The Select Committee met to be briefed by the National Student Financial aid Scheme (NSFAS), but resolved to postpone the presentation because of the late submission of the required documents. Members were adamant that they could not engage in meetings without having an opportunity to study the documentation beforehand. They made it clear that education was an urgent matter, particularly with protests and unrest in tertiary institutions, and expressed extreme disappointment with the management of NSFAS. Pertinent issues relating to maladministration, irregular expenditure and erroneous payouts to students, made it even more necessary they were able to thoroughly engage with the NSFAS report. The Chairperson said that the Committee would follow up on making sure the delegates’ travel expenses would come from their salaries, and were no longer covered by Parliament.
The Committee adopted the minutes of its meeting of 5 February 2020, and the report on the Convention establishing the Square Kilometre Array observatory. It was also given an update on its application for a study tour, and requested more information in writing.
The Chairperson welcomed and introduced those present, and submitted apologies from the Minister and the Deputy Minister. He said the reason the meeting had started a bit later than planned was because some Members thought that there was no meeting when the documents for the meeting were not sent to them. He asked the delegates how long the presentation had taken them to prepare.
Dr Randall Carolissen, Executive Administrator: National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) explained that it took three to four days to get the latest data and prepare the document for presentation. He apologised for the late submission affecting the meeting today. He took full responsibility for the late submission.
The Chairperson emphasised that this had deprived the Committee of the opportunity to scrutinise NSFAS. It was not possible for Committee Members to read the document within a few hours and actually apply their minds. He stated categorically that this was unacceptable, and asked for comments from the Committee.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) reminded the delegates that the programme for meetings was given to the delegates way ahead of time, so it was unacceptable to submit documents late. She did not accept this report or the delegation’s apology. Denying the Members of the Committee a chance to properly engage with the document also deprived them of the ability to engage with their constituencies, particularly now that many tertiary institutions and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges were experiencing protests, shut downs and unrest.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) commented that the late submission of meeting documents showed that there was a blatant disregard for accountability. There were pertinent and urgent questions to ask NSFAS on maladministration and gender-based violence within NSFAS. However, she commented that the meeting should continue on that basis.
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KwaZulu-Natal) said that she had received this document an hour before the meeting. Although Members might have questions, she was not aware of anything in the document and had no basis upon which to debate the contents of the report.
Mr I Ntsube (ANC, Free State) agreed with some Members who were saying that the meeting should be postponed. He found it suspicious to say that the delay had been caused by their attempt to consolidate the latest data and developments, as the Committee was not only interested in the last five days of NSFAS.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) said that the Committee had to take itself seriously in discharging its duty. The purpose of these meetings was to engage with the documents, and without preparation by Members it cheapened the value of the meetings. He suggested that the Committee should not proceed. NSFAS issues were of an urgent nature, particularly seeing unrest and protests at different institutions, and some of this unrest was based on issues of funding.
Ms M Maleka (ANC, Mpumalanga) supported that the meeting be postponed so that Members could engage with the report before sitting for the meeting.
The Chairperson asked the NSFAS delegates if this was their first appearance in Parliament.
Dr Carolissen responded that this was the first time they had appeared in front of the NCOP this year.
The Chairperson emphasised again that the situation at hand was wholly unacceptable. Some of the Members had seen the document only shortly before the meeting, after it had taken the delegates days to put together. This shows carelessness on the part of NSFAS about how urgent the work it did is.
The Chairperson discharged the NSFAS delegation, and postponed the meeting. He said that the Committee would follow up on making sure the delegates’ travel expenses would come from their salaries, and were no longer covered by Parliament.
Adoption of minutes
The Chairperson moved on to the adoption of the minutes of 5 February 2020, and went through the document with Members.
Ms Ndongeni moved the adoption of the minutes.
Ms Maleka seconded the motion.
The minutes were adopted.
Report on Convention establishing SKA observatory
Mr Bara moved the adoption of the report on the Convention establishing the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Observatory, tabled in terms of section 231(2) of the Constitution, 1996.
Ms Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) seconded the motion.
The report was adopted.
Committee’s study tour
As an additional agenda item, the Chairperson suggested that the Committee get an update on its application for a study tour.
A member of staff responded that this application was being driven by a Ms Masela, who was not present at the meeting, so he could pass on only what he was aware of.
Apparently, the Committee had applied to go to Chile and Argentina, and everything had been submitted on time. On 12 December, the staff had been told that the research trip should be postponed, so a new application should be submitted. The new development affecting this was that the money the Social Services and this Committee had -- about R2 million -- was supposed to be used for the National Health Insurance (NHI) public participation processes. Since the National Assembly was doing this already, this would not be done as a Committee but would be done through the provinces. The money would remain unused, so the Committee may be asked to use that money on the study tour. There was also a change of locations, to Cuba and Ghana, which had also been in the first plans but he was not sure why these changes had been made. The study tour had been shelved after all the quotations and preparations had been completed.
The Chairperson confirmed that this was the first time he was hearing of this, and asked that the information gaps in the response were filled and that this was communicated to him in writing.
Mr Bara commented that it was probably best to submit a new application, as required. Taking into account yesterday’s discussion with the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Health, they had mentioned specific countries in respect of the NHI. As a cluster, the Committee should look at where the better case studies were in relation to the NHI, and in terms of education. The Committee might have applied for Ghana and Chile, but it was also important to consider the report given yesterday on NHI processes. These would soon be exhausted in the National Assembly, and it would be best if by the time it got to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) the Members had that kind of information to assist them in their own processes.
The Chairperson commented that it was important to sing from the same hymn book. The Members should be aware of where the Members of Executive Committees (MECs) and the Department of Health had gone before, and to take notice what they had seen and monitored the implementation. The NHI issue fell into the ambit of the Committee on Health, so Members should engage with the Chairperson of that Portfolio Committee and take it from there.
The meeting was adjourned.
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