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NC Schools face dark times

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“Without electricity, schools cannot use the computers and e-mail addresses to which the provincial department sends essential information regarding exam administration”

SEVERAL schools in the Province are facing dark times after the Northern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works failed to settle their electricity accounts.

The Department of Education has confirmed that the electricity supply to three schools in the ZF Mgcawu District had been cut due to the non-payment of rates and taxes by the Department of Roads and Public Works.

The DA in the Northern Cape has called on the provincial government to prevent the widespread disconnection of electricity at schools.

DA Northern Cape spokesperson for Education, Priscilla Isaacs, said yesterday that electricity was disconnected at Westerkim Primary School in Upington on Monday.

“Information at our disposal seems to indicate that an amount of R23 024.38 was outstanding as of September 2019, with a letter threatening disconnection of electricity dispatched on October 1, 2019,” Isaacs said.

She added that following the party’s earlier call to the Northern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works to settle the outstanding accounts for AJ Ferreira High School in Upington, it appeared that school had electricity and “it seems to have been spared the worst consequences of government’s ineptitude”.

Isaacs stated that other schools at risk of disconnection included Rietfontein Combined School, where, she said, there was a dispute between the provincial Department of Roads and Public Works and the municipality regarding the amount in arrears.

“Philandersbron Primary School and Leerkrans Primary School had yearly property rates becoming due on October 31, 2019, but both schools already carry the burden of outstanding accounts,” she added.

Isaacs stated that any failure by Roads and Public Works to pay these accounts promptly, whether it was a result of indifference or incompetence, placed the academic future of pupils at risk.

“What was done for AJ Ferreira High School must be done for all other schools. Not because it is some great favour being bestowed by the department, but because it is part of their job.”

“All schools are currently going through their cycle of exams and finishing the academic work for the year. Pupils who are already stressed about the outcome of their exams must now face the additional challenge of inadequate light in the exam rooms. And without electricity, basic components of a school environment cannot function.”

She pointed out that photocopiers could not be used to make copies of provincial exam papers, while there was also no printing circulars for parents’ attention, copying notices of school governing body meetings, printing memoranda or letters for the attention of staff, or any other reproduction of communication.

“Without electricity, schools cannot use the computers and e-mail addresses to which the provincial department sends essential information regarding exam administration,” she added.

“It is a serious dereliction of duty for government not to pay the accounts.

“And it is a serious mistake to let those derelict officials get away with it.”

The Northern Cape Department of Education yesterday confirmed the disconnection of electricity services at three schools (Westerkim Intermediate School, Vela Langa Primary School and Lukhanyiso Primary School) in the ZF Mgcawu District due to the non-payment of rates and taxes by the Department of Roads and Public Works.

“Our district office has brought this matter to the attention of the Department of Roads and Public Works and we do hope that it will be speedily resolved as it has a negative impact on the smooth running of the examinations,” department spokesperson, Geoffrey van der Merwe, said.

The spokesperson for the Department of Roads and Public Works, Crystal Robertson, said yesterday that while the department was the custodian of all provincially registered immovable properties in the Province, the Properties Rates Act, as well as the rates policies of municipalities, did not make provision for government to be liable for properties that are not registered in the name of the department.

Registered

“The schools listed below are all registered in the name of the municipality and private persons, but no council resolutions have ever been received from the municipalities to incorporate these schools whereby government is held liable for the payment of rates and taxes of such properties,” Robertson said.

“This remains a challenge due to the fact that legally the schools are owned by the municipality and reflect on their asset registers. The department is in possession of a schedule of proof of payment that was done to the municipality for state-owned properties and we requested the municipality for a bilateral on the matter.”

The properties listed by Robertson are:

SC Kearns School, Dr Harry Surtie Hospital, AJ Ferreira Secondary, Westerkim Primary, Vela Langa Primary/Lukhanyisa, Leerkrans Primary (all in Khara Hais Municipality), Klein Mier Primary, Philandersbrob, Rietfontein Residential Block and Welkom Primary (all in Mier Municipality).