22 September 2015
On 30 September 2015, thousands will march in Pretoria and Cape Town under the banner of Unite Against Corruption. This is a call across our country to reject maladministration and theft in the public and private sectors.
In a statement earlier this year, the Deputy Public Protector, Adv. Kevin Malunga, said the impact of maladministration, bad governance and corruption threatens to derail the promise of the Constitution where every person’s full potential would be freed and realised. No more so does this ring true than in South African schools.
Disturbing examples of corruption throughout the education system are growing at the national, provincial, district and school levels. The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) is a public interest law firm supporting struggles for equality and equity in the education system. The misuse of school funds or assets, favouritism in the appointment of staff (including the appointment of unqualified teachers to posts) and corruption in the procurement processes by school governing bodies, are among some of the complaints reported to the EELC.
This culture of corruption also seeps through to learners, with the National Senior Certificate results often being overshadowed by allegations of bribery by students in some provinces.
Government must respond meaningfully to these complaints. And there are some encouraging cases. For example, allegations of corruption by school governing board (SGB) members at Glenvista High School, to the tune of R8 million, were revealed by the Gauteng Department of Education. While it is promising that the Gauteng MEC has announced that criminal charges will be pursued, it is important that these matters can be easily monitored in the public domain. The EELC has attempted to obtain details of these cases from the Department, but to no avail.
It is also worrying that the response to corruption allegations is inconsistent across provinces. Recently, disturbing allegations emerged about tender processes for hostel catering and school nutrition in the Eastern Cape. But Premier Phumulo Masualle has failed to recognise the seriousness of the matter and does not appreciate the need to listen to audio recordings presented as evidence of the alleged corruption. Rather, he dismissively stated, “I did not even engage on this. I know this government, I work for it. I at least have the benefit of being in the ruling party and none in the ruling party have any access or say over procurement processes in government and that’s a fact.”
This sentiment is particularly troubling because allegations of corruption and maladministration in the Eastern Cape Department of Education are not new. The province is consistently marred with reports of a lack of post provisioning in poor, rural schools and a shortage of resources to provide for the needs of learners. Recently, whistle-blowers and teacher organisations in the Queenstown District have complained of theft and corruption in the administration of the School Nutrition Programme. According to reports, learners are being fed only a small single meal per day, consisting of rice and pap, and the schools involved in the matter lack cutlery and hygienic crockery.
The EELC has reached out to the complainant teachers, offering support to them in the whistle-blowing process, and has written to the Eastern Cape Department of Education and the Queenstown District about this issue. In its letter, the EELC emphasised the need to deal with these allegations, and asked for information that will ensure that nutrition funding is correctly spent, and corruption at school level is dealt with. We have received no response.
It is also worrying that purported investigations into corruption in the Eastern Cape Department of Education appear to be nothing more than lip service. Earlier this year, the president announced a broad inquiry by the Special Investigations Unit into corruption and maladministration in the Eastern Cape education department. The Presidency’s statement created the impression that the investigation would be looking at corruption in the department generally. However, on closer examination the EELC discovered that the narrow ambit of the proclamation only allows an investigation into tender processes involving a single entity – the Siegesmund Trust. This is far from the wide ranging investigation that the Presidency’s statement seemed to have announced, and creates a troubling atmosphere that there is a lack of transparency and clear messaging when it comes to responding to corruption.
Combatting corruption means moving from a culture of secrecy and impunity to a culture of transparency and responsiveness: these are prerequisites for a functioning democracy. Openness in the process of budgeting, planning and action against maladministration promotes public participation and trust in leadership. The more organisation and thoughtful planning that goes into state projects and budgeting, the narrower the scope for mismanagement of public spending.
Transparency and responsiveness are also provided for in the Constitution. Section 32 enshrines the rights of South Africans to access government information. The Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), is supposed to give effect to this right, and sets out a process for the public to access state information. However, the EELC, and many of its partners, have experienced a consistently unresponsive or slow approach to PAIA requests by national and provincial state departments. Organisations such as the EELC have become accustomed to chasing unending paper trails, and as journalists at amaBhungane have noted, the use of PAIA has become a costly process. Government must take public access to information seriously if it wishes to stamp out corruption.
Citizens must be encouraged to speak out against corrupt practices without fear of reprisal, and whistle-blowers must be protected. While there is legislation to protect whistle-blowers, the reality on the ground is that intimidation and influence is used to maintain silence and secrecy. The Unite Against Corruption marches at the end of this month will encourage all of us to break that silence.
There are many obstacles to achieving a quality and equal education for all in South Africa: the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, schools infrastructure backlogs, poor resource allocations, and challenges to effective teaching and learning. Corruption in education need not be one of them. Honest leadership is required by civil servants in government and in schools. The struggle to provide quality learning to South Africa’s children, and to transform our society, cannot be separated from the call for transparent and accountable governance.
The author is a candidate attorney working with the EELC. Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.