Parliament seeks legal opinion after virus changes basic education’s budget

The basic education department also doesn’t qualify for funds from the R500 billion relief package.

Parliament’s education committees will seek a legal opinion on the adoption of the department of basic education’s (DBE) budget, which has changed due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A joint meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture on Tuesday heard from the department and Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga.

The department’s annual performance plan (APP) was tabled at Parliament in March – before the national state of disaster was declared.

The APP will, therefore, have to be adjusted, the department explained. Funds will now have to be moved and redirected from infrastructure to make schools Covid-19 compliant, including in water and sanitation.

The department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, said they will lose R135 billion over the medium-term expenditure framework. Money from the education infrastructure grant will be used for Covid-19 related purchases, like sanitiser and personal protection equipment.

Furthermore, the basic education department doesn’t qualify for funds from the R500 billion relief package.

“The world is very different,” Motshekga said.

The minister and Mweli are concerned about the legality of spending a budget which has not been approved by parliament.

The committee shared this concern and resolved to obtain a legal opinion on how to deal with the APP before its meeting next week.

In a statement released after the meeting, chairperson of the portfolio committee, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, said that a follow-up meeting will be necessary after the department has adjusted its plans.

“At this point, we can just note the report. Covid-19 happened to all of us unexpectedly. Now the DBE is unlikely to implement its plans the way it planned.

“If it wanted to visit a school, it can’t happen. If it wanted to train teachers or a school governing body, that can’t happen. The DBE will not be able to spend the money as they had planned.”

Select committee chairperson Elleck Nchabeleng said all new and unexpected activities regarding Covid-19 will have to be included in the re-drafted plan.

APPs are part of the budgetary process – it is a document which explains how the department will spend its budget, and parliament’s approval of the APPs is required for the budgetary process to go ahead.

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