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Independent assessor's report finds ghost employees, payroll irregularities at Mangosuthu University of Technology

A long-awaited report produced by the Mangosuthu University of Technology’s independent assessor has revealed shocking details of payroll irregularities, irregular expenditure and the existence of ghost employees at the troubled institution.

Mangosuthu University of Technology. Independent assessor's report finds ghost employees, payroll irregularities at Mangosuthu University of Technology. File Picture.

Published Mar 24, 2022

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DURBAN - A LONG-AWAITED report produced by the Mangosuthu University of Technology’s independent assessor has revealed shocking details of payroll irregularities, irregular expenditure and the existence of ghost employees at the troubled institution.

The 96-page report, compiled by Professor Anthony Staak at the request of Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande last year, was looking into the affairs of the beleaguered institution. The investigation was initiated when problems at the institution came to a head after the MUT council suspended former vice-chancellor (VC) Dr Enoch Malaza.

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“Given the complexities and the nature of the allegations at MUT, we recommend that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) institutes an independent and comprehensive investigation into the following areas: secondary contracts and part-time lecturing (evening classes); expand on the work done by the internal audit so far; student residence leases and related expenditure, such as transport costs,” read the report.

MUT’s problems were highlighted recently when it emerged that the institution owed eThekwini Municipality more than R7 million for its water account. The report said it was important for MUT to clean up its human resources (HR) data as this would help flush out ghost employees. According to the report, when it comes to ghost employees, the method involves creating a duplicate employee profile, banking details are manipulated, and the profile is then deleted after the payroll has been processed.

“This matter was presented for further investigation, and the recommendation was for MUT to first clean up the HR data. The R2.4m relates to only four instances/employee investigated, and as a result there is a strong view that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” the report warned. The report further said MUT’s payroll had been breached several times and unauthorised employees were able to create their own contracts, change amounts, and even change the duration of the contracts.

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The report pointed out that during last year’s investigation, interviews were conducted with a number of people in determining what had given rise to the conflict between the VC and council that eventually led to the suspension of the VC, and the interviews showed deep divisions between the two parties.

The report was also critical of MUT’s failure to establish an Office of the Ombudsman, pointing out that such an office could have addressed the tension between the VC and the chair of the council. A previous independent assessor’s report had also advised for the establishment of such an office.

“The university has not addressed this matter. Besides playing an important role in proactively resolving internal disputes and saving the institution enormous legal costs, I believe this mechanism could also have played a critical role in resolving the tensions that arose between the VC and the chair of council over their differences between what constitutes council overreach. The moment these differences emerged the matter should have been referred to the alternative dispute resolution system where it could have been adjudicated by an independent person,” read the report.

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Key findings by independent assessor were that:

There was no evidence to suggest that either the VC or any of the suspended members of management or any members of council were involved in any corrupt activity.

The process of suspending the VC and the other senior managers was not conducted in a fair and transparent manner.

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Malaza said that while he was relieved that he had been cleared of wrongdoing, he was saddened that he had not had a chance to lead MUT for the duration of his contract.

“It is sad because on my side there was a desire to take the institution to a higher level, but I was unfortunately unable to do so because of a number of challenges,” said Malaza, who left MUT earlier this year after reaching a settlement with the institution.

While The Mercury has reliably learnt that MUT top brass have received the independent assessor’s report, the institution’s spokesperson, Bheki Hlophe, would not confirm this.

However, DHET spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi confirmed that the report had been submitted to government printers for publication on March 25, and that it was shared with the MUT Council on March 14.

“The report makes a number of recommendations relating to the matters that were being investigated or looked into, namely the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the former VC as well as financial matters, and most of them are for the university to implement,” said Mnisi.

He indicated that the minister would engage with the council on how the recommendations would be taken forward.

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