Probe into Unisa vice-chancellor’s R285,000 curtains
A new Mercedes-Benz GLE 400d was also bought for Prof Puleng LenkaBula for R1.9m on a budget of R1.2m
The University of SA (Unisa) splashed out more than R285,000 on curtains for vice-chancellor Prof Puleng LenkaBula’s official residence, while an outside company, appointed later to compare prices, came up with a quote of R20,630.
Prof Themba Mosia, an independent assessor, who was appointed by higher education minister Blade Nzimande to conduct a probe into the affairs of Unisa, said he was “very much interested to see the quality of these curtains”.
He visited the residence, known as Cloghereen, to look at the renovations and the new furniture and appliances that were bought.
“The university paid R285,228 for the procurement of curtains. I was surprised to find sheer curtains.”
This observation is made in his 308-page report in which he also mentions that R8,000 was claimed for training on how to use a vacuum cleaner, despite only the staircase being carpeted. The rest of the floors in the house were either tiled or wooden.
“It therefore raises questions as to why the university would spend so much money on training for an appliance that can only be used on the staircase.”
Unisa paid R220,685 to buy “painting items”, while the outside company’s three quotes for the same items were R105,248, R108,248 and R115,848.
He stated that after expenditure exceeding R3m, “the vice-chancellor has yet to move into her official residence since her appointment in January 2021”.
Mosia made 26 recommendations to Nzimande, which included that Unisa be placed under full administration and the council and management be relieved of their duties.
Both LenkaBula and council chair James Maboa did not respond to media queries sent on Monday relating to the contents of the report.
Mosia said in his report that “without apportioning blame to the vice-chancellor on the occupation of the property, given the serious safety and security concerns she has, it remains a governance failure on the part of council to appear carefree on both the safety and security of the vice-chancellor and the money spent without use of the property”.
But he said that after interviewing staff members, he was informed that LenkaBula “took an active interest in the renovation, visiting the site and indicating what must be changed, for instance, the headboard and the mattress and new curtains instead of using the ones that had to be dry-cleaned”.
“The vice-chancellor’s secretary provided samples of what was required and insisted on a specific make of electrical appliances which was not always available in South Africa and had to be imported.”
But in an interview with him, LenkaBula denied she had been involved in operational processes, except “for expressing disquiet about procurement that was not value for money”.
When asked when she would move into Cloghereen, she told Mosia that council had promised to install a security system so she and her family were safe after her life was threatened, “including her and her daughter’s violation”.
“If this is, indeed the case, it is puzzling how council can take so long in ensuring security in the premises,” Mosia wrote in his report.
He said he found that LenkaBula “had some involvement in the refurbishment of the house in that she said she went to some stores with staff, so that they could show her how such exorbitant prices were arrived at”.
“On the contrary, staff that were given instructions confirmed that the vice-chancellor wanted certain brand (Bosch) appliances, curtains, refrigerator and numerous others.”
He said among the other matters of concern was a new Mercedes-Benz GLE 400d that was bought for LenkaBula for R1.9m on a budget of R1.2m.
When she was asked whether this amount should not be regarded as “excessive”, her response was that it was in accordance with a council decision taken before her assumption of duty as part of her remuneration package.
“She asserts that her only input was that she preferred a 4X4 vehicle as she is also visiting the regions. I was informed that all previous vice-chancellors used the Mercedes-Benz E class and were also visiting regions.”
Mosia said he found the procurement of a luxury vehicle “with elaborate specifications at a cost of nearly R2m for the use of the vice-chancellor, excessive, especially since her predecessors made use of vehicles that were far less luxurious”.
“In my view, the vice-chancellor should be afforded the dignity that corresponds with the office that she holds. But given the difficult financial situation that thousands of Unisa students have to endure on a daily basis, a degree of frugality by the vice-chancellor would have gone far in conveying a message of a compassionate leader that occupies a position to serve, rather than to be showered with luxuries that most of them would not be able to afford.”
The purpose of his investigation was to advise Nzimande on the source and nature of problems at Unisa and the measures required to restore good governance and management.
Mosia also concluded that the registrar’s portfolio is “seriously dysfunctional” after he reviewed the structure and functions of the office of the registrar, including the dean of students and the regional model.
“I find serious risks and concerns related to the size of the portfolio, staffing and poor consequence management. Most policies are outdated and not applicable any more.”
He found very little evidence of a student-centric culture at Unisa “with substandard levels of service delivery across most functions”.
“I felt the frustration that students experience when their enquiries are ignored. Hence, they turn to social media for a voice. Unisa fails students when it comes to creating a supportive environment. Students at Unisa are rather victimised than vindicated when more than 10,000 students are flagged for academic misconduct, but only 200 found guilty,” said Mosia.
He said Unisa was failing students who completed their qualifications “but had to wait up to six months for confirmation thereof”.
“I have observed a pattern of denial and ignorance from the Unisa council and management, even in situations where indefensible facts were presented to them. The denial of the persisting problems only serves to continue to ruin the good name and reputation of the university.”
He said that council failed to attend to the allegations and complaints concerning overexpenditure on LenkaBula’s official residence and that, despite comprehensive reports being presented to them, “I believe they were hoping this matter would simply disappear”.
He said he found the management committee “lacks the maturity required to effectively manage a complex university”.
On Sunday, City Press highlighted another report compiled by the Institute of Directors in SA, which was scathing of LenkaBula and recommended that her performance be assessed at least annually by council.
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