Parliament raises concern over Basic Education legal costs

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education has expressed concern at legal challenge costs brought against the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

In a statement on Wednesday, the committee expressed concern at the nine legal challenges against the department at a time when the country is facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although the exact costs are not known yet, the committee was informed last night [Tuesday] during a briefing by the department on its fourth-quarter expenditure that, the costs for legal fees will be much higher in this financial year. [This] as the department has been taken to court nine times since the COVID-19 national disaster was declared in March this year,” said Committee Chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba.

The committee heard that in eight of the nine court challenges, the court ruled in favour of the DBE.

“Four of the nine court challenges ended up in the Constitutional Court. This does not come cheaply and the department had to spend a great deal of money defending itself in court.

“This, coupled with the extra expenditure of personal protective equipment, will most likely impact on the services the department can render to our learners, especially the poor vulnerable ones,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said.

Budget underspending

The committee also heard that the department underspent its budget on the Second Chance Programme, which is aimed at providing support to learners who have not been able to meet the requirements of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) or the extended Senior Certificate.

The programme also involves “face-to-face” engagements, which according to the department, could not happen after the lockdown announcement.

ASIDI programme

Regarding the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) programme, the committee heard that certain provinces were experiencing challenges and were underspending due to underperformance of contractors appointed by implementing agents.

This affected mostly, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, which in some instances; penalty clauses are being enforced for underperforming contractors.

The ASIDI programme is aimed at replacing schools constructed from inappropriate materials and providing water and sanitation to schools.

Mbinqo-Gigaba said that although the committee has taken note of the interventions regarding the programme in order to put things right, “we are still of the view that a lot more needs to be done”.

“We will remain vigilant regarding this programme and monitor it closely,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said. –

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