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No money to bail out schools

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“Aside from placing children’s safety at risk and interrupting schooling, the situation has also raised concerns about the preservation of the hostel’s bulk food supply.”

THE NORTHERN Cape Department of Education has warned schools in the Province that there are no funds available to bail them out if they are affected by municipal or Eskom services disconnections.

According to the department, money owed by the department can only be paid after April.

This comes after the power to Garies High School was unexpectedly cut off recently, reportedly causing chaos amongst parents who were called from far to fetch their children from the school’s hostel.

The Democratic Alliance Constituency Head of Kamiesberg, Veronica van Dyk, said that some children were left with no choice but to hike back home, as not all the small surrounding towns have buses.

“Aside from placing children’s safety at risk and interrupting schooling, the situation has also raised concerns about the preservation of the hostel’s bulk food supply.”

Van Dyk pointed out that the school was said to owe as much as R900 000 to the Kamiesberg Municipality.

“The school was left in darkness for an entire weekend. Ironically, this happened just days after Eskom, which had previously issued a notice of disconnection to the Kamiesberg Municipality for its failure to pay outstanding debt, stopped the planned disconnection due to a last-minute payment.

“While Eskom has been able to show the Kamiesberg Municipality leniency, the municipality has been unwilling to show the approximately 250 impoverished pupils of Garies High School the same mercy,” she said.

Van Dyk pointed out that it was tragic that government’s ineptness had culminated in “such a wicked game of tit for tat, that sees one government institution exploit the vulnerability of children to extract payment from another government institution”.

“The municipality and the Northern Cape departments of Roads and Public Works and Education should be ashamed of themselves.”

Van Dyk said further that it was inexplicable as to why the Kamiesberg Municipality had allowed the outstanding debt to accumulate to such an astronomical amount before addressing it. “It is also completely unacceptable that government departments responsible for settling this debt, simply turn a blind eye to the problem.

“Failure by government to pay these accounts promptly, regardless of whether it results from indifference, incompetence or insolvency, is a serious dereliction of duty and places the academic future of our pupils at risk.”

She called on all stakeholders, including the departments of Education, Roads and Public Works, as well as the Kamiesberg Municipality, to urgently come together to ensure the sustainability of schooling in Garies.

“The municipality must implement a credible billing system and learn to act on matters before they develop into crises. At the same time, departments must facilitate a sustainable payment agreement that will keep classrooms open, the municipality afloat and the lights on.”

The Northern Cape Department of Education, however, said that it would not be able to give financial assistance or bail out schools affected.

Department spokesperson Lehuma Ntuane said that this was due to the unavailability of budgets for such purposes and also severe financial constraints on the department.

“In cases where schools are owed money for other reasons by the department, such outstanding payments will be made from April 2020. Therefore we encourage schools to enter into negotiations and payment arrangements with municipalities to address the debt problem.”

Ntuane added that this was a competency of the School Governing Body to ensure that smooth governance and financial management is observed.