Education may halt construction projects

2014-11-17 00:00

THE Department of Education is facing a crippling crisis.

It’s struggling to pay suppliers, cannot fill thousands of vacant jobs and could be forced to close down many construction projects by the end of this month.

This is the dire picture painted by its senior officials, led by MEC Peggy Nkonyeni and HOD Nkosinathi Sishi, when they appeared before the Finance Portfolio Committee last week to warn the department is underfunded.

The Witness on Wednesday reported that the Provincial Treasury had found the department was effectively broke.

The officials painted a bleak picture that had some MPLs wondering whether something more sinister was happening inside the department that they were not aware of, especially in relation to financial controls.

Although MPLs were sympathetic, saying the department is underfunded, they took issue with the remarks by Nkonyeni that the financial situation was so bad that the department will have to halt all construction projects by the end of November.

“The issue of ‘cash blocking’ is giving us sleepless nights,” said Nkonyeni. “The bulk of our budget goes to salaries and we are struggling to pay service providers within the prescribed 30 days.”

She said they were now forced to stop construction projects because they will not be able to pay those contractors.

The department said it will have to stop construction projects that are in planning, design, tender and construction phases.

Officials also revealed that there are about 2 000 vacant posts that cannot be filled because that will absorb even more of their budget.

MPLs said it was unacceptable that service providers who have delivered the service were not being paid on time. They said this was destroying small businesses. The MPLs said halting construction would be an expensive process, because more money would be needed to resume construction and the contractors will take the department to court for breach of contract.

Nkosi warned that more creative solutions were needed to avert the department’s total collapse.

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