Buffalo City & Coastal TVET colleges on governance & administration

Higher Education, Science and Technology

14 October 2020
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC) & Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met virtually with the Council Chairperson and Executive of the Coastal KZN and Buffalo City TVET Colleges as well as their Student Representative Councils to assess governance and administration.

Besides dissatisfaction with the lack of content and poor quality of the presentations, Members were not happy with a wide range of challenges facing the colleges.  Members asked about the delays in filling critical vacancies; seeming lack of SRC involvement in Council meetings; corruption and maladministration; implementation of Auditor General’s recommendations and the forensic investigation reports; embezzlement of funds and poor governance; non-payment of NSFAS allowances; lack of leadership and effective management; asset losses at Buffalo City College. Some Members suggested placing Coastal KZN College under administration or that the leadership should leave the College to be replaced by competent people. The DHET was criticised for not expediting the filling of critical vacancies. The College noted that these vacancies left it paralysed to function in an effective manner.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) said filling critical vacancies in TVET Colleges was a strenuous task as most candidates who applied did not pass the competency tests.

DHET promised to engage the Council of Coastal College to look at the possibility of administration as the Hawks report coming out of the recent CFO arrest for fraud, had suggested something to that effect.

Meeting report

Coastal KZN TVET College on governance & administration

Ms Bongi Mthembu, Council Chairperson: Coastal TVET College said that governance is a topical matter, especially with the rise of Covid-19. Accountability had taken centre stage at the College which had been undergoing serious governance concerns. This is what had occupied the Council since its appointment in 2019. It was still creating an environment to function properly, as opposed to being occupied with the mandate of the College.

The Student Representative Council (SRC) members have not been introduced formally to the Council. The Council lacked the privilege of a handover from the previous Council, which in turn made things even more awkward. Yesterday, the Auditor General came with an audit disclaimer report. The College was once in the top two of the 50 TVET Colleges in the country but now it is far behind.

The College was put under administration in 2012, and since then the College has had three acting principals. The Auditor General and Deloitte Reports had outlined serious matters. Subsequently, the College instituted a forensic investigation on the matters outlined in those reports. The forensic report was then tabled to Exco. Yesterday, a Task Team started working on corrective measures for fixing matters between the Deputy Principal and the Principal.

The College has an open-door policy but these policies are useless if they are not implemented properly. 

The Council has worked tirelessly to try and save the 2020 academic year. It inspected all its campuses to determine the gaps that needed to be filled to ensure the academic year was salvaged. Where gaps were identified, these were discussed in Council meetings with the executive team.

The Council’s priority is to address all governance matters as highlighted by the Auditor General and the forensic reports. The management is embroiled in its own challenges amongst employees and power struggles, which had resulted in unintended consequences.

Mr Johannes Zwane, Acting Principal: Coastal College, stated that he started acting last year in December. The College has established good relationships with its stakeholders and it launched a labour forum to engage its social partners to enhance stakeholder relationships. There is an issue between two senior managers who are not working together. This has intensified matters and the systematic relationship of management.

The College received a qualified audit in 2017, an adverse audit opinion in 2018 and a disclaimer in 2019. This was due to the lack of appointments of critical positions at the College, amongst other things.

Coastal College Interim SRC briefing

Mr Thabiso Mlambo, Interim SRC President: Coastal TVET College, said that due to COVID-19 restrictions, elections could not take place. The Council and management issued a circular to establish an interim structure to represent students. The SRC represents students on the Council, its sub-committees and COVID Steering Committees. Gender representation was prioritized and the Secretary General and Deputy President are female.

He spoke about management; financial management; saving the academic year; infrastructure; teaching and learning and NSFAS. There are still some issues with the payment of allowances to students. Some progressing students still show as not funded because of pending results. Although a large number of NSFAS concerns has been resolved there are still some that are unresolved (see document).

Committee Chairperson's comments
The Chairperson emphasized that the remarks made by the Council were extremely worrying. Hearing these presentations, it felt as if one was listening to a horror story and matters were beyond bad. The Council had addressed the Committee as if this was not a formal Parliament meeting. There was no sense of consequences for all the challenges reported. The sitting SRC was appointed by management – no one knows how they were appointed. These SRC students are not even sitting in Council and Council does not know them. This is bad.

Buffalo City TVET College on governance & administration

Dr Bonga Zuma, Council Chairperson: Buffalo City TVET College, said that the College had had its own fair share of challenges that had come out in the media. There are structural concerns which the Council is addressing. One of those is the qualified audit opinion but the CFO will explain what led to the qualification.

Most Council members came in late 2019. There are two vacancies in the Council as there are 14 Council members currently but 16 are required. Advertising those positions has already commenced. There is a ministerial appointee vacancy as well. The Council will be writing to the Minister to request the specifications for that appointee.

Governance concerns stemmed from two resignations due to not being allowed to claim sitting fees. These Council members had critical expertise that the Council needed. There are also two Members who have complained about not being paid. This is extremely concerning as it will lead to the loss of experts and critical skills needed in the Council.

Mr Dharamchand Singh, Principal: Buffalo City TVET College, spoke about the relationship between management, Council and students. Weekly meetings are held with senior managers and quarterly board management meetings, including quarterly SRC management meetings.

As for student enrolment, the College planned to have 7 373 but only achieved 6 333. Enrolments have dropped due to Covid-19. Dropouts have increased due to Covid-19, NSFAS funding and social issues.

His presentation addressed governance; management; financial management of the institution which is flooded with corruption and maladministration; saving the academic year; infrastructure; teaching and learning; administration of NSFAS and human resources (see document).

Ms Petronellah Madzeke, Deputy Principal: Finance, said that the College received an unqualified audit opinion with audit findings on Property, Plant and Equipment (PPE). The reason for the qualification was management could not substantiate the PPE opening balance.

Ms Madzeke spoke about the administration of NSFAS funded students and said that the College received student allowances which were disbursed from the beginning of year until June. The administration of student allowances now sits with NSFAS. All funds for disbursement were paid out to students except for a balance of R382 000. This was not paid due to incorrect bank details. The College has made every effort to contact the students affected to rectify their bank account details.

There are now 14 vacancies in the College resulting from resignation and retirement. Advertisements have been issued already to fill those vacancies. 

In his concluding remarks, Dr Zuma reiterated that there were a lot of challenges within human resources as well as with the image of Buffalo City College. However, corrective measures have been taken and the Council was working closely with DHET to address all the matters raised. The Council had prepared its strategic plan the day before.
 

SRC Buffalo City College briefing

The SRC Acting Secretary General (Zintle) spoke about student concerns such as shortage of lecturers on all campuses; students not receiving their certificates in a timely manner; delay in issuing of textbooks specifically at St Marks Campus; implementation of e-learning which is lacking.

As for allowances, students did not receive their meal allowances due to various reasons including applications not sent on time to NSFAS, some were wrongfully claimed for while others have their NSFAS wallets blocked. It is appalling that there were students who had received only R290 of the personal allowance to date.

Residences had to close for various reasons including not meeting Covid-19 regulations. Two residences, Belgravia and Gloucester residence are in a critical state due to lack of maintenance while MC Janet House has been closed since 2016. This meant that College students from outside East London will not have places to stay when they come for January 2021 registration.

Student livelihood on campuses is compromised, the student resource centre is not well equipped and campus security is weak. There is no sanatorium, professional nurse or professional psychologist for counselling on all three campuses. Worst of all is the College does not even have a functional website.

As for Covid-19, safety measures need to be improved because when students and staff members get infected, the college still operates and no disinfection is conducted. Private accommodation rented for students must be in line with Covid-19 regulation as they lack sanitizers and other measures.

Discussion

The Acting Chairperson, Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC), who had taken over from the Chairperson, noted that the briefings from both colleges were extremely concerning.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) agreed that these colleges were extremely concerning. All problems happening in the sector suggests that there was limited interaction between DHET senior officials and the colleges. The colleges have outlined that there were critical unfilled vacancies. Who is responsible for filling in those vacancies; is it not DHET?

It is concerning that the Coastal College Council Chairperson could boldly tell Members that the interim SRC has not yet been introduced to management and Council – the Council is then not properly constituted. It was also reported that Council Members were awarded tenders - this is looting. What has the College done about this looting because it was unclear? This is a serious matter and one cannot be quiet about this. He suggested that DHET should appoint an independent investigator to investigate all the concerns. One is not even certain about the legitimacy of the information presented. It could be just snippets of the depth of the corruption happening there.

Coastal TVET College claims to have achieved only 20% throughput rate - this is a shame. In addition, the certificates were not being issued to students. One is inclined to have this college placed under administration.

The Committee was told that Buffalo City College asset register was basically lost and there was no clarity on what was being done about that. Instead, Members were told that a new register was being constituted. The person responsible for this must be found and charged, because this is corruption point blank.

He asked DHET why it took so long to fill posts in the College. People are retiring but there are no preparations made in advance to fill that position. Why is DHET not advertising these posts on time to avoid having a critical position left unfilled? DHET is not providing leadership to these Colleges. It seems as though it has given up on these colleges and left everything up to God.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said that the Coastal TVET College has no Council. The manner in which the presentation was done, it seems that the Committee is taken for granted. No information was shared with the Committee about saving the 2020 academic year. The Council Chairperson was jumping around on matters and this was an indication that the Council sat yesterday or rather prepared for this presentation yesterday. DHET should agree to the suggestion of placing this college under administration.

Students did not receive their NSFAS allowance and the finances are mismanaged - why is the chartered accountant sitting on the Council unable to advice on these matters? There are many Council members with financial expertise and background yet the finances are a mess.

As for the lack of data and devices for learners and educators, how does the Council expect students to learn without the necessary tools? Mr Thabiso Mlambo was merely called in to give a presentation to the Committee. If Members were to go to Coastal College, it would receive a different report from the students.

As for Buffalo City College, there were differences in the two presentations on the NSFAS payments. She advised that colleges were established for the students, not the staff. The monies allocated to the colleges are meant for the students, not the staff.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said that the colleges must come tell Members that there is no governance, period. It is disappointing that these colleges have people who are capable, with the requisite qualifications and skills, yet they are not executing their mandate. They are not doing their job. There are a lot of unemployed graduates in this country.

Buffalo City College told Members about its council meeting yesterday. This confirms that the presentation was prepared just yesterday. People need to take this country and the future of our children seriously.

The lack of a website for Buffalo City College is concerning, we are moving to the Fourth Industrial Revolution but a college does not have a mere website. Those who are supposed to be enjoying this democracy and freedom are being oppressed.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) said both colleges were in a terrible state. Where is DHET in all this, because nothing is happening? At Coastal College, important meetings keep on being postponed. There is no GBV policy and a lack of sanitizers – it is a mess!

Mr B Nodada (DA) said that the Auditor General had presented the audit report on higher education institutions to the Committee and a number of colleges had bad audit outcomes. After those audit results, DHET instituted an investigation into Buffalo City and Coastal Colleges about maladministration and corruption especially at Buffalo City. Can the Committee receive an update on this?

Mr Nodada said the DHET Director General has not filled these vacancies – who is responsible for filling those vacancies? What is the progress in filling the vacancies at Buffalo City?

After investigations at both colleges, was there consequence management implemented at these colleges for flouting the Public Finance Management Act, maladministration and corruption? Who has been held accountable for theses?

Part of the Auditor General findings for Buffalo City College was a massive failure in dealing with staff members who were not being held accountable and the slow pace in addressing the Auditor General recommendations. What interventions have been instituted to address the Auditor General findings to date?

An investigation was done by the Hawks at Coastal College and a principal resigned. Now the system that allowed the Chief Financial Officer to mislead the institution, is it still being used. What was the cause of such corruption happening? After this feedback, what was put in place to ensure it did not happen again?

Mr Nodada said that both colleges need to understand that the SRC is not the Council’s children and the SRC is a serious governance structure. It is disappointing to hear that the SRC was not involved in the discussions on the Covid-19 relief programme. The Act is very clear about the role and importance of the SRC. This structure exists to represent students; they are not your babies.

He conditionally supported placing both these colleges under administration.

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) said he did not recall receiving a presentation as depressing as these ones. Coastal College is not stable. If there is not a swift intervention, it will go down. That in turn affects the students. It is a shame! The SRC in Coastal College is depressing; one could see that the SRC president was merely handed that presentation. It seems the manner in which the SRC was elected, was just done to appease the surface. Four trade unions were mentioned in the presentation, why are the other trade unions not mentioned? Members were told two senior managers at Coastal College did not see eye to eye – but why is that the case? It is clear that there is no structure and accountability at Coastal College. The embezzlement of funds is most worrying.

The Chairperson said that the Council at Coastal College did not seem to understand its role. People are fighting left, right and centre. The College finances are in a mess with disclaimer and adverse audit opinions, but yet there is a Council. The Council tells the Committee how bad things are but provides nothing about how it plans to rectify the challenges.

After perusing Committee records, in 2017 the Committee conducted an oversight visit. At that time Coastal College had just came out of administration. It emerged from administration with signs of hope but one is now faced with this situation. The leadership does not seem to understand its role. Somebody needs to explain to the Committee why something is not being done about this College. What is DHET doing about this situation? The College students and that community do not deserve this type of leadership. Both Council and management have failed the College. Perhaps they need to explain to the Committee why they were still there. One is not even interested in getting the responses because they will not be satisfactory.

These people need to leave Coastal College so that we can get people who have the appetite to do the required work. This leadership must be asked to leave Coastal College. The Committee is owed an explanation by DHET on this state of affairs. We do not even need the responses; it will be a waste of time.

Ms Mkhatshwa asked DHET about its interventions to assist these colleges. We have seen institutions being put under administration but it does not seem to bear fruit. Perhaps we need to devise measures on how we can assist institutions under administration.

Coastal College response
Ms Mthembu, Council Chairperson, apologised for appearing to take the Committee for granted. She was not mandated by the Council to do that. She had been trying to save time in her briefing.

The Council had to create the right environment and the recommendations from the forensic investigation report were being applied as well as consequence management. Council has serious regard for the SRC. There were only two Council meetings where the SRC was not present. Previously, the SRC was present at all Council meetings and engagements.

Mr Zwane, Acting Principal, replied that the Committee recommendations were received. In his tenure since December 2019, they have tried to stabilise Coastal College. Management has engaged all stakeholders to work together to stabilise the institution. The previous SRC leadership was disbanded during lockdown and an interim structure was established. It was Council’s decision to issue the circular to appoint the interim SRC. Nominations were made by various stakeholders and they voted accordingly.

Management took the decision to conduct the forensic investigation, which included corruption and maladministration. The investigator was also instructed to investigate the senior management matter as well as the use of students who were used to instigate violence and instability in the institution. There were SRC members who were doing business with the college. Also part of the instructions for investigation was the source of the un-governability of the institution as well as division amongst staff members. This included the sale of exam papers by students and staff members.

Dr Sipho Nzimande, KZN Regional Manager for DHET, said that Mr Zwane is here as the result of the DHET regional office attempting to restore stability at Coastal College. We note the observations from the Members. Something has been done to restore the institution to stability. The manner in which the presentation was conducted may have not responded adequately to the agenda items the Committee had requested. However, if the Committee were to visit the college, it would see that there is a difference.

Mr Mlambo replied that he was the newly appointed President of the Interim SRC and the process was conducted about a week ago. The presentation is by the SRC but he was nervous during his presentation. The SRC was now working together with management to address the student needs on campus.

Ms Mkhatshwa asked how many members constituted the Interim SRC and how many were females.

Mr Mlambo replied that there were nine and about three or four were females.

Ms Mkhatshwa said it was important that the SRC President knew his team as it sounded as if he did not.

Ms Mkhatshwa asked if the forensic investigation report had been issued. Which forensic report was referred to in the presentation?

Mr Zwane replied that the forensic report referred to in the presentation was the one conducted by the current Council. It started in March this year – this investigation will cover issues dating back from 2016 until recently.

Buffalo City College response
Dr Zuma, Council Chairperson, replied that it was important for the Committee to note that Buffalo City College was affected by the late appointment of its Council. The assets challenge happened when there was no oversight body. However, the Audit Committee was in existence.

The vacancies are a major challenge and this was not within the control of Council. The Council has made some funding available to attempt to mitigate the lack of much needed personnel. The institution has managed to recover about 50% of the assets that were “lost”, but Council has instructed a full recovery. The process is underway to resolve this matter.

DHET must respond in how it plays its administrative oversight role.
The Council was still awaiting the outcome of the investigation report.

Mr Singh, Principal, replied that management is trying to do the maximum with the resources that have been made available to the College. There is a restriction of 30% of the norm for filling vacancies.  There are times where we can still appoint but the DHET report would come back saying that we do not qualify to appoint. Everything needs to go through the Department's system which causes the delay. There is also a delay on pension payouts for employees retiring from the institution.

As for asset management, we have taken it upon ourselves to carry out the investigation internally and consequence management will be applied. The recovery of those assets will be implemented fully. At this point, those assets are electronic computers and devices. We are working closely with the audit and risk committee as well as the finance committee to address internal control risks.

Staff training remains pivotal and training must be provided to staff members and employees.

It was untrue that there were no sanitizers in the residences and in the institution. Reporting to government is structures on Covid-19 regulations was taken very seriously and the preparation was done well in advance. The team looked at all the questions raised and had devised a way forward on how best to respond to those.

Mr Xolile Madliki, Administration Manager, replied about the NSFAS outstanding amounts as reported by the SRC. The matter was elevated to NSFAS and DHET. NSFAS confirmed that those allowances would be paid at the end of this month. The 21 applications that were lost were sent manually to NSFAS because there was a systemic issue with the College’s system. Those files were lost at NSFAS.

Ms Madzeke, Deputy Principal: Finance, replied that the reason for the slow pace in responding to the Auditor General’s recommendations was due to the change in management. A handover had to be done and this took a bit of time.

DHET response
Ms Aruna Singh, DHET Acting Deputy Director General: TVET, said that she felt that the colleges could have done better with their presentations.

She responded to the questions directed at DHET. On the appointments, we have to allow the context in which DHET provides the service. With the function shift that happened in 2016, DHET Corporate Services had to assume responsibility for about 18 000 staff members from TVET colleges alone. This excludes the staff at Community Education and Training Colleges (CET Colleges). It is important for Members to note DHET has a staff complement of only about 1 000 people. It is has been very difficult to fill the vacancies within the prescribed period of time. It has been a challenge to be as responsive as needed. The ideal response time is three months. To date DHET has been able to advertise only two to three times a year with a hundred posts advertised at a time. With this, it is not possible to achieve that ideal turnaround time.

Another concern was the struggle to recruit the requisite level of competency at principal level. Over the Covid-19 period, DHET interviewed a number of candidates and in all those instances it was unable to find suitable candidates due to the calibre of the candidates who had applied. DHET is directly involved in the interview phase for 250 posts that exist in Colleges – 200 principal posts and 50 deputy principal posts.

Coastal College has seen different acting principals come and go within a short space of time. Even Mr Zwane is not keen to stay much longer. Two weeks ago, DHET interviewed for the principal post but the candidates still need to undergo a competency test. Hopefully, this will go well.

DHET has taken note of the proposals from Members on how dire the situation is at Coastal TVET College. It will engage the Council to look at the possibility of administration, because the report from the Hawks coming from the recent arrest of the Coastal College CFO suggests something to that effect. This happened six weeks ago and the report is disturbing. It does make a case for why DHET should take further action. This will not be done without the participation of the Council. The Hawks investigation was initiated by DHET.

In Buffalo City, the critical posts were advertised but there is uncertainty now about when these posts will be filled. A discussion is necessitated about the investigation report referred to by Buffalo City. DHET did not institute the investigation but it will engage with the Council on this.

The reasons some students do not get their NSFAS allowances stems from a multiplicity of problems, which the Committee may already know about. DHET does respond to cases that come to its attention, on a case by case basis. The Department remains committed to addressing challenges at TVET Colleges.

Acting Chairperson, Ms Mkhatshwa, said education is the most important tool in the country and it needs people who understand this – whose consciousness understands this. We cannot continue to advocate for the masses of young people to enrol in TVET Colleges when we are failing to run these TVET Colleges.

The meeting was adjourned 

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