VUT Matters: Administrator progress report & NEHAWU; NSFAS Administrator

Higher Education, Science and Technology

06 October 2020
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met virtually with the Administrator of the Vaal University of Technology and the executive team, and other stakeholders to assess progress in stabilising the University following the catastrophic collapse of the University Council and the appointment of the administrator in August 2019. The intervention process is scheduled to continue until 31 July 2021 when there will be a handover to a new Council.

While the Administrator presented a lengthy progress report for the period to 30 September 2020, Members criticised the lack of specific details on a wide range of issues and agreed that a follow-up engagement with the University administration would be held in two weeks time, with the detailed reports requested.

University branches of the National Education and Health Workers Union and the National Tertiary Education Union presented observations on both positive improvements and concerns. The Administrator of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme briefed the Committee on the student funding issues at the University.

Members were not satisfied with the responses from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme on the reasons for funding being denied to or withdrawn from Vaal University of Technology students. There was a consensus that the longstanding “N+2 policy” for deciding who qualified for state funding would be referred to the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology for review because it disadvantaged students from access to much needed funding.

Members were concerned by reports from student leaders who had been in the now defunct Students Representative Council that students were unfairly suspended or prevented from accessing parts of the campus, that there were unhygienic conditions in residences, that students did not have access to Wi-Fi for e-learning and that they had to pay for the laptop computers distributed to them by the University. Members questioned the failure of the University to hold elections for student representatives, and its decision to appoint an interim Students Representative Council.

The Committee resolved that the questions relating to lifestyle audits; implementation of the Assessor’s Report and the Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo Forensic Report; the review of the institutional statute; and a progress report on disciplinary actions against individuals implicated in corruption and maladministration; were to be responded to in detail by the University administration in the follow up engagement. Detailed responses were requested on security and laptop tenders, on the appointment of a law firm, and on why disciplinary processes appeared to be implemented only selectively when members of the staff appeared to be implicated in malfeasance;

Questions were also posed on supply chain management policies and on the status of discussions with the Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga on re-deployment of staff following the closure of the satellite campuses in Uppington and Secunda.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone present and informed the Members that there was a slight change to the day’s programme. The Committee had been scheduled to receive a briefing from the Legal Services of Parliament but that had been postponed to the following week and the Committee decided to focus on issues at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT).

The Committee would also receive a briefing from two unions, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) as well as students. The Committee had received complaints from students about termination of funding. The Committee had also learned that the institution currently does not have a Students’ Representative Council (SRC) because the term of office had lapsed in April 2020 and the SRC has not been re-established. Therefore, the Committee needed to give the students an opportunity to speak for themselves.

Prof Ihron Rensburg, Administrator at VUT said that the University had to be placed under administration in 2019 following the catastrophic collapse of the University’s council and executive management. Three phases of the administration period had been planned: The stabilisation phase - from 15 August 2019 to 29 February 2020; the turnaround phase from 1 March 2020 to 28 February 2021; and the last phase from 1 March 2021 to 31 July 2021 which would cover the Council establishment, induction and handover. The activities in each phase were detailed in PowerPoint slides, as were the key highlights of progress reported by the Administrator. [These are available on the PMG website for the meeting.]

Regarding human resources (HR), people have been appointed to critical positions and some of the incumbents will be assuming office in October 2020. The University’s organisational structure has been reviewed, and aligned to the new strategic plan. The heads of academic departments structure has been reviewed and streamlined allowing the saving of R30 million per annum. Disciplinary actions have been initiated and are underway against those members of staff implicated in fraud and corruption by forensic investigations.

As for institutional finances, strict financial controls and budget management were being implemented. Outstanding payments from NSFAS in excess of R300 million had been recovered, with the exception of an outstanding R50 million which would soon be recouped. NSFAS agreed that VUT can submit claims for students that have already received the laptops and completed the required documentation in order to process the refund. NSFAS would also prioritize students who were funded in 2019 and achieved good academic results.

Prudent yet compassionate student credit management has been implemented and procurement policies have been revised to ensure value for money and transparent procurement. The University’s 2020 First Half Year financial results demonstrate the first results of prudent budgeting and expenditure. Based on revised full year projections, the budgeted operating loss of R48 million is expected to widen to R94 million. The current cash flow projection indicates that the University will have less than R10 million in its current account by 31 December 2020 (excluding investment income) should there be no improvement in its debtor’s book.

In terms of student accommodation, the purchase of the 1 836 bed Academia student residence has been completed. Essential maintenance, remediating half-done/shoddily done/not done maintenance work and rehabilitating student residences have progressed well during the course of the last six months. The implementation of the University’s revised accreditation system for private student residence providers will be implemented at the beginning of 2021.

Prof Rensburg spoke about infrastructure maintenance, projects and new buildings; academic administration; the viability of satellite campuses; and student and staff development.

The COVID-19 global pandemic and the resultant precautionary lockdown levels have required a move towards remote learning support. The results indicate that the proportion of students participating in remote learning is above 94.1%. The ‘rerun’ of semester one will assist in reducing the number of students (mainly international students) who have not fully participated in the academic programme.

Prof Rensburg responded to claims and questions from anonymous emails. The use of anonymous emails to create innuendo, make false claims and defame had become standard practice at the university. It was said to be the work of competing factions with their shifting coalitions and relationships to power and decision making. This is being done to create false pictures of malfeasance that are intended to deflect, corral, intimidate and harass decision makers so that they are paralyzed. These factions do so that they can press on uninterrupted with their despicable projects of corruption, theft, bribery, wasteful expenditure, appointment of friends, and other malfeasance.

Those who write anonymous emails under the false claim of being “whistle-blowers” and then defame and make false claims about members of staff must be held accountable, and this resultant toxic culture remediated.

Through quarterly reports, the Administrator reports to the Minister. Appointments of members of the Administrator’s Task Team – including those of Dr Prins Nevhutalu and Mr Andile Nongogo were subject to due diligence, recommended for consideration thereafter by the Administrator to the Minister, and were approved by the Minister.

It had been claimed that Mr Swana was the brother-in-law of the Administrator. Prof Rensburg said this was a blatant lie, and an excellent example of subterfuge and deflection.

The Chairperson asked about the allegations that came forth from a whistle blower about the Administrator’s affiliation or conflict of interest with a law firm that was appointed by VUT. The Administrator did not respond to this allegation in the presentation.

Mr Rensburg said that there was no relationship with this law firm and nothing was further from the truth than what was said.

Briefing by NEHAWU from the Perspective of the Workers
Mr Joseph Radebe, Executive Committee Member of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) VUT, said that the union welcomed the administration led by the Administrator, Professor Ihron Rensburg, because it was prudent for NEHAWU to stabilise the situation at Vaal University of Technology. VUT under the leadership of the Administrator has been fairly stable and disruptions that existed before his tenure had calmed down. However, there is a new discontent emanating which has been brought about by the suspension of students that happened a while ago. This matter must be dealt with because it poses a threat to the stability of the University going forward. Nehawu appealed to the Portfolio Committee to assist in expediting the process of dealing with this matter.

Mr Radebe said the university is fairly stable on its operations and taking into consideration the period of lockdown and challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a general uncertainty, anger and confusion among student population and structures which emanated after the recent suspensions of SRC members and Nehawu find it difficult to be quiet about this matter since it threatens the cohesion and the stability of the university. 

[Mr Radebe read out a four-page document “Report on the Status quo” dated 6 October 2020 which is on the
PMG website for the meeting]

Briefing by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU)
Ms Kimberly Coetzee of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) presented to Members its observations on positive improvements and concerns at the Vaal University of Technology, and expressed appreciation for the work done by the Administrator in a difficult year. [The slides are available on the PMG website for the meeting.]
Briefing by National Student Financial Aid Scheme on VUT 
Dr Randall Carollissen, NSFAS Administrator, said that the NSFAS had put together a presentation consisting of statistics regarding funding at VUT. The presentation had been refined that morning to include updated figures but there are no significant changes from the information sent to the Committee. [The slides are available on the PMG website for the meeting]

There were two issues that were creating challenges in the entire system. Students were claiming that they were unfunded, and that NSFAS kicked them out of the system and their appeals were not being processed. In the statistics, it was clear that NSFAS are in fact doing well, but that did not mean it could ignore the students have not been sorted out.

One of the key systemic issues that needs special attention is the issue of student-data sharing. At the beginning of the year, each institution only has the student record of that particular student for that institution. When a student registers, the [NSFAS] system may pick up that that student is registered in a number of universities already. In that case the student would by far exceed the N+2 requirement and NSFAS is obligated to un-fund such as student. [The long established “N+2 rule” means a student could be in the funding system for the duration of his/her degree, plus a grace period of two years] .This problem can be solved and it will be solved when NSFAS makes the data available to all institutions. NSFAS has written to the Department about this.

Secondly, students only get funded once the registration data has been received. The students register at the university in March and NSFAS receives the data in April. It cannot wait for two months to start funding them, so NSFAS pays the students upfront [from March] so that they can be able to sustain themselves. NSFAS does not want to stop the funding for those two months.

Dr Carollissen met with the students who had challenged the Administrator on the fairness of the process on the un-funding of the 5 000 students that were checked against the South African Union of Students (SAUS) data. NSFAS contacted students before un-funding them to submit supporting documentation to validate their status. The un-funding followed due to non-receipt of that validation. NSFAS also made sure that it did not un-fund students that were on the margin, only the high-end earners were looked into. Out of that 5 000, 1 000 withdrew their funding request. The discussion on the recovery of the money from the students that withdrew is still on-going with the Minister. It might have appeared harsh to un-fund students in the middle of the year, but NSFAS has received a lot of complaints from students about other students that were still in the system that should not be in the system. At some stage, NSFAS had to act against the irregular funding of students. The situation was challenging and NSFAS received petitions from some students because a person could be earning some money today and tomorrow lose their job. Those students would be eligible to apply for funding again. NSFAS is in constant communication with the University about these matters.

Ms Nthuseng Mphahlele, Chief Operating Officer, NSFAS, provided overall updated funding information at VUT. NSFAS had provisionally funded 13 539 students and confirmed that 12 197 were funded. She went on to present on the rejections for funding 1 616 students.

Despite the challenges arising out of the 2020 remote teaching interventions, there was no additional funding set aside by Pre-Funders for the laptop benefit. Funding for the devices and any other associated costs must be sourced from available 2020 funding.

Briefing by former student leaders or “Interim Student Representative Council” Members
Mr Wandile Maluleke, former SRC President at VUT, lamented the challenges that the student body has faced in the University. He and other SRC members had been suspended from the University and sanctioned and were not allowed to enter both campus and residences. They were also not allowed to engage in any political engagements on campus. This meant that one was found guilty before the application of proper processes. They were suspended for three years and have appealed the decision of the University. Student victimisation is quite prevalent in the University.

There are places that are not available for students such as the cafeteria. The contract has lapsed and currently there is no cafeteria on campus for students. There was also another place which catered for students that has been closed.

The SRC was closed in April 2020. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the institution has been operating without student representation. There were no student representatives to assist in addressing students that have encountered issues studying remotely.

There were laptops that were given out to students and these laptops were not given for free to students. The presentation made earlier, which gave an impression that those laptops were free, is not truthful. Students are given those laptops on a debt basis and they would have to pay for those laptops.

Mr Maluleke said the tender process for security had been advertised but there was no conclusion on it. The Administrator claimed that a security company has been appointed but this is new information. The securities at VUT are taking exorbitant amounts. The current security company is paid on a month to month basis. There was an agreement between the student leadership and the unions and university management to begin a process to in-source security on campus – there is no progress on this matter.

Residences remain un-renovated and [the former student leaders] had heard about corruption scandals on tenders for student accommodation renovations. Tenders would not be advertised but it would be treated as a matter where people would submit quotations to renovate residences, even for bigger amounts. Those amounts do not allow just mere submissions of quotations for the provision of those services. There is an appointed individual responsible for renovating residences and no renovation has been done. Student residences do not even have Wi-Fi. They had been told that the Wi-Fi connection would be done but to date nothing has been done. As the student body, he could confidently say that since the appointment of the Administrator they have not seen any substantial changes on the ground.

Mr Kevin Mawila, former Secretary General of the Student Representative Council at VUT, echoed the former SRC president’s comments on corruption in the awarding of tenders at VUT. The VUT has been under administration for 18 months but there is a lack of appetite to establish governance structures. The Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo (SNG) Forensic Report was leaked to the public but a formal process that is inclusive of all relevant stakeholders to peruse and consider that Report has not been initiated by the institution. Student governance has collapsed and there is no legitimate plan from the institution to establish an interim SRC. Elections can be hosted under the Lockdown Alert Level One, but that has not been considered yet. Service providers for student accommodation have cut their services due to lack of payments by the institution. Lastly, Mr Mawila asked the Committee to appeal to the Administrator to bring all stakeholders of the institution into his confidence about procurement policy; expedite the appeal process of the suspensions and look into the alleged irregularities for tenders.

Discussion
The Chairperson said there was something fundamentally wrong with way NSFAS outlined the assessment of students on qualifying criteria before 2018. This is because the introduction of the criteria for the working class and the poor should be able to cover everyone with effect from the date it was announced. It is meant to be universal; thus, there is something wrong with the policy and the Department needs to look into it.

The Chairperson said the information presented by NSFAS and that presented by Prof Rensburg did not tally. The Administrator’s slide on the students that were still having issues with NSFAS [slide 14] shows there are 670 students who are still having issues with their accounts. The figure is broken down and the information provided by NSFAS did not tally up with this one. The Committee asked NSFAS to be part of the engagement due to the enormous amount of emails the Committee has received about complaints from students at VUT about NSFAS cutting off their funding

The N+2 situation needs to be looked into much deeper, because there is a student who complained to the Chairperson about it and that complaint was forwarded to the Administrator. This student demonstrated that he was registered for one year at Unisa and he left his studies to go and work due to personal matters at home, but he could not qualify for NSFAS. Unisa’s records he was still being treated as registered, even though he had left and deregistered. It is possible that this may apply to many other students and it is taking a lot of students outside the system. Every case needs to be treated differently based on its unique merit; otherwise we will lose a lot of students because of incorrect information.

The Committee has received the anonymous emails on various issues and had asked the Administrator to take the Committee on board and into his confidence about these allegations. However, the Administrator was rather more generic in his responses regarding those allegations. For example, on the purchase of Academia student residence – the allegation is that this process was stopped by the previous Chairperson of the Finance Committee, because there were suspicions that certain Committee Members were lined up to receive some kickbacks to the tune of R40 million. When the Administrator was appointed, he was instructed that the investigations on those allegations must resume. The Committee thought that the Administrator would respond to the issue of the validity period of the tender, which was said to have expired at the time the instruction to the Administrator was made. He thought the Administrator would speak on the extension of the validity period and on the expiry of the tender to ensure that the investigation processes were not halted. There were allegations that the appointment letter that was issued to the service provider had expired and that [they] had continued and regarded the tender to have fallen off, while the owner of the building was at the advanced stage [of discussions] to sell that building. The responses the Committee had received were at a high level, and were not satisfactory.

The Chairperson said the second example pertained to the Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo Forensic Report. Over 20 people were implicated in the SNG Report with various allegations of appointments that were made improperly. However, according to this whistle-blower, none of those people have been taken through the disciplinary process. Furthermore, there were also five people who were implicated in the procurement disciplinary processes. Why is the application of the disciplinary processes selective? Is it even true that over 20 people that were implicated have not been taken through the disciplinary processes?

The Chairperson said the Administrator must be able to demonstrate to the Committee what has been done to address these matters. It is extremely concerning that Members were given inadequate, high-level, answers to these matters.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said that from the VUT Administrator’s presentation, there is no commitment on when the 670 students that were not paid their NSFAS allowances would be paid. He was not pleased with the overall response from the Administrator. The Administrator is not telling Members who in the institution should be held accountable for these mishaps, from the institutions’ side. Someone in the institution did not do their work. Lest we not forget, some of these allowances for students can go a long way and assist students with their livelihoods.

On the matter of laptops, someone alleged that a tender was issued for 6 000 laptops but the Administrator told Members that no one met the requirements. Clearly, there is a lack of clarity on the exact details of the requirements that were not met. A report ought to be compiled on each of the service providers that applied for the tender and were informed that they did not meet the certain requirements. That report would then need to be published for public scrutiny so that those service providers can dispute where necessary; otherwise corruption will continue happening. He proposed that the Committee take this matter up to the Department. He wanted to know whether the Public Finance Management Act processes and procedures were followed regarding the submitted quotations. Members heard reports that in some residences, students were being infected due to unhygienic conditions. Can Members get a confirmation on this? Also, were the students granted data, since there is no Wi-Fi connection in the student residences?

Mr Letsie said that the Student Representative Council is a very important stakeholder in a higher learning institution; could the Committee get answers as to why the SRC has not yet been established? Why has it taken over six months for the institution to obtain student information to ascertain whether the incumbents met the academic requirements of eligibility for election?

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) said that when an institution is put under administration one hoped that the Administrator would put it back into greener pastures. When one hears allegations being made against the very Administrator, it becomes concerning. Ideally, when it comes to VUT, one wants these institutions to get to a point where they are fully functional. It is deeply worrisome that the same allegations that were raised before the appointment of the Administrator come up during the Administrator’s tenure.

She raised concerns about the allegations of sexual assault and gender-based violence in the institutions of higher learning. The President has announced that this is a pandemic in the country and the institutions of higher learning are microcosm of the country. One must always look at this sector as an eco-system, if we fail at one institution; we are failing the entire system at large. When issues come up in one institution, we need to ensure that the same issues do not come up in another institution.

Communication is pivotal and when the Committee went to the institution earlier in the year, Members suggested very strongly that there must be a platform in which stakeholders have a voice. Students have complained about how their complaints have been ignored. Students continue to complain about their allowances being halted and funding being withdrawn because of the lack of competence from the institution – students results are not being sent through to the NSFAS system. One is then inclined to enquire about why these student results are not automatically updated in the NSFAS system once they have been available at the VUT. Students cannot continue being casualties of incompetence.

Ms Mkhatshwa asked what it actually meant when it was reported that 284 students were funded by NSFAS but not recommended by the institution. Members would have appreciated a detailed report on the residences. Students have raised issues about the living conditions in the residences. What is the status of the communication between the Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga regarding the hosting of students that would have been on the satellite campuses which were now being closed? She also sought details on the guidelines for the establishment of the interim SRC; however, there is no need for an interim SRC because the country is now on Alert Level One and SRC elections could be held.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) welcomed the involvement of all stakeholders in VUT and said there is always truth in some of the statements and allegations that have been directed to the Committee. As long as there is no prejudice on the investigations, the truth will be uncovered. She agreed that NSFAS should take a different approach and start thinking differently because the outcry about NSFAS cuts across all institutions – it is not just VUT but many students from different institutions who complain about NSFAS. She asked the Administrator about previous policies on governance that existed prior to the institutions being brought under administration. These policies were reviewed but when would the Administrator ensure that the policies work and were implemented? Policies are written on paper, and they are as good as the paper they are written on if they are not implemented.

Secondly, Dr Thembekwayo asked why disciplinary processes currently underway against members of staff implicated in fraud and corruption were said to be slow with ongoing postponements. There is a significant lack of accountability from the people who were implicated in the fraud and corruption allegations. She suggested that the Administrator should keep Members up to date and informed about the outcomes of the disciplinary actions.

She asked the Administrator what was his understanding or standard of good academic results in relation to students who were currently experiencing migration problems with their NSFAS funding? The closing of satellite campuses was not agreed to by communities and the students that will be accommodated in the mentioned universities. Is the Administrator planning to ensure that those students will receive full credits for the courses that they have already completed and were they fully accommodated in those universities?

She wanted to know why the campus security was not in-sourced within the institution. In-sourcing the campus security will enable the employees to access full employment benefits. The Administrator said that the students have been provided the funding for the laptops, but the students have explicitly made it clear that they are asked to pay for those laptops. Who is not telling the truth here?

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said that it was important for the VUT Administrator to note that these meetings in Parliament were not about what Members wanted to hear but rather about the truth and factual information. She felt that the unions presented two different perspectives. The report by NTEU referred to unnecessary expenditure – what were these unnecessary expenditures? Could Members get a detailed report on what this unnecessary expenditure is?

She asked how the stakeholders related to each other and how effective their lines of communications were. Ms J Mananiso said that manner in which the Administrator of VUT deals with students is mafia style – this type of behaviour needs to stop. The Administrators are a reflection of public servants. The matter of whistle blowing must be taken seriously because if the institution had an open policy and welcomed issues raised by employees or people within the institution, people would not write to Parliament anonymously to raise matters. Those matters would be raised in that institution. The Committee also suggested that the institutions had war rooms to deal with matters as they arise.

Lastly, she asked what the status is on the suggestion that was made to implement lifestyle audits on employees in the institution. How far is the institution in implementing this policy?

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) said the unions were complaining about the lack of communication and lack of stability in human resources. The Administrator indicated that only one executive manager remained from the HR function. She asked about the reasons why the [former members of the] SRC were not allowed to participate in stakeholder engagements and meetings as the student body.

Dr W Boshoff (FF Plus) asked whether all stakeholders in the Uppington VUT campus that is said to be closed have been involved in the process. It was mentioned before that the Uppington VUT campus should play a pivotal role in enabling students from the Northern Cape to benefit from the jobs creating by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Who are all the participants in those discussions?  Secondly, he asked NSFAS about the N+2 matter. There is a student that who missed funding for one year because the university thought that she did not have NSFAS funding previously in her studies. The institution realised that she did have NSFAS but she could only enrol for the second semester and as she falls outside the N+2 she lost the funding. If all communication by the institution was proper this would have been avoided but she wants to complete her studies by the end of this year. Members need more details on the N+2 criteria and where does one find it if they want to read it for themselves.

The Chairperson spoke at length. He said that some of the questions asked required a great level of detail and the Committee would propose that a follow up engagement be held to ventilate all these issues in greater detail. Members were interested in getting details on the allegations and complaints that were made.

The whistle-blower indicated in the complaint that there were two advisors that were appointed that had pre-existing issues before joining the VUT- Mr Andile Nongogo and Dr Prins Nevhutalu. Mr Nongogo used to be employed by the Services Sectoral Education and Training Authority (SETA), but the Administrator’s response in relation to the complaints levelled against the two individuals is that due diligence was conducted. The issue with this response is that it is not clear what “due diligence” entailed; therefore, leaving the Members with more questions than answers regarding the complaints involving Mr Nongongo and Dr Nevhutalu. Members must be given sufficient level of comfort and detail in the follow up engagement.

The Chairperson was also interested to know to what extent was the Committee dealing with the basis for the appointment of the Administrator. The basis for [placing a university under] Administration is the Report of the Assessor—that Report made recommendations. How far is the Administrator in implementing those recommendations and those of the SNG Report? The whistle-blower also indicated that these reports were not being implemented. Hence, it was important that details were provided to the Committee about what has been done in implementing those reports.

One of the most important factors that the Administrator had raised was the need to review the University Statute but on the matrix of things completed this was still amber [indicating “on-track/requiring intervention”  - see slide 28, where this item is actually red, indicating “initiated/to be initiated/off-track”]. The review of the institutional statute will enable putting together governance structures. There is no institutional forum, or governance structure that helps in providing checks and balances. Currently, the Administrator is the be-all and there is nothing that keeps the Administrator in check. The Chairperson was not satisfied that the institutional statute had not been established.

Another important issue that was raised by the Assessor was the stakeholder forum because it recognised that there is a need for convergence of all the stakeholders to raise their issues in that forum to come up with ideas on how the University can be better managed and governed. This has not been done.

There is also the lifestyle audit and declaration of interests that were raised by the Assessor, but these have not been done. Members have not been given details on these issues and whether there are any outcomes on the lifestyle audits if they had been conducted.

For example, there are disciplinary cases against certain people at a senior level, but there is no indication on whether all implicated officials had been taken through this process. At this point, the Committee feels that it would be prudent to receive a progress report in relation to the implementation of the Administrator’s Report and the SNG Report and the current status of implementing those reports. The Administrator could prepare a progress report on this for the next engagements.

The security and laptop tender was issued but it was subsequently cancelled because the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) for Resources and Planning indicated that there were some issues. The process was kick-started again but there was no preferred bidder and it was done again through an open tender process. A successful bidder was never identified out of this process and the initial tender was subsequently cancelled. Instead of re-advertisement, a different process of “quotation submission” was followed and the justification for this was that there was a need for the procurement of laptops. It is unclear how these two tenders were treated differently.

There is an allegation that about R20 million was spent in procuring the laptops and it was also alleged that the Acting DVC was involved in the sourcing of quotation when it was indicated that this would be done by the Supply Chain Management (SCM) unit. When the Administrator comes back, these are some of the issues that Members required detailed responses to.

The Chairperson said there was a growing consensus that there is no need to put up an interim SRC structure. The institution needs to commence preparations for a democratic election of the SRC.

The appointment of the Ombudsman was recommended in the Assessor’s Report, which has not been mentioned by the Administrator in his presentation. The Committee would appreciate details on this in the next engagement.

The Committee visited the University early in 2020 and it raised issues about the abandoned infrastructure projects. The Committee recommended that there must be a revision and a full accountability on each of those projects. They asked for a full account and associated costs but this did not come up today. The Committee humbly requests a report on these matters.

The N+2 NSFAS Policy is a Departmental matter and the Committee needs to engage with the Department on this for a change, because it is absurd. All students that are in the system must be treated the same and the qualifying criteria must be the same.

Responses
Prof Rensburg said that he welcomed a follow up briefing on the outstanding matters.

Ms Nontando Mgobo, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) VUT, responded to the reconciliation of the numbers presented by NSFAS and the numbers from the university’s side. The numbers were based on the 2020 funding status and this information was discussed by NSFAS and VUT and there was consensus on these numbers. The 670 number that was presented by the VUT has been cleared by NSFAS and this matter was being attended to by both NSFAS and the VUT.

On the submission of data, the VUT submits the data upon the completion of registration. Once the data has been submitted, reconciliation must be done. In the past, VUT would send an excel file to NSFAS in order to upload the data on its system. Currently, the VUT must upload the data itself based on the compiled template. Technical errors are encountered which the VUT is expected to take up to NSFAS. In this case, there was an omission in following up with NSFAS on the errors that were encountered. When the VUT engaged with NSFAS on this matter, it was picked up that there were attempts to upload but those uploads were not successful. When this was cleared successfully, it was on the last day of the funding cycle for the previous year and it was not accepted on the NSFAS side.

The Chairperson sought clarity on who was responsible for the delay of capturing of registration on the system.

Ms Mgobo said that it was the University that was responsible and it has acknowledged as such.

The Chairperson said that someone was supposed to do this job and that person did not, but the CFO says that it is the entire university that must be blamed.

Ms Mgobo said that to be specific it was the financial aid office that made the error.

Prof Rensburg made a note to the Committee that the intention was to complete the exercise of the disciplinary action against the official responsible before the details could be furnished to the Committee.

The Acting DVC from VUT said that the bid adjudication committee (BAC) report on the [laptop] tender indicated that there was no bidding taking place to meet the mandatory requirements. The VUT Management Committee (ManCom) agreed with the decision of the BAC.

Prof Rensburg confirmed the security tender to be for five years, and in the next five years the tender will end. The commencement of the in-sourcing of campus protection has already started with supervisors and middle-management and a first group of staff being VUT appointments.

The Acting DVC said that on the laptop tender, the BAC evaluated all the tenders and it indicated that there was no bidder who met the mandatory requirements. Therefore, it was brought back to the ManCom once the BAC had adjudicated on it, but ManCom made it clear that the University could not wait because the University was flooded with complaints from students about the lack of laptops and how much these devices were needed during the National Lockdown. ManCom said that the University was not going to re-advertise and that the SCM policy allowed for an open tender. There were 4000 [laptops] from one tender and 3000 from the other. The first one was more applicable to management sciences and human sciences and the latter was more applicable for engineering and computer studies. The laptops were distributed to the students.

The Chairperson said that a written full account report on this would need to be submitted because the Committee cannot rely on an oral account. The Constitution makes it clear that the bidding process must be competitive and transparent. The Committee would need to assured on how competitive and transparent this tender was through a detailed written report.

Prof Rensburg said that a written report would be submitted in the next seven days.

Prof Margaret Linington, DVC Teaching and Learning and Student Affairs, said that the SRC elections were held every year in about September. The SRC Constitution was amended last year in October. In order to bring about those changes in the Constitution there were two problems, one was that there was no SRC and the second was the lack of a Constitution for the election, due to the agreement that the previous one needed to be revised. In discussion with the student structures, a document was submitted to ManCom to set up an interim SRC structure and this was taken back to the students for consultations. The document had been finalised about three weeks before and it lays out the criteria and important details on how the elections would be conducted. That document has been submitted to ManCom for approval. Students have nominated some of their preferred candidates but some of the candidates did not meet the [electability] criteria. There were outstanding matters that needed to be addressed before Covid-19 Lockdown and these matters would now need to be addressed. The interim SRC was initially planned to be in office for a period of six months but it has since been extended to a year in order to finalise all the matters pertaining to the SRC’s Constitution.

The Chairperson interjected and emphasized that the former SRC president said that “the SRC Constitution has never been reviewed in the past ten years and there is a court judgment that the University cannot have elections before reviewing the Constitution.”

Prof Linington this was the specific reason why the interim SRC was established. Jumping into elections now would not be viable until all these matters have been addressed.

Prof Rensburg assured Members that it has never been the administration’s intention to [fill the] vacuum in the role of the SRC leadership and its important role and responsibility as spelled out in its own Constitution and the University Statute. He invested considerable time and conducted an Imbizo with all stakeholders were he tried to find a defensible and principled mid-way. Through these efforts, the administration had been close to achieving an agreement when the country was hit with the Covid-19.

He said that the delay for the SRC elections and related matters was largely due to the issues between management and student organisation on, firstly; reaching an agreement on student [electability] criteria for the SRC. Secondly, it was always the administration’s intention to cap the interim SRC’s term. It was to have been for six months, but now the pressure has come through to push the period to a year. The administration takes the points made by the Committee in expediting the process.

The Chairperson said that the 12 months period was not going to work, because students need to be represented by a democratically elected leadership not by an appointed leadership. Having the interim SRC for 12 months was substituting the rights of the students to elect their own representative, which is the democratic foundation of this country. The 12 months cannot be accepted and the interim SRC must be transitional to something permanent and that was a 12 month arrangement. The election must take place and the administration must give a specific time frame to resolve all the matters and proceed to the elections.

Prof Rensburg said that in respect of the LSM Trading matter, a full formal response was submitted. In the University’s view there was wrongdoing. This is supported by an audit that was conducted by an external auditor. Subsequent to that, a legal process has been initiated. The matter was sub judice.

The administration had done everything in its power to provide students with access to data for e-learning. The administration understands that there may be about 500 students that might not have been supported, but this was a case of the administration having incorrect mobile numbers, despite the many appeals to students to update this information.

With respect to the unhygienic student residences, the administration inspected the different residences with the ManCom. When there was a case on a specific day, students were moved immediately to another residence. Security was present and all the student needs, such as food were provided, but University cleaners were not present at the time because the country was on Alert Level Four. Students were provided with masks and sanitisers.

The Chairperson requested that the questions relating to lifestyle audits; implementation of the Assessor’s Report and the SNG Report; review of the institutional statute; declaration of interest; and progress report on disciplinary actions on implicated individuals on matters of corruption and maladministration to be responded to in detail in the follow up engagement. 

There is a specific allegation that there are 20 people that were implicated and nothing was done about it. Secondly, for the procurement there were five who were implicated but only two were disciplined and there was a complaint about the selective application of the disciplinary process. Thirdly, on the security tender, there was no briefing session due to Covid-19. The Committee needs information about this and how the process was finally concluded. There was also a laptop tender and details are needed regarding the process that was followed.

The Chairperson said the Committee would also need a detailed report on the law firm that was appointed and how the process was conducted. All these matters would be further discussed in the follow up engagement with detailed reports on them.

Prof Rensburg summed up. He said that on the claims that he was dismissive of students, someone leaked his personal mobile number and subsequently he was flooded by WhatsApp messages on his phone from students. This is not acceptable. Students were directed to the University official responsible for dealing with such matters. He also received extensive communication from Mr Letsie. He discussed the matter and agreed on him assisting in providing the list of the students. It was the result of that discussion and agreement that some of the issues raised by students were attended to and addressed. It is not true that he has not been responsive and dismissive to students.

On the satellite campus matter, the situation the administration is confounded with on the Uppington and Secunda campuses is that the enrolment numbers on those campuses are simply inadequate. The costs are enormous versus the benefits. It is intended to absorb the members of staff in those satellite campuses in other institutions. Engagements with Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga on absorbing those members of staff are on-going. If these fail, the administration has committed itself to ensuring that the staff members are absorbed in other campuses.

The Procurement Policy review will be completed at the end of October 2020.

The delays pertaining to the disciplinary actions were related to the Lockdown. As for the HR function resignations, he was as perplexed as everyone else that resignations kept on coming forward.

The Chairperson thanked the Administrator and the stakeholders for their presence and assured everyone that the follow up engagement with the detailed reports on the matters that required further engagement will be taking place in two weeks’ time.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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