HIGHER Education Minister Blade Nzimande is facing damning allegations that he influenced the appointment of his former chief of staff, Sibongile Ncwabe, as chief corporate services at the National Student Fund Aid Scheme.
Ncwabe, who is also said to be Nzimande’s former office administrator, was appointed with effect from June 11, according to an internal memo at the NSFAS leaked to the media.
The matter is currently at the public protector’s office after a concerned staffer laid a complaint, saying concerned staffers at NSFAS wanted Ncwabe’s appointment to be declared illegal and set aside.
The Higher Education Department has denied allegations Nzimande influenced the appointment of Ncwabe at the NSFAS.
Higher Education spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi issued a statement on Sunday saying that Nzimande does not run the day-to-day activities, nor does he have a direct influence into its Human Resources sourcing decisions of NSFAS.
“Therefore, the Minister does not deal with the recruitment or sourcing of personnel for NSFAS or any of the entities falling under his Ministry,” said Mnisi in a statement.
The department added that ‘NSFAS was managed, governed and administered by a capable administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, who makes such decisions without any undue influence of the Minister’.
“Again as said publicly, Minister Nzimande is pleased with the progress reported by the Administrator in dealing with gross looting and curbing acts of corruption and maladministration at the NSFAS, thereby setting NSFAS in its correct trajectory to granting bursaries to the children of the poor and the working class families in our country,” the department said.
“Minister Nzimande and the Administrator remain steadfast to fight all forms of corruption and maladministration as perpetuated by some of the implicated employees who are currently under disciplinary hearings and others who are still been investigated. Investigations will still continue to unravel any other acts that might have been identified to undermine NSFAS.”
The department said allegations the minister follows the NSFAS having initiated some disciplinary processes to some employees following the discovery of some wrongdoing and financial misconduct by these employees.
It further said that the work of NSFAS administrator to deal with reported acts of corruption, maladministration and incompetence is well documented in the 2018/19 audit outcomes and the Annual Report in which we have referred you previously to familiarise yourself with its content.
“The work of NSFAS Administrator to deal with reported acts of corruption, maladministration and incompetence is well documented in the 2018/19 audit outcomes and the Annual Report in which we have referred you previously to familiarise yourself with its content”, said the department.
On Friday, Nzimande briefed MPs during a virtual sitting of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology about the IT systems at NSFAS.
Nzimande said a R100 million information technology (IT) system the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) started using around 2013, was found to be inadequate four years later.
This IT system and several other administration and business operating inefficiencies will form part of an investigation by a Ministerial Task Team reviewing Nsfas business processes.
Nzimande also told parliament that salaries of university vice chancellors needed to be investigated.
Nzimande said he was not happy about the pay gap between the highest and the lowest paid employees at tertiary institutions.
He said the higher education committee raised the issue with him last year and he had since written to the Council for Higher Education.
“It has been a matter of concern to myself, by the way, the salary gap of your highest paid and your lowest paid employee at our universities and the gap between senior management and academics for instance,” he said.
“There is no real correlation between the size of the institution and the salaries of vice chancellors or even the nature of the institution and their salaries. So that would have to be looked into.”
(Compiled by Inside Education staff)