Durban - A year after she was fired as the chief financial officer of the University of Zululand (UniZulu), Josephine Naicker is taking on Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande over investigative reports on alleged corruption at the institution.
Naicker was fired barely five months into her new job at Unizulu last year. The institution apparently headhunted her from her job as the head of internal audit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Naicker has approached the Durban Labour Court in a bid to get UniZulu’s forensic report on the investigations conducted by Ernst and Young, which was concluded in 2012, as well as the report on the findings of the parliamentary portfolio committee following its visit to the institution this February.
“The audit reports relate to the very type of misconduct and maladministration of the affairs of the university as alleged by our client were still prevalent in 2016,” said Naicker’s lawyer Charmaine Nel.
According to Naicker’s court application, she lost her job at UniZulu following a fallout with the management and council over a report she submitted to the council’s finance committee four months after her appointment.
In her report, Naicker alleged that the senior management had manipulated the supply chain procurement processes for personal gain.
These included the procuring of nine houses at Mtunzini’s luxury Zini River Estate for the vice-chancellor, Professor Xoliswa Mtose, former deputy vice-chancellor Professor Neil Garrod, and directors, which reportedly cost the university close to R20million.
“No policy in regards to the acquisition of housing had been written much less approved and there was no audit of campus housing when I was instructed to make payments in December 2015,” she wrote in her March 2016 report.
She alleges she was asked to approve the payment of the houses just two weeks into her jobs and without any documentation being provided. A week later, she also had to approve an “emergency” R57 000 payment for three beds for Mtose’s new home.
“I knew exactly what was at stake when I submitted the report, but I had to do it because I believe what was being done was a crime, and turning a blind eye was going to land me in jail because I was the one who had to make the payments,” she told the Sunday Tribune this week.
In her dismissal letter, Mtose accused Naicker of “forwarding false allegations” to the finance committee, and “failing to carry out lawful instructions”, which included submitting reports to her supervisor (Mtose) and copying external bodies on an internal communication email “which caused reputational harm to the institution”.
Naicker is pinning her hopes on two reports, said to be in the possession of Nzimande, to clear her name.
In an ongoing court dispute over her dismissal, the institution denied any wrongdoing, arguing that purchasing the houses was to be used as an incentive to attract and retain staff at executive management level. This was corroborated in the minutes from the meeting held in December 2015, where a proposal for buying houses at Zini was approved by the university council.
The Sunday Tribune’s investigation revealed that UniZulu also has more than 50 houses near campus earmarked for use by management. One is the double-storey homes on campus, worth more than R4.6 million, occupied by Mtose before she moved to Mtunzini.
“I believe the main purpose of bringing me to UniZulu was to ensure certain irregular transactions were approved during my first few days or months when * was still settling in. However, what the vice-chancellor and council did not realise is that I quickly caught on to the 'organised chaos' and deliberate lack of controls,” Naicker said.
She said many professionals, especially chartered accountants, faced similar dilemmas, where they were used unbeknown to them “to perpetuate irregular activities or where they succumb to pressure in order to keep their jobs”.
Last week Nzimande filed notice to oppose Naicker’s application for access to the requested report.
On Wednesday Mtose, on behalf of UniZulu, also filed a notice to support Nzimande’s bid.
“On the merits of the application I submit that the university is a party to this application because it is brought in relation to the action between the applicant (Naicker) and the university,” reads Mtose’s affidavit.
She argued that the forensic report was confidential and therefore Naicker should not be given an opportunity to “exploit” its contents.
National Health Education Allied Workers Union’s Hlakaniphani Jamile said UniZulu had been fertile ground for corruption since around 2010, before Mtose’s appointment two years ago.
“Misuse of public funds will continue as long as no one is being held accountable and forensic reports are not made public. Unfortunately we have to rely on the courts to gain access to such reports otherwise those who rob our public institutions will always be protected,” he said.
Council chairperson Cyril Gamede did not respond at the time of going to print.