Friday, 28 September 2012

Bark with no bite? Sec 100 Intervention in Eastern Cape - [Opinion Brief]

by Nomalanga Mkhize

 In March of 2011, the National Department of Basic Education put the Eastern Cape education department under administration by invoking section 100 (1)(b) of the South African constitution. Almost from the outset, there was a lot of internal conflict caused by disagreements on how the respective roles of the national and provincial administrative teams were to be delineated. National Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and provincial head of department Advocate Modidima Mannya seemed to constantly be at loggerheads. The impasse was eventually resolved when Adv. Mannya opted to resign in April of 2012.

There has been much debate and discussion on how the sec 100 intervention could have been better implemented. We, as SOSAC, even went to court in an attempt to get the leadership to clarify for us as citizens who was in charge of what [See article in Mail & Guardian: NGOs go to court to enforce intervention in Eastern Cape]

However, it appears the public discussion never really interrogated whether or not this sec. 100 intervention was necessarily the most appropriate course of action in turning around Eastern Cape education.

I had my doubts about the intervention's potential efficacy.

The main reason is quite simply that education reform in the Eastern Cape requires resolute political will from the President, to the Minister, Premier and MEC. Short of an unbending will of our leadership to take tough and politically unpopular decisions, there is very little that can be done to overhaul the dysfunctions within the administration.

From where I stood, it seemed that sec 100 was all bark and no bite; perhaps a decision taken under pressure. Unfortunately, once the decision was taken, it was viewed as open for contestation, the Minister stood back when conflict arose, complaining that she was being blocked. Analysts argued that there was no regulatory framework to guide sec 100; provincial politicians argued that it did not, in any case,  accord the national department full powers to take over.

But the problem, in my view, does not lie with an "ineffective" sec 100. It lies with weak political leadership which has struggled to take decisive action on the many dysfunctions besetting the system already.

A more credible intervention would have simply focused on strengthening risk management, more consistent financial controls with the support of functional internal audit and fraud combating systems in the department. That on its own would have demonstrated a firm commitment to deal with one of the biggest problems draining the system - corruption. This doesn't require a sec 100 intervention, it requires a tough head of department backed by the Minister and the President, most especially in a department that has seen a new head almost every 18 months over the past 15 years.

In other words, it makes no difference how 'weighty' the constitutional injunction is, if it is wielded by an already politically weak leadership.  

[Views are those of the author and not necessarily those of the organisation and those associated with it]

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