Cape Town - The National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) faces fresh allegations of nepotism, wasting money on luxury apartments and a lack of proper accounting systems.
Now strike action could threaten the 2020 bursary application process.
This comes as Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande made a vote of confidence in the administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, by appointing him for a second term.
Carolissen, who was first brought into the NSFAS by previous minister Naledi Pandor to whip the financial aid body into shape following the resignation of the former board chairperson and subsequently dissolving of the board, is now at the centre of controversy.
Sources alleged that since he took over, senior managers seen to be “stumbling blocks” or vocal about alleged irregularities were suspended or targeted for suspension.
“He has created a culture of fear and has misled Parliament and other stakeholders on what is going on at NSFAS. Many senior managers left the organisation,” a source alleged.
Another claimed the R30billion fund scheme was not “anywhere close to being professionally run”, citing attempts to “capture” key departments like supply chain management, human resources, and finance.
Carolissen and the team of seven advisors seconded to help him have been accused of living a lavish lifestyle, with some accommodated at the V&A Waterfront at a cost of as much as R25000 per apartment per month, while students continued to experience problems with receiving of funds and the scheme is under administration.
They also receive rental cars and flight tickets to their home cities.
“Students are being paid manually, that is outside of the IT system without NSFAS receiving registration data. This creates a great risk and there are continuous delays in disbursement of funds,” a source said.
The composition of the team has also been questioned on the basis of race and gender representation and accused of being “operational” and not willing to transfer skills and knowledge, as required.
Weekend Argus has been reliably told that the team responsible for disbursement of funds, known as Sbux, was suspended although one of the specialists had since returned.
An information technology (IT) system, implemented at a high cost, has yet to function optimally.
“As recent as last month, some students received double payments of allowances and these cannot be recovered although they should be regarded as irregular payments.
“Instead managers have chosen to write them off,” a source said.
Some funding partners, including the Department Of Military Veterans and Funza have voiced frustration at the lack of disbursements due to inefficiencies in the IT system.
Weekend Argus knows of at least one funder, the Wholesale and Retail Seta, that has pulled out.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, which represents employees, held a strike ballot on Thursday over issues that have not been resolved.
They included arbitrary performance payments made as a result of a lack of a performance management system, outdated recruitment policies which have allegedly led to inconsistencies with application of rewards and an increase in grievances.
A whistle-blower is facing dismissal after an internal disciplinary hearing found her guilty of alerting the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology of an alleged intent to sabotage the appointment of a new board and refusal to co-operate with a ministerial task team to investigate the causes of problems at the NSFAS.
In response to the allegations, NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo referred Weekend Argus to a presentation Carolissen made to the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education and training last month. The report painted a glowing picture of achievements secured and mentioned that, while significant time and resources were required to address the IT system, some work was being done to put in place policy framework on governance structures.