eastern Cape Education Department.

Successive political administrations have used provincial departments in the Eastern Cape as political footballs, resulting in a high turnover of experienced officials and the subsequent mismanagement of budgets.

Another insider said money meant for school nutrition, pupil transport and temporary teachers had been completely exhausted.

“There is just no more money. That department is broke,” said a senior Education Department official, who declined to be named.

Section 100 of the Constitution allows for a national government department to take over the responsibilities of a provincial department if it is (unable) to perform its duties.

Meanwhile, Motshekga said the government had set aside R4.9-billion to eradicate mud schools in the provinces of the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

Motshekga said about 60% of the money (about R3-billion), would be directed to the Eastern Cape as the province had the highest number of mud schools at 395.

She said the funds would be managed at a national level and not by the provincial Education Department.

“The R4.9-billion is going to be managed by the Department of Basic Education, because you don’t want to build schools in the wrong places . . . so the money is going to be managed by us.

“In some instances, money meant for classrooms is used to build fences. Fences are critical, but classrooms are more of a priority.

“Money meant to build ablution systems is used to hire toilets. We want them to build toilets and not hire them out, so we will be monitoring and managing them,” said Motshekga.

The Eastern Cape Education Department has been battling for several years to improve its matric pass rate. Last year, the sprawling province accounted for the third-lowest matric results, registering a pass rate of 58.3%.

DA provincial education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren was sceptical of national intervention in provincial departments, saying previous interventions had not met with much success.

“We have seen these interventions before, but without positive results. There are a lot of corrupt officials at our Education Department and 90% of them are doing business with the department, whether it be for school-feeding schemes, pupil transport or even stationery tenders.

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