The release of the Heher Commission report on the funding of tertiary education by President Jacob Zuma yesterday has come late in the day and will still not help university management make adequate financial plans for the next academic season.
At this time of the year university budgets have been cast in stone and loaded to kick in for the 2018 academic year.
While the report affords the public and particularly the university management and students to study it, there is still a long way to go before it can be consolidated into a coherent policy plan that all the main players can buy into.
Analysts say if President Zuma had shared the recommendations a few weeks after he received it, the government would have by now processed it and maybe even pronounced its policy position on it. This would have given the university management sufficient time and something tangible to work with.
But instead, they argue, Zuma hoarded the report for two months without advancing any clear valid reasons behind the delay. It remains to be seen if the inter-ministerial committee will conclude processing the recommendation before the year ends given the ANC conference in few weeks’ time.
Wits University vice-chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, said the commission’s recommendations would not amount to anything substantial until the government has made its own pronouncement.
“At the moment this is Heher Commission’s report. We are still waiting to hear government’s own recommendations, if government accepts these recommendations then we are in a different game,” said Habib.
The Fees Commission represents some move forward, but the elephant in the room is the report that president Zuma is simultaneously considering an alternative funding model. According to media reports President Zuma delayed to release the Fees Commission because he was also mulling another funding plan devised by Morris Masutha, believed to have been romantically linked to his and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s daughter Thuthukile.
It is further alleged that President Zuma defied counsel from his senior advisors including Treasury to steam ahead with the plan. The plan threatens to force an overhaul of the recent mid-term budget for 2017/18 financial year. And given his past brinkmanship decisions and political obstinacy that twice plunged the country into an economic abyss, there is reason for concern. This was given credence by the recent resignation Michael Sachs, a top and experienced Treasury deputy director-general, Michael Sachs, in the budget office. It is believed he resigned in a huff following President Zuma’s meddling in the functions of the Treasury.
According to Times Live, Masutha’s plan proposes government to make available R40-billion for the implementation of free universal tertiary education. Several commentators dismissed the plan as “unrealistic” and that it cannot be immediately implemented particularly in South Africa given its current economic vulnerability. Dr. Blade Nzimande confirmed that he interacted with Masutha’s plan in his capacity as the Minister of Higher Education and Training.
“I did interact with the proposal when I was minister from this young man. And one of the things I advised him to do was to go to the Heher Commission to table it there just like many others who had lots of brilliant ideas on this subject. But I also asked him to go and interact with my officials in the department…it was a good idea but it was an unworkable proposal,” said Nzimande.
But President Zuma ordered functionaries within both the Treasury and the ministry of finance to devise ways of how to secure the money. This means some departments would have to cut back on their budgets. The biggest concern is that with the country’s growing debt and the anaemic economy any unplanned additional financial burden on the fiscus would leave the rating agencies with no choice but to further downgrade the country to junk status.
Political commentators said they were not surprised as President Zuma has always been prone to taking populist positions to garner more political support. Given that his political tenure is coming to an end, his current pre-occupation is to leave an enduring legacy. Based on this, they argue, he will stop at nothing but to ram through this plan, notwithstanding its adverse financial consequences.
Jonathan Jansen recently said in a column: “our president is a man for whom everything is a political calculation.You do not need Jacques Pauw or Thuli Madonsela to tell you that Number One does not make judgments based on what is sensible for the fiscus or in the best interests of the country. Here you have short-term political calculation to benefit the man himself and his political agenda.”
In its reaction to the release of the Fees Commission report, the South African Communist Party (SACP) took a swipe at president Zuma. In a press statement, the party expressed its deepened “concern about how the President handled the process and the circumstances under which he finally released the report”.
The party said they find it odd that the president chose to share the report with his “alleged son-in-law or boyfriend of his daughter, but did not share it with the Minister of Higher Learning and Training, Dr. Blade Nzimande”.
The statement further said that it is aware of the “emergence, existence and operations of parallel state mechanisms which undermine or subordinate democratically established state authorities provided for in our Constitution”.
The SACP said it will release a “comprehensive response” after it had studied the report fully.