Menu Close

SETAs betray workers

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

Picture: Tumi Pakkies/African News Agency (ANA) – Workers at a Prince Mhlangana Road, KZN, construction site. More than R1.6 billion from just five of the country’s 21 SETAs has been misspent, denying an opportunity to dramatically transform the skills landscape for betterment of workers’ livelihoods, the writer says.

By Edwin Naidu

South Africa’s Sector Education Training Authorities (SETAs) collectively control billions of rands. Some are doing a great job. Others are pathetic, squandering millions of rands without showing much to email home about.

One of Africa’s education and training routes is driven by the United Nations Environmental Programme through its Africa Environmental Education and Training Action Plan 2015-2024, aimed at strengthening sustainable development on the continent.

The main objective is to enhance community environmental education and training within the continent through various formal education, training, lifelong learning and capacity-building programmes and projects, encouraging the participation of both males and females equally.

These programmes and projects are envisaged to fundamentally improve Africa’s environmental, societal and economic state for the benefit of Africa’s people. They are closely aligned with the flagship programmes.

While the jury is out on how the plan is proceeding, one has yet to understand how Setas are positively transforming the skills landscape for the better in South Africa. Yet, they have an opportunity to bring about dramatic change per the government’s wishes via the country’s Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, South Africa’s key champion in this regard.

And there are lessons for the continent on how to get it right to ensure education and training achieve their transformative targets for Africa. But the signs that Nzimande has a firm grip on Setas are not convincing after it emerged that the Services SETA, Construction SETA and the National Skills Fund were top contributors to the irregular expenditure balance in the past year, according to the Auditor-General of South Africa in a Parliament briefing on October 12.

The National Skills Fund, which Nzimande is accused of shielding by withholding a damning report on its shenanigans, is responsible for irregular expenditure to the tune of R1.3 billion.

The Services Seta (SSETA) has not accounted for R138 million. The Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA) cannot explain what happened to R92 million. Similarly, the Construction Education and Training Authority (CETA) has not provided details on the missing R76 million, while the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LG SETA) has unaccounted R46 million. That is more than R1.6 billion from just five of the country’s 21 Setas.

As their political head, has the former boss of the South African Communist Party disciplined them? Nobody has been suspended, arrested or convicted for these irregular expenses. As a communist, you would have thought that the Minister would have pushed toward eliminating class struggles and ensuring the failed promise of a better life for all using this vehicle generously benefitting from skills levies. But they’ve seemingly been let off the hook.

In its report, the AG-SA said this indicates that consequence management is inadequate in these entities and employees are not held accountable for transgressions. “The culture of performance excellence should be promoted and institutionalised. The entities exceed the budgeted limits, indicative of the flawed budgeting process.” Nzimande is turning a blind eye to this irregular expense. For that, he should be held accountable.

Here are more reasons why. The AG-SA notes that project management continues to be a challenge in some of the SETAs, and as a result, they struggle to produce commitment registers that are complete and accurate. The accuracy of the commitment register is critical, as it is also used to determine the number of reserves that will be retained. There is thus an incentive for the SETAs to misstate the commitments balance to have more funds. This should be further analysed and addressed in line with the targets set by the individual Setas.

Furthermore, the Public Finance Management Act is clear that entities may not budget for deficits and may not exceed approved budgeted expenditures unless appropriate approvals are obtained; the inaccurate commitments register may result in future non-compliance with legislation should the SETAs commit to more than what can be approved through the budgeting process. Someone in the National Treasury should follow the money!

This is where you expect leadership from President Cyril Ramaphosa in asking his cabinet minister why such failings have been allowed to fester. Some bright spots, though, and in particular, the AG-SA praised the Education, Training and Development (ETDP SETA), Finance and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority (FASSET) and the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) for improving and obtaining unqualified with no findings audit opinions in the current year and the following entities which maintained a similar audit outcome, being the Safety and Security, Sector Education &Training Authority  (SASSETA),  Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Authority (FPM SETA), Public Service Sector Education and Training Authority (PSETA), Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences NIHSS.

But the National Skills Fund moved from disclaimer audit (insufficient evidence in the form of documentation on which to base an audit opinion) outcomes to qualified audit outcomes (insufficient evidence to conclude that specific amounts included in the financial statements are not materially misstated). Financial information preparation remains a concern. But if accounting officers are not doing their job in accordance with the laws, this should not be allowed to go unpunished.

According to the AG-SA, it is still a concern that the NSF has not addressed the deficiencies noted around the skills development funding as the entity was qualified on skills development funding and accruals from non-exchange transactions. The absence of adequate project management and expenditure approval processes continues to be a challenge at the institution; this has been communicated in past audit cycles. Still, the entity is slow in addressing this. All this means is that the Minister has failed to take action to stop the malaise. How many more houses or libraries could have been built, children fed or books purchased, and parks or playgrounds constructed with the irregular expenditure of the NSF alone? Frankly, Nzimande should have cracked the whip against non-performers like the NSF and Setas, who have not spent on the people whose lives they are meant to transform.

Setas are failing to address skills development adequately. Government officials must account for every cent. If they cannot spend millions (more than a billion in the case of NSF), South Africans must be told why money set aside to train young people cannot be accounted for. Otherwise, it becomes hard not to find merit in the assertions on virtual corridors that the heads of Setas have a private arrangement to contribute a portion of their fat salaries to a slush fund controlled by Nzimande. That may explain why he doesn’t deal with the inept dross under his watch. But if Nzimande does not have the balls, his political boss, the equally docile Ramaphosa, should hold him accountable. But does he care? One is tempted to say,

Ask Angie. With 47% percent of children dropping out of the system, it beggars belief that this is not deemed a crisis. In my mind, it is such an offish response that says nobody cares about you drop-outs. But expecting Ramaphosa to act not just on Nzimande and Motshekga but the majority of under-performers in his Cabinet is as improbable as King Charles III asking for advice on tackling gender-based violence propagated by alleged sexual predator Prince Andrew.

While Africa may not be immune from a similar paradigm, judgment will be reserved until the facts are clear. Still, it seems that accountability remains a swear word from South Africa’s official seat of government Union Buildings to the British home of the monarchy at Buckingham Palace.

Naidu is a journalist and communications expert. He also heads up Higher Education Media Services – a social enterprise start-up committed to stimulating dialogue and raising awareness around education and the socio-economic, environmental, and political factors it influences in South Africa and the African Continent.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.