Submissions have been made on the National Evaluation and Development Unit Bill (NEEDU). Equal Education’s (EE) submission welcomed the establishment of NEEDU, but voiced concerns that the Unit will lack the necessary independence to operate effectively.
The Bill was published for comment on 23 December 2011 by Minister for Basic Education, Angie Motshekga. As it stands, the Unit will perform a wide array of evaluative functions to report on the state of schooling in South Africa. The preamble of the Bill states that NEEDU will operate as an “external agency” that will conduct “independent evaluations and… report on the state of school leaderships, management, teaching and learning.” As a result of these functions it will be a source of “reliable information on whether the school system is serving learners’ educational needs”. It will also be able to provide “independent expert advice on developmental interventions to repair dysfunction in schools”.
EE’s primary concern regarding the Bill is that the NEEDU will not have the necessary independence in order to effectively perform its functions. Section 5(1) of the Bill states that “NEEDU must be impartial” and recognises the need for the Unit to retain impartiality in discharging its functions. However, section 9(2) confers on the Minister of Basic Education the power to remove a member of the board on the basis of “misconduct, incapacity or incompetence”. While s9(2)(b) permits the Minister to also remove a board member “for any other reasonable, sound and compelling reason”. The Minister is granted similar independent powers to dissolve the entire board (s9), appoint the chairperson of the board (8), decide on the tenure of board members (8[b]) and decide on the remuneration of full time board members (s12). In EE’s submission it was argued that granting the Minister sole discretion on these matters undermines the Unit’s independence.
It is clear from the above that the Bill grants the Minister an inordinate amount of power over the structure and operation of the Unit. The South African Constitution requires that ‘independent bodies’ function without fear, favour or prejudice. In Glenister v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others the court held that independence means the ability to function without undue political influence. Furthermore, the court held that independent bodies must have adequate levels of structural and operational autonomy. EE contends that the operational and structural processes of the Unit, as they are set out in the draft Bill, fail to pay sufficient attention to the principles set out in the Glenister case.
Therefore, while EE supports the establishment of the Unit it calls on the Department of Education to consider the above points before the Bill is tabled in Parliament.
For more information please contact Yoliswa Dwane/072 342 7747 or 021 387 0022/3