The auditor-general painted a grim picture of financial management in education, with the Department of Basic Education and provincial education departments racking up more than R1bn in unauthorised expenditure.
South Africa's education crisis has dominated headlines recently particularly after the Limpopo textbook debacle. Despite education accounting for the biggest chunk of budget spending, South Africa ranked 133rd out of 142 countries in terms of the "quality of its educational system" - according to the World Economic Forum's 2011-12 World Competitiveness Report released earlier this month.
Presenting the "education sector (audit) outcomes" to members of Parliament's basic education portfolio committee on Tuesday (13 November), Godfrey Diale, senior manager at the auditor-general's office, said the sector had incurred R1.158bn in unauthorised expenditure for the 2011-12 financial year. Management in the departments had identified R267m.
Additionally, the sector - which includes the Department of Basic Education and all provincial education departments - recorded R167m in fruitless and wasteful expenditure and was failing to meet most of its targets.
Diale told MPs that human resources management in the education sector was still far from sound as shown by poor leave administration.
The misuse of sick leave in the sector had increased from 40% in 2010-11 financial year to 50% in the 2011-12 financial year.
Also cited by the auditor-general was the problem of vacancies, especially of teachers.
Earlier this year Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said 6,641 schools had fewer than six teachers, and more than 20,000 teachers were forced to practice multi-grade teaching, in some cases teaching as many as four grades in one class.
Despite such problems, Diale said it was still possible to achieve clean audits by 2014. The government's clean audit initiative wants to see every education department achieving a clean audit by 2014.
But in the report presented to MPs, most provincial education departments had received audit opinions ranging from qualified to a disclaimer - the worst audit outcome possible. Not surprisingly, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo education departments had received disclaimers.
MPs welcomed the report and said that it would give them more information. "It will assist us a lot and will be a useful instrument to hold the department accountable," said African National Congress MP Zondi Makhubele.
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