‘Nothing for mahala’, including education, Mboweni?

Elephant in the room Picture: iStock
Elephant in the room Picture: iStock

The mid-term budget policy speech was mute on some of the biggest elephants in the room.

In view of the dirty washing coming out in the State Capture hearings, the South African Revenue pickle and the VBS Mutual Bank mutually assured destruction, how would the State be able to make good on it promises on free education?

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said there is “nothing for mahala”.

But the state must admit they have in hand mahala for billions. This makes the doctrine of free education unsustainable.

The minister has stated that the state’s wage bill needs an intervention.

From an education viewpoint, the one big elephant to cull is the inefficiencies associated with technical and vocational education and training colleges.

Can the nation afford an education system where less than 10% of first years eventually complete a level-four qualification?

Funding for technical and vocational education and training colleges is based on head count and not on throughput.

In addition, the state pays all salaries for staff at these colleges. The state also foots the bill for the upkeep of all facilities at the colleges.

The minister should consider a funding model where throughput and not headcount is the norm.

State funding for other public universities and colleges is based on throughput and not on headcount.

There can no longer be a justification to treat technical and vocational education and training colleges different from the rest of the public education spectrum.

For years, the state has spoken about bloated wage bills in the public sector. To demand that Minister Mboweni must explain why previous plans to curb the state’s expense have failed is not appropriate.

The minister inherited a Treasury where word and deed is sorely mismatched. The real challenge to the minister will be to act and to make sure that there are effective measures to prevent more leaks in the fiscus.

Now is the time to hold all recipients of state funding to account and to demand that the phenomenon of “billions for mahala” stops.

A state that does not demand counter performance because it wants to safeguard votes at the ballot has only itself to blame.

History is not the reason for the current wasteful expenditures that the state experiences. Greed and the urge to get rich quick is the other big elephant in a room.

A tender that charges R40 for 500ml of bottled water is not in the best interest of the state.

Instead it is one of the many small rodents that decays the state’s primary responsibility of delivering services to the people.

The technical and vocational education and training colleges education system must explain why less than 10% of students who started an national certificate (vocational) level two programme eventually finishes with a national certificate (vocational) level four qualification three years later.

The low real throughput rates at these colleges is a big concern to an economy that has an ever-growing skills crisis. The level four qualification is equivalent to a Grade 12.

In order to stand out and to contribute to the workeracy movement, there is a demand for more persons that have diplomas at level five and level six.

In addition, the state must insist that students meet all course requirements (including practical work components) before colleges award a qualification.

The current practice to ignore the practical work components, leaving students with incomplete qualifications, must stop.

The Global Competitive Index shows a strong correlation between the quality of education and the overall competitiveness of an economy. That is a fact that the minister cannot ignore.

If South Africa is honest with itself, must acknowledge how more than ten years of populism and fiscal leakages have been detrimental to the country’s competitive stature.

Strong leadership, discipline, holding wasters to account must be the focus areas going forward.

In the end, the strength of a nation is measured by the strength of the economy and not by the numbers at the ballot.

Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is chief financial officer of the Growth Institute, a specialist education company specialising in: management education, skills development and enterprise development

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