File picture: Supplied
Johannesburg - Two senior managers at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) have been accused of siphoning off at least R25 million from the university, which they allegedly channelled into their private business.

The university has confirmed that UJ chairperson of council Professor Roy Marcus and deputy vice-chancellor of finance Jaco van Schoor were suspended with pay 11 days ago.

The Sunday Independent understands that the pair were slapped with the suspensions after it emerged they had allegedly swindled the university out of millions.

A whistle-blower had lifted the lid on the alleged rot, prompting UJ to launch a two-pronged probe - an internal and external forensic investigation.

Auditing firm SizweNtsaluba Gobodo was commissioned to do the forensic probe.

At the centre of the allegations is that Marcus and Van Schoor used UJ companies to personally benefit from some contracts for the installation of solar geysers.

The geysers were meant to be installed at the university’s premises and residences, and PTiP Innovations, one of the UJ-owned firms, was among those tasked with doing the job.

Marcus and Van Schoor allegedly abused their executive powers by channelling some of the funds from the project into Innovative Investment Corporation (IIC), a Sandton-based company they hold shares in.

The pair, who are listed among the firm’s only four directors, had apparently not declared their stake in the firm to the university.

“There was a breakdown of governance, and people overstepped their mandate. There was a possibility of vested interest, and/or conflict of interest,” said an insider privy to the investigations.

“There (was) transfer of money from UJ companies to private individuals as if they had done business with the companies, but no services were rendered.”

It is estimated that the university was swindled out of more than R25m through the alleged dodgy dealings. Sources say the investigation includes looking into whether Marcus and Van Schoor might have colluded with IIC to fleece UJ out of cash.

“There was collusion with IIC, which we think has been happening over a period of three years. What is even worse is that the two individuals concerned sit on the board of IIC. They didn’t even declare this company that they used to siphon (UJ),” said another source.

In correspondence to staff and students announcing the suspensions of Marcus and Van Schoor, UJ said: “There may have been some irregularities in the commercialisation domain of the university.

“In the interest of good governance and in order for the investigation to be pursued unhampered, the chair of council, Prof Roy Marcus and the deputy vice-chancellor: Finance, Jaco van Schoor, have stepped down from their current positions pending the outcome of the investigation.”

Deputy chairperson Mike Teke will take over as acting chairperson of council, while executive director Nolwazi Mamorare will be acting deputy vice-chancellor of finance until this matter is resolved, UJ said.

“In fairness to all parties concerned, members of staff are asked to refrain from speculation and allow the forensic investigators to complete their work to ascertain the facts of the matter.”

Ironically, Van Schoor formed part of the panel at a forum on critical thinking at Unisa in September last year, which delved into the crisis regarding ethics at universities, which covered corruption.

Part of the consensus at the forum was that if corruption in higher education was to be addressed, there was a need to call it what it was - theft.

On IIC’s official website, Van Schoor sheds some light into his relationship with Marcus: “Jaco & Roy have worked together since 2013; they look after the interest of UJ in specific mandated opportunities, particularly in the energy domain.”

Van Schoor could not be reached for comment as his cellphone rang unanswered and he did not respond to the text messages left on it.

Marcus said: “First of all, I can’t comment on it (the issue) because I don’t know what I am guilty of. And since I am told there’s a forensic investigation, I haven’t been approached to either counter it or agree, and I don’t know what the specific allegations are. So I can’t comment.”

UJ spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen would not discuss the details of the allegations, and referred The Sunday Independent to the university’s statement.

“The matter is currently under investigation and (we) will communicate the outcome once it has been finalised,” he said.

Sources said it was imperative that the university acted swiftly because management was worried that the issue would harm the institution’s reputation.

“Our big worry is about the reputation of the UJ, and we are not taking this matter lightly."

Sunday Independent