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A joint submission was made to the Standing and Select Committees on Appropriations by a range of civil society organisations which include the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII), Section 27, Equal Education (EE), the Heinrich Boell Foundation (HBF) the National Shelter Movement and the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM).

Presentations made during the public hearing highlighted some of the findings and recommendations relating to a number of portfolios, including Basic Education and Human Settlements. Consistent downward revised projected allocations for the basic education sector was raised as a major concern by civil society organisations that are of the view that this has repeatedly led to the downward revisions of school infrastructure allocations.  Further inputs received alluded to the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) not recognising the plight of rural learners by failing to ring-fence funds for the provision of scholar transport conditional grant, especially to learners in rural areas who have to walk long distances.

Civil society findings thus suggest that the R415 million under-expenditure within the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant has repeatedly led to downward revisions of school infrastructure allocations, despite the vast infrastructural backlog. It was their recommendation that the Ministry of Finance take immediate action to ensure that all school infrastructure funds are effectively spent, and provide support, especially to those in rural areas by increasing allocations and addressing the lack of capacity for effective planning.

In the area of Human Settlements, civil society findings revealed that MTBPS shows that the Department of Human Settlements is struggling to achieve its set targets with regard to delivery. The slow pace at which the delivery of housing is taking place was highlighted and the City of Cape Town was cited as an example where it will take about 60 years to deliver houses for the current waiting list.

The mid-year performance status in upgrading informal settlements was also highlighted and this showed that while the projected figure of upgrading 446 informal settlements, but only 87 informal settlements had been upgraded by September 2017.

While civil society organisations welcomed the development of two conditional grants relating to the clearing of title-deeds backlogs and the provision of emergency housing as stipulated in the MTBPS, the submission cautioned on the location and quality of alternative accommodation provided by municipalities.

In order to address these challenges, Members of the Standing and Select Committees were encouraged to call a joint meeting with the departments of human settlements and national treasury. It was further recommending that the Department of National Treasury must not withhold funds due to under-expenditure, but rather provide the Department of Human Settlements with the relevant support to fulfil its mandate of the development of human settlements.

These were some of the inputs received during the public hearings jointly hosted by the Standing and Select Committees on Appropriations at Parliament today. The Committees will deliberate on the inputs and recommendations received from the civil society organisations, those received from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) that speak to the implications of the MTBPS for children; as well as the written submissions received from other stakeholders to form part of their final report.

The public hearings afforded members of the public an opportunity to speak on 2017 MTBPS and the 2017 Adjustments Appropriation Bill.

By Felicia Lombard

24 November 2017