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Friday, 8 March, 2002
Background: WCED Learner Transport Scheme
Statement by André Gaum, Western Cape Education Minister
The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) provides transport to learners in poor communities who live more than five kilometres from the nearest school. The aim of the Departmentís Learner Transport Scheme (LTS) is to guarantee access to schooling for needy children. As far as we know, the Western Cape is the only province that provides free transport to eligible learners.
There are at present just over 400 contracts regulating the transport of some 25,000 learners every day, i.e. about 1 in every 35 learners in the province.
Over the past six years the cost of providing this transport has risen from R58 million to R70 million (of which R55 million and R15 million was spent on rural and urban transport respectively in 2001). The WCED expects the service to cost about R90-million in 2002/03. This is nearly half as much as the total we can allocate to providing our schools with books, stationery, learning materials and maintenance.
It is therefore imperative that the LTS be run strictly according to rule, since any abuse of it automatically inflates its cost and cuts into the amount available for the necessities just mentioned, which must be provided to all our schools and their roughly 900,000 learners throughout the province.
Our experience has proved that the original LTS was vulnerable to abuse in certain ways. Since bus contractors were paid simply for the total number of children carried, some corrupt officials and bus contractors conspired to defraud the WCED by inflating the numbers of the learners being carried and claiming for the transport of children who were never on any bus at all. Legal action has been taken against those concerned, with criminal prosecutions involved, and several employees have been dismissed from service.
To stop these abuses, the WCED introduced new procedures in July 2001 to ensure (a) that only children entitled to free transport receive it and (b) that only eligible children actually carried may be claimed and paid for.
The parents of children who claim to need transport must now fill in and sign application forms. The principal checks these forms to see that the applicants do indeed qualify for transport. The forms of those who qualify are kept on file at the school, and the contractor is given their names, since these are the only learners who may be carried at public expense -- if the contractor chooses to carry any others, he or she will not be able to claim for them. Various registers and documentary records must be kept by both the school and the contractor, and the WCED checks periodically that there are no discrepancies among them. All claims are similarly checked for discrepancies, and as a final anti-fraud measure, at district office level tasks that were formerly done by one official are now split up among three, with each oneís work checked by the next before it is authorised.
A further problem with the original scheme was that learners who were not entitled to free transport were receiving it nonetheless. Some were using it to get to schools within five kilometres of their homes; some were using it to go past the nearest school en route to the school of their choice farther off; and some were using it instead of public transport. The new procedures introduced last year are also aimed at ensuring that the system is used only by the learners for whom it was intended (those who live more than five kilometres from the nearest school), to carry them to their nearest school. This "return-to-the-rules" approach is part of the WCEDís ongoing effort to prevent the misuse and waste of public money.
A persistent problem has been the inclination of some contractors to save money by using unroadworthy vehicles. The WCED has amended its tender requirements to ensure that vehicles are tested regularly, and is working closely with traffic authorities to ensure that this testing is done and that unroadworthy vehicles are taken off the road.
The WCED is constantly re-examining its Learner Transport Scheme to find ways to make it more useful, more cost-effective and more equitable to all involved.
Enquiries: André Gaum 082-772-6608Issued by:
The Communications Directorate
Western Cape Education Department
Private Bag X9114
Cape Town 8000
Tel: (021) 467-2531
Fax: (021) 467-2363
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