Unisa says it is not aware of R77 million laptop deal probe

Unisa Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Puleng LenkaBula. Photo: Unisa

Unisa Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Puleng LenkaBula. Photo: Unisa

Published May 29, 2022


Johannesburg - The University of SA (Unisa) has refused to answer questions on the steps it has taken to implement the forensic investigation into the R77 million purchase of laptops that recommended “corrective action” against its executives.

Professor Puleng LenkaBula, the principal and vice-chancellor of Africa’s largest open distance learning institution, vice-principal for finance, supply chain management and business enterprises, and chief financial officer, Khathu Ramakumba and other members of Unisa’s management committee (ManCom) are in the firing line following the investigation by law firm Bowmans.

The investigation found that LenkaBula, in her capacity as chairperson of ManCom failed to ensure that council approval was obtained for the deviation from the prescribed supply chain management processes as the expenditure exceeded the delegation of R50m provided to the committee.

Bowmans concluded that after a review of emails and draft submissions that ManCom members were aware of the R50m delegation and that council approval was required for the entire initiative, as it exceeded R50m.

It also established that Ramakumba instructed and authorised the payment of cash advances to employees in contravention of Unisa’s supply chain management policy.

ManCom was found to have failed to refer the deviation from the supply chain management policy to Unisa’s tender committee.

Bowmans also recommended that Unisa should consider taking corrective action against ManCom, which, in addition, failed to notify or include organised labour in the discussions related to the cash advances to employees to purchase laptops.

According to the report, dated February 23, 2022, ManCom failed to seek council approval for the deviation from prescribed supply chain management processes and the payment of cash advances to employees prior to making payments exceeded its delegation of R50m.

Unisa Principal and Vice-chancellor Prof Puleng LenkaBula who is accused of refusing to be interviewed by the investigators. Photo: UNISA

Bowmans wants the Unisa council to consider instructing LenkaBula to be interviewed by the law firm in order to obtain and document her version of events.

LenkaBula, the report states, refused to afford Bowmans an opportunity to interview her with regard to the matter.

”We were unable to obtain an explanation from her as to why council approval was not sought for the staff to purchase their own laptops,” the law firm explained.

Bowmans also concluded that LenkaBula provided input to a draft submission dated June 1, 2021 and earmarked for ManCom’s consideration and approval.

The submission acknowledged that council approval at the recommendation of its finance, estates, and investment committee would be required, given the estimated expenditure totalled R55m.

However, Bowman established that between June 2021 to February this year, Unisa effected 23 batches of payments amounting to over R72.6m for cash advances to 3 167 employees for the procurement of laptops that cost between R27 000 to R33 000 each.

By February 18, Unisa had only received invoices from employees related to 686 laptops amounting to over R15.2m, with a difference of about R57m still outstanding.

The purchase of laptops went ahead despite acting expenditure management director Donald Ndlovu’s warning that it would amount to R72.6m and that it would be an oversight not to adhere to existing policies and the delegation of authority as the expenditure was way above R50m.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has condemned Unisa for the irregular procurement of laptops.

”We now know as a matter of fact that the council is processing the recommendation of the forensic report which calls for disciplinary action to be taken against the vice-chancellor,” Nehawu said.

Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela told the Sunday Independent yesterday that the university was aware of pronouncements made by some stakeholders in the public domain about the Bowmans report, but that the institution was not aware of such investigations nor any such report.

”If council is undertaking such investigations, the queries must therefore be referred to council.

“We are in the process of enquiring from Bowmans about such a report as we are not aware of it,” he said.

Unisa council chairperson Nosisa Mokoka did not respond to questions sent to her on Friday.