The Eastern Cape Scholar Transport programme is in crisis. More than 100 000 learners, with no other means of getting to school, are facing the very real possibility of not having transport next year, as funds for the programme have been depleted.
This can only create hardship and heartbreak for those learners who won’t be able to access their right to education. This puts a handbrake on their future opportunities.
This shocking revelation was made in the Eastern Cape Legislature yesterday by Transport MEC Xolile Nqatha, in response to a parliamentary question from the DA.
MEC Nqatha revealed that as of 25 November, there were 1 538 outstanding invoices for scholar transport operators, totalling over R40,3 million. He said 930 invoices, totalling over R23,6 million, should have been paid by the 6th, but a further 608 invoices, totalling roughly R16,7 million, were still outstanding.
The MEC said these invoices were for services rendered in October, which raises serious questions about how service providers are going to be paid for November and December.
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The Scholar Transport programme follows the Department’s financial year, meaning the budget runs from April this year to March next. This means that the province’s annual allocation for transporting learners has been depleted in just six months!
The poor management of the Scholar Transport Programme has also resulted in the Department receiving bad audit outcomes. It is clear that it is on its way to receiving another adverse finding this year.
Two independent audits of the scholar transport system have shown considerable irregularities in payments due to lack of internal controls within the Department.
Allegations have also surfaced of ghost scholar transport operators, meaning that these limited funds could be syphoned off by callous cadres!
The ramification of non-payment is that operators cannot afford to continue transporting learners, and these children will miss out on the fundamental building blocks for their academic careers.
The disregard shown by the Department of Transport has forced many parents to use their limited funds on alternative transport, which often proves to be unroadworthy.
It is clear the Department is simply unqualified and incapable of managing this service. The DA repeats its call for this service to be moved to the Department of Education, which is in a much better position to assess the needs of learners needing transport.
I will be writing to Premier Oscar Mabuyane and the MEC of Finance, Mlungisi Mvoko, to challenge them to find the additional funds needed to ensure that our learners can get to school.