Cut cabinet, provinces to fund education

2016-10-30 12:33
Letepe Maisela.

Letepe Maisela.

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In the spirit of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, the question of payment of tertiary education fees hangs heavy in the air.

It is a conundrum faced by students the world over and ought to be answered in a firm and forthright manner.

Should it be up to government or parents to finance this, or should it be left to students to pay?

This question, triggered last year by the #FeesMustFall student movement, will persist until it is answered to everyone’s satisfaction.

My starting point is that society wrongfully premised its answer on whether government could afford to pay.

We should have rather dealt with and debated the principle of free tertiary education.

Developing countries, such as Asia and Botswana, help certain categories of students to acquire tertiary education abroad in the fields of finance, engineering and medical disciplines – skills that are still lacking and are thus in high demand in their countries.

South Africa, to a much lesser extent, also helps to finance students – through the Nelson Mandela Scholarship Fund, for example.

It is lamentable that, 22 years into our democracy, it is still not the norm for certain South African students from all walks of life to be entitled to financial support at tertiary level.

Some politicians merely hinted that free education was possible at all levels of study – but this was while they were in municipal election campaign mode.

Misrepresenting certain excerpts from the country’s document which sets out our core principles, the Freedom Charter, said politicians loudly declared that “the doors of learning shall be open to all”.

ANNUAL LEGISLATURE BUDGETS

Mpumalanga: R298 360 000

Gauteng: R641 673 000

Free State: R228 232 000

North West: R349 435 000

Northern Cape: R167 763 000

Eastern Cape: R481 930 000

Western Cape: R130 821 000

KwaZulu-Natal: R518 652 000

Limpopo: R316 243 000

To put it in its rightful context, the Freedom Charter does not state that there will be free education for all at tertiary level.

It says: “Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal to all children.

Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit.”

Even at the height of its generous spirit, the charter stops short of declaring free tertiary education for all. Despite this, students expect tertiary education to be provided, free of charge, to all.

Now the question has become whether government can afford it or not. It is a misguided one.

Of course, our government – if it applied certain austerity measures – could save enough money to fund free tertiary education. The first step would be for President Jacob Zuma to trim his bloated Cabinet.

On the line should be the deputy positions found in state departments, especially those accorded to deputy ministers.

I am unable to quantify the value contributed by these officials in our civil service, except to note that they appear to have been appointed as part of government’s grand-style sheltered employment policy, which is costing the country billions.

Add to that the concept of appointing chief operating officers in most of our parastatals – another “made in South Africa” phenomenon. To me they are just like shadow chief executive officers who also draw huge salaries while doing what chief executives should be doing.

The second employment agency run by government which drains the fiscus through merely duplicating services, is the provincial government structure.

Its existence has never made sense to me as we already have local government doing the job. When my lights go off or my refuse is not collected, I do not call provincial government.

The same provincial leadership in office today can be redeployed at local government level, at a much lower cost. Just imagine the savings that could be made if provinces were to disappear. They would not be missed.

I regard provincial government as a hangover from the erstwhile apartheid policy of separation through tribal identity.

How ironic it is that the new South Africa retained the old “homeland policy declaration”, associating provinces with certain tribal groups – and, in so doing, enabling former apartheid dictators to continue governing from the grave.

There are more cost-saving measures which government can undertake, yet these are spoken of in hushed tones along its hallowed corridors. This refers to the centralisation of national departments.

The fact is, there is no need for two centres of power – having Parliament in Cape Town and the administrative capital in Pretoria.

This expensive indulgence – another remnant from the apartheid past – is too costly to sustain.

For Cabinet ministers and their deputies to have residences, vehicles, offices and staff in both cities, along with travel costs and other incidentals incurred by us taxpayers, is an unjustifiable extravagance, especially given the dismal state of our economy.

Lastly, comes the need to do away with expenditure on silly practices and trinkets that hold no significant value for South Africa other than massaging the egos of some top politicians.

WHERE WE CAN CUT SOME FAT

Deputy Ministers: 36

Salary per year each: R1 901 726

Total: R68 462 136

Premiers: 9

Salary per year each: R2 081 868

Total: R18 736 812

MECs: 90 in total, 10 per province

Salary per year each: R1 901 726

Total: R171 155 340

I refer to the Stalinist habit of hanging portraits of our officials in government offices across the country.

I find this practice not only archaic and a pathetic nod to the Cold War era, but also peculiar and purely self-serving as it does not benefit citizens in any way. Much money could be saved from doing away with this.

It is my contention that, if all of these measures were taken by government, there would be enough money to fund tertiary education for all.

However, I would still think it unwise for any government to do that.

Yes, the state should subsidise tertiary education to a certain degree, but for students to expect the state and the private sector to finance education in full is stretching things.

It smacks of an entitlement mentality which will damage the morale and dignity of our developing democracy.

In gradually instilling in our national psyche this mentality, more harm than good is being done to our nation-building initiatives. We are already the only country on the continent that offers free housing, water and electricity to the needy.

Given our shrinking economy, these grants are unsustainable in the long term.

I do not want to see our children adopt an entitlement mentality. While striving for tertiary education is admirable and correct, it must be positioned as a reward for achievement and not a free gift.

Parents also need to be encouraged to work harder and save money, so they can afford to send their children to tertiary institutions.

Equally, children should be encouraged to study hard to qualify not only for admission but for bursaries or study grants too.

South Africa needs to create opportunities for our children to study at the highest level, while highlighting the cost attached to that – namely, hard work, which fosters the earning of good grades and the meriting of a qualification.

It requires buy-in from parents, students and society as a whole.

Maisela is a management consultant and author

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Read more on:    education  |  fees must fall  |  protests

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