THE Eastern Cape Education Department has underspent on teachers’ salaries by more than R500-million. This has outraged many schools, which have suffered teacher shortages because of a claimed lack of funds.

A provincial budget and expenditure report for the fourth quarter of the 2012-13 financial year by the National Treasury showed Education underspent its allocation for the compensation of employees by a massive R533-million.

The total amount not spent by the troubled department was R692-million.

This was despite several court orders to fill vacant posts, pay teachers and reimburse school governing bodies for footing the bill for temporary teachers for nearly two years.

Scores of schools all over the province embarked on rolling mass action earlier this year in protest against a crippling teacher shortage, which led to pupils being crammed into classrooms in many instances.

SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) provincial secretary Mncekeleli Ndongeni said: “If this is indeed the case, it is beyond shocking.

“Many of our members have gone months, even years, without payment because the department claimed not to have money.

“Yet, when we take to the streets on these issues, we are accused of not caring about the kids. But the department’s actions show it doesn’t care about the teachers,” Ndongeni said.

Western Areas School Governing Body chairman Laurence Mostert said the department had clearly been lying when it claimed it had no funds to appoint teachers.

“In all our discussions with the department we were told there was no money. Then we hear reports of underspending and realise there was absolutely no truth in what they were claiming,” he said.

“So, they basically allowed schools to not function, knowing that they were sitting on money.

“They could have kept the temporary teachers from last year. Someone needs to answer for this,” Mostert said.

One of the 459 preschool teachers who were not paid last month said education employees were being treated unfairly.

“I get paid a R5 000 stipend, which I stretch to get through the month, and to go two months without payment is too much – yet all this time the money was there. It is shocking. Absolutely unbelievable.”

Although the department had promised to pay the teachers by yesterday, no money was paid into their accounts.

DA provincial spokesman on education Edmund van Vuuren said he was shocked at the figures from the National Treasury.

Van Vuuren, an education portfolio committee member, said a discussion on the underspent Eastern Cape budget at the legislature last week was scrapped as the figures “just didn’t add up”.

“The figure presented there, however, was far lower than what the National Treasury is giving,” he said.

“If this is true, then it is an absolute disgrace . . . Many teachers have been working since the beginning of the year without pay.

“The department has been priding itself on having saved money [in the last financial year], but it has not. It has ruined people’s lives.”

Eastern Cape Education head Mthunywa Ngonzo last night confirmed the underspending, but said the money had been used later.

“That under-expenditure stemmed from the non-implementation of incentives and a delay in the appointment of directors and chief directors.

“And while I’m not justifying it, I would like to highlight the fact that for the first time in decades we did not overspend on employee compensation as we have drastically improved our financial management.

“So the funds saved on compensation made it possible to hire temporary teachers this year and have contracts extended to June,” Ngonzo said.

Education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said the money may have reflected as being underspent because “at the time, some people had not been paid”.

“We admit to the weakness in our human resource function that has led to the unacceptable levels of late payments over the years,” he said.