HEALTH, EDUCATION GET BIGGER BUDGETS: THE NEW AGE

Democratic Alliance (DA) provincial leader Bobby Stevenson said his party regarded the budget as “untruthful and devious. The budget is significant for what was unsaid rather than what was said.

The Eastern Cape government is determined to improve service delivery of the under-performing health and education departments.

This was evident in the budget speech delivered by finance MEC Phumulo Masualle in the provincial legislature on Friday when he gave the two departments far better slices of the budget.

Both departments had been overwhelmed with problems throughout the past financial year, leading to national Basic Education invoking section 100 (b) of the Constitution and intervening to save the provincial education department from total collapse.

In a media lockdown prior to the budget speech, Masualle admitted that the province did not have enough money to solve all the problems it was facing. “We have a problem of overspending from last financial year and we are still carrying that burden, which means that we are already in debt,” said Masualle.

He blamed the under-performance of the departments on poor management and administrative leadership. “We are firmly of the view that the under-performance of these two departments derives, primarily, not from insufficient budget allocations but from poor management and administration,” he said. The provincial government budget for the financial year 2011-12 amounts to R53.7bn. This is R5.5bn more than budgeted a year ago and represents an 11.4% increase.

The education department received an allocation of R24.6bn and will get a total of R64.3bn over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (METF) period.

Masualle said he felt a need to emphasise that R400m from the budget needed to go towards school programmes; expanding the number of no-fees schools; increase access to Grade R facilities; providing learner and teacher support materials; improving the school nutrition programme, and improving the Grade 12 pass rate. “The efforts are absolutely essential if we are to grow a provincial skills base” said Masualle.

The health department received an allocation of R14.2bn and over the METF period, the total investment in the department is R45.4bn. In the department’s budget, R6.7bn is allocated for improvements in district health services, for establishing more community health clinics in Alfred Nzo, Joe Gqabi, Amathole District and Nelson Mandela Bay municipal areas. Two new immunisation vaccines will also be rolled out.

The human settlements department received R2.4bn, bringing the total allocation to R6.8bn over the METF period. Masualle promised that the allocation would be used to complete 15419 housing units, upgrade 4800 houses in informal settlements and provide 11900 housing subsidies.

Roads and public works received R3.3bn, bringing the total allocation to R10.6bn over the METF period. Of this, R1052m will be used for the rehabilitation, maintenance and upgrading of provincial road infrastructure, and R292.7m will be used to pay property rates and taxes to municipalities. The Infrastructure Development Improvement Programme (IDIP) will also benefit.

Asked if he thought health and education received sufficient amounts to eradicate all the problems they faced, Masualle said money did not take away problems, only management could. “We can’t say we won’t see babies die in our hospitals again. We can only try to minimise the risk,” said Masualle.

Opposition parties are not impressed with the budget and they feel that the province is headed for a disaster.

Democratic Alliance (DA) provincial leader Bobby Stevenson said his party regarded the budget as “untruthful and devious. The budget is significant for what was unsaid rather than what was said. The MEC must come clean with the public and spell out the real state of the province’s finances.

“Why didn’t the MEC tell us that R1.1bn is being top-sliced because of the over-expenditure in health and education where the accumulative over-expenditure is anything between R3.5bn and R4bn? “This amount will have to be top-sliced off the provinces’ already overstretched budget over the next three years.”

Stevenson raised the DA’s concern that the health and education departments would continue to overspend as no mention was made on innovative interventions such as leveraging the province’s assets like finance and land to secure investment and jobs.

UDM provincial leader Max Mhlati felt that the budget did not address critical issues facing the province. He felt that the increase was very low because the health and education departments were in debt from the last financial year.

“The management of these departments do not have the capacity to deal with these problems. “The national Department of Health might as well use Section 100 to take over our health,” said Mhlati.

Cope provincial spokesperson Nkosifikile Gqomo said the budget was unrealistic and meant to excite people to vote for the ANC.

“The ANC government officials in these departments are competent to make promises only but they never deliver. We will fall short again in this financial year,” said Gqomo.

Masualle said despite fiscal and operational difficulties, the budget indicated that their dream would not be deferred or postponed but would be realised.

“We are not ostriches; we recognise that the key constraints will be the poor operational management of our departments,” said Masualle.

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