CUT in a leadership crisis over wasting millions of rand

Wits University students demonstrate on campus during an earlier protest against thje cost of higher education. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

Wits University students demonstrate on campus during an earlier protest against thje cost of higher education. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

Published Jun 14, 2023


CENTRAL University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State has become the latest institution to be in a leadership crisis after wasting millions of rand on unoccupied student accommodation.

This was after the independent report suggested that the council should be disbanded and a further investigation should be launched into wasteful expenditure relating to payments made to student landlords in circumstances where they have already vacated their accommodation.

The state of the country’s higher learning institutions has come under the spotlight as the University of SA (Unisa), was also rocked by a damning report of an independent assessor last month.

The independent assessment report was compiled by Professor Norman Duncan who was appointed Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Blade Nzimande, to look into affairs of CUT.

This was after Nzimande received veracity of allegations and complaints that could impact the effective functioning of the university.

According to the report, CUT paid R100 million between December 2020 and February 2021 to student landlords even though they vacated their accommodation.

This, according to the report, was approved by the council.

“In December 2020, the council decided that the university should pay for the accommodation of students in December 2020 and January 2021, rather than negotiating concessions with landlords, as recommended by the Department of Higher Education and Training during the Covid-19 period, and as other universities had done.

“Furthermore, the council decided that the amount of R67 million for accommodation should be obtained from the unspent university funds to this end,” read the report.

“More worryingly, the university’s fees and financial aid division erroneously ended up processing an amount of R33 million for February 2021 as well. This expenditure was subsequently ratified by a council meeting on April 2021.

“In total, therefore, the university paid R100 million for student accommodation for the period December 2020 to February 2021, something that the Department of Higher Education and Training would not have approved.

“Moreover, it is alleged that some students had left their accommodation during the period for which the university had paid.”

The report also found that the council was also intervening in operational matters of the university which led to significant levels of frustration for the staff, and council meetings became increasingly drawn out and fraught.

“Indeed, it is noted that the number of council meetings has escalated alarmingly over the past three years. For example, in 2020, the council had 68 meetings (inclusive of its committee meetings), in 2021, it had 85 meetings and it had 94 in 2022 – for which budgets of R637 269 and R917 070, and R1 190 030 had to be allocated, respectively.

“Frequently, meetings last in excess of eight hours and sometimes extend over more than one day,” read the report, adding that this diminished institutional efficiency and productivity.

The report also found that certain members of the council were responsible for leaking information to the media, which resulted in serious reputational damage to the institution.

It was also submitted that the council was muzzling the institutional executive management, limiting its capacity to offer the leadership required by the institution.

As a result, Duncan recommended that the council should be disbanded and that an administrator be appointed to assume its responsibilities until the appointment of a reconstituted council.

He also recommended that the appointment of a suitably qualified chief financial officer and procurement manager should be expedited.

“With respect to the identified potential wasteful expenditure relating to payments made to the students and landlords in circumstances where these students may already have vacated their accommodation, urgent further investigation is required.

“Policies should be updated regularly (preferably every three years), and appropriate formal processes should be followed to expunge policies and procedures that are no longer in use,” read the report.

CUT and Nzimande’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, did not respond to the questions sent on Thursday.

CUT is not the only university where leadership has been in crisis.

Meanwhile, the University of SA (Unisa), was also rocked by a damning report of an independent assessor last month. It placed its registrar, Professor Steward Mothata, on precautionary suspension over allegations of serious breaches of policy and misconduct.

The suspension followed a report by an independent assessor, Professor Themba Mosia, who recommended that the university be placed under administration last month.

In the letter, signed by vice-chancellor Puleng LenkaBula, Mothata was said to have breached policies and procedures in serious allegations of misconduct. It paertained to breach of confidentiality, gross abuse of office, gross dishonesty, gross insubordination and giving and making false or damaging statements in the execution of his duties.

LenkaBula added that she was convinced that Mothata’s continued role as the university’s registrar secretary of the council would continue to jeopardise and undermine the official business of the Unisa and that of the council. This was because there existed a reasonable fear that misconduct of a similar nature may continue.

Mothata, who has been suspended for 90 days with salary and benefits, has been prohibited from entering Unisa’s premises and is not required to attend to his duties.

In the report, Mosia found that the registrar’s portfolio was dysfunctional due to poor consequences management, outdated policies, a failure to protect student data, and a failure to safeguard certificates, thus compromising the integrity of Unisa qualifications.

However, Mothata told Mosia that while his relationship with LenkaBula started well, it changed when she allegedly went over his head, making demands of directors leading the upgrade of the official residence for her.

Mosia also found that Unisa spent more than R285 000 on curtains for LenkaBula’s official residence, while an outside company, appointed later to compare prices, came up with a quote of R20 630. He also reported that an amount of R8 000 was claimed for training on how to use a vacuum cleaner, despite only the staircase being carpeted.

Mothata has challenged the suspension, saying it was unlawful and constituted an aggravated abuse of power.

Through his attorneys, MP Mannya INC, he said LenkaBula does not have any powers to suspend him. He said the power to suspend and take disciplinary action vested in the council of the university.

“For this reason alone the suspension is unlawful as a matter of law. As you are also aware in law, a functionary is prohibited from exercising any power he or she does not in law have,” read the letter dated June 6, 2023.

On the other hand, Unisa announced that the council had a meeting to conclude some outstanding matters of governance and oversight and finalise its response to Nzimande on the report.

Unisa’s spokesperson Tommy Huma said: “Council proceeded to ratify the filling of existing vacancies, thus completing a process that commenced several months ago in anticipation of the pending end of the terms of certain members as well as the need to fill other vacancies that already existed at the time. Two other vacancies, occasioned by recent resignations, have also been filled.”