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Public protector probes student financial aid body

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Complaint lodged over alleged “capturing” of the administration of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme

File photo of NSFAS offices. Picture: Tracey Adams / African News Agency (ANA)

THE PUBLIC Protector’s Office is investigating allegations of nepotism, victimisation and purging of certain staff at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFA)

This comes after MP and leader of the United Democratic Front, Bantu Holomisa, lodged a complaint with the public protector over the alleged “capturing” of the administration of the student financial aid body.

The spokesperson for the public protector, Oupa Segwale, confirmed that the complaint had been assigned to the Good Governance and Integrity branch for investigation.

Segwale said it was still early days in the investigation.

Holomisa wrote to advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane requesting a probe into the “serious” allegations after he was approached by NSFAS employees.

“There are allegations of nepotism, victimisation and purging of staff, racism, corruption, general maladministration, mismanagement by Dr Randall Carolissen (the administrator) in particular, as well as a general collapse of corporate governance at NSFAS … Worst of all is the 

allegation that Minister Blade Nzimande is aware of some of these issues and is seemingly ignoring them,” Holomisa said. 

He also said Nzimande was accused of being involved in nepotism with the appointment of those loyal to him to key NSFAS and other positions.

Various documents in support of the allegations were submitted to the public protector.

The documents detail various allegations of poor performance, “unscrupulous” procurement, “compromised” internal auditing, failures of NSFAS’s IT system, maladministration, racism and “compromised” oversight.

Holomisa questioned how much of the R7.5 billion irregular expenditure declared in 2018/19 was spent under Carolissen’s watch.

There are also allegations of some individuals close to Nzimande who were appointed to key strategic positions at NSFAS, one as adviser to Carolissen and the other as chief corporate services officer.

It’s also alleged that certain individuals with close ties to Carolissen were appointed without following procedure.

The IT system failures, it is alleged, resulted in disbursements either in excess of bursary awards, without signed contracts or to incorrect students.

“The overall NSFAS performance is in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),” claimed one of the documents.

Carolissen has denied the claims. He said all appointments at NSFAS were subjected to HR processes and policies, and the chief corporate services officer, Sibongile Zungu-Mncwabe, was not immune to that.

Regarding the appointment of the adviser, Richard Zungu, he said it was done according to conditions of employment of advisers as determined in “concurrence with Department of Higher Education and Training”. Carolissen would not be drawn into the R7.5bn irregular expenditure issue, saying the matter had been “recycled many times”.

But the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) also laid similar complaints with the public protector.

Nehawu said in its letter that it had raised the issues of “questionable” appointments of Zungu-Mncwabe and two other senior staff members with NSFAS but did not get any response.

The union claimed that recent statements by Nzimande labelling those who questioned what was going on at NSFAS as “agents of state capture” was an “indication” that anyone appointed by him to launch an investigation would not be independent.

“It must be emphasised that the names of the employees who came forward with this information are withheld as we want to ensure the protection of their identity, out of fear for their further victimisation 

but the union will facilitate their availability should the public protector request to interview them separately as long there is an assurance of protection of their identities,” the union said.

Nzimande appointed a ministerial committee of inquiry in May to conduct an investigation into the business processes and capacity of NSFAS.

His spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi would not respond to questions on when the committee was expected to conclude its work and instead referred media enquiries to a statement released on June 20, in which the minister raised concern about stories on NSFAS.