Over 60 000 ECD staff members remain unpaid by uncaring ANC government

Please find attached soundbite by Alexandra Abrahams MP.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) employees are still left unpaid and unanswered with regards to the Presidential Employment Stimulus Relief Fund due to them, with only a day left until the ECD function shifts from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

In a written reply to the DA, DSD indicated that 13 268 ECD programmes consisting of 61 798 staff members have still not been paid. This was before the responsibility for the verification of ECDs and the payment process was hastily shifted to provincial departments in a desperate attempt to administer this fund before the end of the financial year.

This fund should have been devolved to provinces at the onset in 2020. Yet again, centralization of certain powers and functions at national level failed.

In the space of two months provinces were able to pay 14 547 ECD programmes with 54 661 staff members, exceeding the national department payments completed. This is commendable, but still far too few from the initial target of 108 833 ECD employees and 116 578 applications originally received.

10 446 ECD employees are still awaiting payment. The number could, however, rise as the verification process is still ongoing.

The Minister for Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, has shifted the blame on numerous occasions to the ECD sector as the cause for delay citing challenges with ECD employee information details as well as site and CSD-Bank verifications.

Minister Zulu ignores the fact that the root of the delays was in fact the extremely complicated online only, centralized application process, which allowed only 14 days to apply. This was later extended by a mere 7 days.

Minister Zulu, who repeatedly claims to Leave No One Behind, expected informal settlement and rural ECDs who have limited, if any, access to internet, data, smartphones or laptops to apply online.

Throughout the provincial public hearing on the Children’s Amendment Bill, the parliamentary portfolio committee on social development heard complaints in volume from ECD principals and employees. Many ECDs were forced to pay third parties just to assist them with the online application. The DA raised these concerns with the Minister to no avail.

To make matters worse, the initial parliamentary written reply was riddled with incorrect figures reportedly allocated to provinces.

DSD subsequently sent through an amended reply. Every single allocation to provinces had been changed. It is unfathomable, that a national department entrusted with billions of taxpayers’ money, does not know the correct amounts paid to provinces.

Incompetence at this level creates an environment of distrust between the stakeholders and raises concerns about the quality of written responses to parliamentary questions.

Confusion further lies in the 2% administration fees deducted by DSD to administer the fund.

One parliamentary reply from DSD indicated an administration fee was deducted from an amount of R380 million and “provision was made in the framework that each province may use a maximum of 2% of their total allocation received under the unemployment risk support for administration which includes capacity to manage this initiative.”

This contradicts information provided in the recent reply which indicates 2% was deducted from R496 million.

It is a disgrace that even with millions of Rands in administration fees, the fund was still not paid timeously and efficiently, operating without transparency and accountability.

To get to the bottom of the confusion created by the DSD, the DA has submitted further written questions to both DSD and National Treasury to obtain clarity.

Furthermore, we await responses from Treasury regarding why the full R458 million, which was underspent in 2020/21, was not approved for 2021/22 and instead only R351 million was approved.

DSD also revealed during a committee meeting 9 March 2022, and confirmed in a written reply, that public servants again illegally applied for this fund.

The management of this fund in the hands of Minister Zulu and her department is nothing less than shameful and speaks of a Minister who has already absolved herself of all responsibility pertaining to the ECD sector ahead of the function shift.

If the ANC government is serious about improving education outcomes at foundation phase, they would stop treating the ECD sector with such disdain and start treating ECDs and the children in the care as a top priority.