The troubled National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has moved to suspend CEO Steven Zwane with immediate effect, a week after the board of the multibillion-rand scheme was dissolved.
Zwane, who has 15 years’ banking experience, joined NSFAS from Barclays in September 2017.
"The suspension follows allegations of maladministration against Mr Zwane.
"To ensure fairness and allow the process to proceed uninhibited, Mr Zwane has been relieved of his duties pending the outcome of the investigation," NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo said on Monday.
Earlier in August higher education minister Naledi Pandor appointed Randall Carolissen as NSFAS administrator. This was after the resignation of board chair Sizwe Nxasana and board member Themba Mosia.
"Dr Carolissen is in the process of reviewing governance at NSFAS. This is in line with the ministerial mandate to oversee the management, governance and administration of the entity. This includes all necessary forensic and other investigations under way," said Mamabolo.
The NSFAS has been struggling to ensure the smooth rollout of free higher education due to system and management failures. Many students have complained about delayed payments, which sparked protests at various tertiary institutions earlier in 2018.
About 75,000 students who have been granted funding for 2018 are still waiting to be allocated their funds more than halfway through the academic year. The crisis has been partly blamed on former president Jacob Zuma’s announcement in December that the government would implement free higher education. This meant the NSFAS had a few weeks before the start of the 2018 academic year to change its processes and systems to execute its new mandate (including converting loans into bursaries) while still running the old funding scheme.
The administrative problems are said to have prompted the resignation of Nxasana.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) had called for Zwane to be axed, saying he had been irregularly appointed.
The union also blamed Zwane for the crisis at the NSFAS. It called for an inquiry into allegations that Zwane appointed friends and relatives.
"He has been unable to create a conducive working environment that ensures labour peace and manageable scheme distribution with less problems.
"He is seated with our issues for some time unresolved and mounting challenges facing students, which poses a serious threat to access to necessities at universities," Nehawu said earlier in August.
Zwane could not be contacted for his comments on Monday evening.