The Eastern Cape and North West provinces are significantly underspending their early childhood development grants, Parliament heard on Wednesday.
The Select Committee on Appropriations was told that the Eastern Cape had spent 48.6% of its allocated budget of R56.365m, while North West spent only 62.1% of its allocated budget of R32.686m during the fourth quarter of the 2017/18 financial year.
Some 2 600 of the children intended to benefit from the ECD subsidy in the Eastern Cape did not do so, the committee heard. And while ECD subsidies should be provided for 264 days, the Eastern Cape only provided services for 209 days.
North West provided services for 248 days.
The committee further heard that the Eastern Cape had not done any maintenance or upgrades on ECD centres during the fourth quarter, while North West had done just 10 of the 48 upgrades it had set out to do.
“[The] Department of Social Development plans on addressing this by adding the 264 days as a condition of the grants framework,” acting chairperson of the Select Committee on Appropriations Charel De Beer said in a statement issued by Parliament.
According to the Department of Social Development, a challenge in maintaining ECD centres is the R100 000 cap put on infrastructure projects, which does not accommodate high quotations from contractors.
Other provinces blamed maintenance failures on delays in tender processes.
The committee, however, said the Supply Chain Management policy only requires infrastructure projects to go out on tender for projects costing more than R200 000.
‘Feeble excuses‘ for non-delivery
“While DSD (the Department of Social Development) plans on increasing the limit on infrastructure projects to R180 000, the committee viewed these as feeble excuses of not delivering,” De Beer said.
“The ECD grant aims to improve the access of ECD to learners from poor backgrounds, and ensure that ECD centres have adequate infrastructure. Although the grant was only released in the 2017/18 financial year, provinces are encouraged to realise the importance of this grant and the effect of this grant on learners in Grade 1 and beyond.”
Ilifa Labantwana, an Early Childhood Development programme set up in 2009, previously estimated that well over R2bn would be needed to provide quality ECD services for mothers and children across South Africa.
In October, the South African Early Childhood Review 2017 found that inequality in ECD was a pervasive problem across the country.
It reported that young children in rural areas had poorer access to clinics and were less likely to be fully immunised or screened for developmental delays. They were also less likely be exposed to early learning programmes.
A four-year-old from a low-income household had just a 50% chance of being enrolled in an early learning programme, compared to wealthier children who had a 90% chance.
Malnourishment a problem
Children in rural areas are also less likely to receive nutritional supplements if they are malnourished. The review found that 77% of children aged 6 to 23 were not fed a minimum acceptable diet and that over a fifth of children under 5 were stunted.
Researchers have argued internationally that the first 1 000 days of a child‘s life have a lifelong impact on their development, wellbeing, and earning potential.
In 2015, South Australia prioritised ECD after a report by PwC revealed that improving the quality of early childhood development of disadvantaged children would boost the national economy by $13.3bn to 2050.
An earlier US study, meanwhile, found that “a high-quality universal preschool policy… could add $2 trillion to annual US GDP by 2080” with its costs covered “several times over”.
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