Treasury is working on finding the money to fund free higher education and government is confident that it will be able to do so.
In an interview with eNCA after the announcement of the matric results on Thursday evening, deputy higher education minister Buti Manamela said he was confident that Treasury would find the money.
President Jacob Zuma announced that higher education would be free for poor and working-class students from 2018 at the ANC's national conference in December. However, there is still no clarity from government on how this will be funded.
"Two or three years ago, the President made a commitment about 0% fee increases. We found that money. A year later, we also entered into an agreement with university vice-chancellors, we entered into a moratorium on fee increases which was set at around 8%, that money was found. This commitment, government will ensure that it finds the money...
"Treasury will find the money. If the president has made a statement that says this is what is going to happen, the role of Treasury is to find that money. They have found the money before, and they will find the money again," Manamela said. He added, "Show me anyone from Treasury who has said they can't find the money."
A senior Treasury official in the budgeting office, Michael Sachs, resigned over Zuma's plan, which had not formally been announced at the time, according to the Mail & Guardian. The paper also reported that Zuma's announcement flew in the face of advice from Treasury, that his plan was unaffordable. A month before his announcement, news of his plans was leaked to the media, reportedly sending Treasury officials into a frenzy about where the funds would come from.
In November, Business Day reported that Treasury managed to stave off ratings agency downgrades by putting the brakes on Zuma's free higher education plan. Treasury reportedly told ratings agencies that any free education plan would be implemented in a fiscally responsible way. Given the country's financial constraints, Treasury officials reportedly said "this necessarily implies a phased approach focusing on the neediest students."
Speaking on Talk Radio 702 on Thursday, Treasury spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete said that Treasury does not know where the money will come from, yet, but that it is working on finding the funds.
"If there is a question ... is there an amount in terms of billions that's ready to be paid now for free education, the answer would simply be no," he said. But he said teams of Treasury officials were working on the problem.
"What we do have are committees and teams that are tasked with the responsibility of looking at expenditure of government and revenue management to make sure the priorities of government are locating necessary (funds) that they need."