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By Getrude Makhafola

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‘Corruption allegations couldn’t have been lies’ – Unhelpful NSFAS probe slammed

Union Nehawu said it is waiting for the SIU probe and would never submit evidence to NSFAS.


Despite its damning findings on allegations of nepotism, alleged corruption in the procurement of laptops for students and non-existent recruitment guidelines, law firm Popela Maake Incorporated failed to make proper recommendations to alleviate maladministration at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). NSFAS probe MPs were concerned after being told that trade union Nehawu was never part of the probe, even though they were at the forefront of detailing NSFAS corruption allegations to Parliament. The lawyers were appointed by the board to investigate allegations directed at NSFAS' former administrator Randall Carolissen. He was appointed NSFAS administrator in 2018 by the higher…

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Despite its damning findings on allegations of nepotism, alleged corruption in the procurement of laptops for students and non-existent recruitment guidelines, law firm Popela Maake Incorporated failed to make proper recommendations to alleviate maladministration at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

NSFAS probe

MPs were concerned after being told that trade union Nehawu was never part of the probe, even though they were at the forefront of detailing NSFAS corruption allegations to Parliament.

The lawyers were appointed by the board to investigate allegations directed at NSFAS’ former administrator Randall Carolissen.

He was appointed NSFAS administrator in 2018 by the higher education department to turn around the troubled student finance institution. Minister Blade Nzimande later extended his term to 2020, before a new board took over in 2021.

Alleged maladministration and corruption

Employees and Nehawu had made submissions before the Portfolio Committee of Higher Education and Training in 2020, detailing alleged maladministration and corruption under Carolisen’s watch.

After its appointment in 2021, the board, led by Ernest Khoza, requested MPs to allow it to launch an investigation into the allegations, and that since it had been newly appointed, to attune itself to the happenings at NSFAS.

This came after the 2018/2019 annual report that highlighted an “extremely poor” organisational climate, unfavourable labour relations bred by nepotism, abuse of positional power, and a “culture of entitlement”, which was said to have led to the collapse of human resources and employee relations functions.

Carolissen, who received accolades from Nzimande regarding NSFAS, later resurfaced at the University of Johannesburg, where he was appointed dean of its business school.

Nehawu absent from probe

Referring to the attorneys’ investigation as a “review”, CEO Andile Nongogo told MPs that there were limitations in the investigation because Nehawu, as the main complainant, didn’t take part in it.

Investigators sent questionnaires to staff and the human resources department. They also relied on what he called a “confidential evidence pack”, policies, correspondence, previous forensic and annual reports, performance plans, employment contracts and collective agreements with unions.

ALSO READ: SIU recovers R33M from Northlink College in misused NSFAS funds

It was found that there were no guidelines on the appointment of advisors, some of who joined the organisation as permanent staffers.

“The review said proper recruitment policies ought to have been followed when they were taken in as staff members. There should be guidelines on how advisors should be appointed, and, in absence of such guidelines, proper recruitment policies should be followed. Presently, no guidelines have been set.”

The absence of adequate employee records on certain appointments limited assessments during the probe. No proper processes were done on acting appointments, as there was no HR policy for acting posts at the time.

Furthermore, volunteers were roped in even though NSFAS didn’t have such a programme.

On remuneration, no performance agreements were in place, and therefore there was no basis for the payment of bonuses and gratuity payments.

“Payments shouldn’t have been made in the absence of signed agreements. We introduced a performance management system and the majority have signed,” he said.

One volunteer was found to have been a former staffer at one of NSFAS’ service providers.

READ MORE: OUTA uncovers multimillion-rand tender corruption at NSFAS

According to Nongogo, an investigation has been launched into the payment of travel claims, after it was discovered that the invoices paid did not match the quotations.

“We are busy with reconciliation to determine whether NSFAS suffered financial losses.”

No recommendations on laptop tender irregularities

As the country went into hard lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, NSFAS moved to procure laptops to help students continue studying at home.

The contract was expected to benefit 430 000 students in 26 universities and 300 000 students in 50 TVET colleges across the country.

The plan was to procure 730 000 laptops.

The contract, as with many other Covid-related State procurement tenders, presented opportunities for officials to loot public funds.

The tender, worth hundreds of millions of rands, was mired by allegations of corruption and irregular bidding, and was cancelled at least twice, with one company lodging a dispute in court.

Without stating recommendations and guidance for future similar big tenders, the investigation found that proper processes were followed and that management acted within their rights to procure laptops.

Committee chairperson Nompedulo Mkhatswa said the laptop corruption allegations couldn’t have been lies.

“There should have been broad recommendations from your investigators. Laptop procurement during lockdown – according to your findings – had due processes, but allegations were there about corruption [and] all were coming from people who were part of the organisation.

“Also, it’s problematic when the main complainant [Nehawu] doesn’t participate in the investigation. You continued despite that.

“Should we question the service provider you hired? Because maybe they’re not assisting much by not making recommendations. I can’t see a process where you paid money but there are no recommendations, it actually feels like theft.”

Some committee members questioned the work relations between the unions and NSFAS management.

Three months ago, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) launched its own NSFAS investigation on alleged corruption, maladministration and the allocation of loans, bursaries and any other funding payable to students.

Union won’t give evidence to NSFAS

Speaking to The Citizen on Wednesday, Nehawu spokesperson Lwazi Nkolonzi said his organisation is waiting to be called in by the SIU, the only investigation they are prepared to cooperate with.

“That is where we are going to make our submissions on the malfeasance. We await the SIU to liaise with us, we won’t be submitting evidence to NSFAS.

“There’s a proclamation in place from the president, there cannot be parallel processes at NSFAS on one matter.”

He said he wasn’t aware of any work by Popela Maake Incorporated at the institution.

“We are ready for the SIU and won’t be making any legal comments outside the investigation by the president’s proclamation. It’s the first time I hear about that law firm, maybe the board can provide answers,” Nkolonzi said.

Carolissen refused to comment, with his personal assistant indicating that he was no longer in the employ of NSFAS, and all questions should be referred to them.

NOW READ: Hawks raid Fort Hare University in NSFAS corruption probe

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