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Nzimande sharpens his blade over skills fund’s ‘missing’ R5bn

A forensic company has been appointed to conduct “a full-scale” investigation into the financial affairs of the NSF, Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande announced

A forensic company has been appointed to conduct “a full-scale” investigation into the financial affairs of the NSF, Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande announced

Published Feb 14, 2022


CAPE TOWN - The R5 billion that has not been accounted for in the National Skills Fund (NSF) has robbed millions of young people of opportunities as it was meant for student funding shortages and skills infrastructure development at the country’s tertiary institutions.

This is according to the South African Union of Students (Saus) following the auditor-general of South Africa’s (AGSA) report that the money could not be properly accounted for over two financial years.

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A forensic company has been appointed to conduct “a full-scale” investigation into the financial affairs of the NSF, Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande announced at the weekend.

Nzimande also appointed a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) to conduct a “strategic review” of the NSF, “its general operations, its efficiency and relevance” with regards to the national skills priorities of the country.

However, questions have been asked about appointing a private forensic company instead of utilising the government's own Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

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“I expect that the MTT recommendations will clearly outline the strategic role and optimal future functional business model to enable NSF’s catalytic contribution to skills development and innovation in the country considering the revolutionary changing nature of work and change of dynamic between the world of training and the world of work,” said Nzimande.

The MTT is expected to provide monthly reports to Nzimande regarding its work and present a final report on their findings and recommendations in June this year.

The NSF’s funding focus and skills development portfolio is supposed to be two-pronged: a significant allocation of the NSF’s annual and medium-term budget is aimed towards education and training initiatives such as bursaries and scholarships, learnership and skills programmes, and workplace-based learning; and NSF funding is also aimed at improving the post-school, education and training system, with a focus on capacity building, investing in skills infrastructure, research and innovation.

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The Saus said they were extremely disappointed that more money had gone missing as there were huge financial gaps that needed to be filled in terms of student funding shortages.

Saus national spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa said: “There has been underfunding of many programmes and the NSF is one of the institutions that we are hoping could fund the gaps. The critical gaps we are dealing with are missing middle students and postgraduate students who are unable to access funding.

“The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) had a shortfall of R9.5 billion to fund Nsfas students this year, that’s why the academic year started late. Imagine what that R5 billion could have done, how it could have helped.

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“This mismanagement undermines our effort to try and maximise funding in the sector that has never been in such a dire state.”

He said that while he appreciated that certain conditions may have “necessitated” Nzimande to spend more money on outsourcing the investigation to a forensic company instead of utilising the SIU, it seemed like a “duplication”.

“Our hope is for an expeditious investigation, that we will see a level of accountability and prosecutions. There is a level of impunity across the sector especially when it comes to maladministration. This is not the first case, so we need to see heads roll.”

The minister did not respond to further questions around why he appointed a forensic company instead of the SIU.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said the “unaccountability” of the NSF was a cause for concern, calling for the investigation to yield results.

“The skills required by the economy are lacking, we really depend on structures such as the NSF to ensure the right skills are produced.

“The terrain of higher education has the task of producing skilled graduates to participate in the mainstream economy of our country but if we are being robbed, we won't be able to nurture those necessary skills.

“We are sitting with structural unemployment because of the skills mismatch, most of the graduates produced have skills that do not match the skills required by the mainstream economy. Now less money is available to nurture and develop our graduates.”

It was not the first time and there had been calls from civil society for Nzimande to intervene in the operations of the NSF, he said.

“This investigation must be deepened and we must get results. We support the minister’s effort to turn around all the institutions under his department,” Makaneta said.

Cape Times

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