Parliament has resolved to hold an inquiry into the latest allegations of maladministration and corruption at SA’s key funding agency for higher education students.

At the weekend, parliament’s higher education portfolio committee heard that normal recruitment policies and procedures were flouted at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which was placed under administration in 2018 after being on the verge of collapse due to mismanagement.  

The committee heard from employees who appeared before it that the administrator, Randall Carolissen, hired his friends and acquaintances at the entity without following due process. 

The NSFAS is the government’s conduit for providing financial support for students from poor and working-class families studying at universities and technical and vocational education training (TVET) institutions. It has a budget of about R35bn for 2020, funding about 700,000 students.

The crisis at the institution threatens the functioning of the higher education sector. The multibillion-rand scheme has previously been hobbled by system and management failures which delayed payments, sparking protests at universities and colleges.

The corruption and mismanagement allegations were initially raised by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) earlier in 2020.

In its previous submission to MPs, Nehawu made wide-ranging claims that since Carolissen’s  arrival more than two years ago, there has not been any significant change at the organisation and that the NSFAS was in a far worse situation than before the administrator arrived.

Among Nehawu’s many allegations was that the administrator engaged in a “reign of terror at the entity, victimises and purges targeted employees, especially those who refuse to participate in his unlawful activities, and that there is noncompliance with statutory requirements”.

The workers’ union also raised concerns about the exorbitant remuneration and benefits paid to the administrator and his advisers, including alleged free accommodation at luxury apartments at the V&A Waterfront, weekly return tickets, unlimited monthly car hire, and airport shuttles and transfers with dedicated chauffeurs.

MPs expressed shock at what appeared to be a complete disregard for normal recruitment policies and procedures at the NSFAS.

“Of grave concern to the committee was the admission by the administrator that he passed on the CVs of some of the persons to human resources,” said committee chair Philly Mapulane.

“We do take note of the denial by the administrator that he was not personally involved in the appointment of some of his acquaintances and friends. However, when you pass on the CV as the administrator to your subordinate, the subliminal message to the person receiving the CV is that you must appoint this person. You may not have said it in your own words, but the message is loud and clear to your subordinate receiving a CV from you of what your intention is.

“Ultimately it is the administrator who is the final authority responsible for the employment of staff at the agency,” Mapulane said.

He said in its inquiry the committee will engage with Carolissen’s associates who were hired by the NSFAS and examine the scheme’s procurement processes.

The committee also resolved to look into allegations of irregularities in the procurement of laptops by the NSFAS as part of an effort to save the 2020 academic year. A report with binding recommendations will then be tabled in the National Assembly.  

Carolissen confirmed that he forwarded some of the CVs to the human resources department but denied that he was directly involved in the appointment processes thereafter. He said the allegations were orchestrated to bring the NSFAS into disrepute.

DA MP Baxolile Nodada said the problems at the NSFAS were largely due to political interference. The parliamentary committee was responsible for oversight of the NSFAS and had “a responsibility towards millions of students to get to the bottom of this malfeasance and provide a solid way to stabilise the entity”.

In July, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa laid a complaint with the public protector about the allegations of maladministration, nepotism and racism at the NSFAS.  

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

Picture: 123RF/VITEE THUMB
Picture: 123RF/VITEE THUMB

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