Follow-up meeting on allegations of maladministration at NSFAS: NSFAS response to Committee questions & NEHAWU briefing

Higher Education, Science and Technology

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

Video: Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology (NA) 06 Nov 2020

30 Oct 2020

Follow-up meeting on allegations of maladministration at NSFAS: NSFAS & NEHAWU response to Committee questions; postponed

09 Oct 2020

Allegations of maladministration at NSFAS: NEHAWU briefing & NSFAS response

In a follow-up virtual meeting, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) presented responses to allegations of maladministration and corruption that had been brought to the Committee by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU). NEHAWU had been invited to attend the meeting but it did not, citing that the matter was an employer-employee matter and it did not want to discuss such matters before the Committee. The Committee was displeased at the withdrawal of NEHAWU, especially as it had initiated the matter. Ultimately, the Committee determined to subpoena NEHAWU to appear before the Committee to explain the two files of documents it had submitted to the Committee.

NSFAS responded to various allegations on irregular appointments and misleading Parliament. The Administrator was questioned on the multiple cases of irregular appointments where the appointees had allegedly known the NSFAS Administrator prior to an irregular appointment. The Administrator denied these allegations and indicated that the appointments were not conflicts of interest, nor had he benefitted from those appointments. NSFAS also denied various allegations and provided evidence to disprove the allegations.

Various NSFAS employees at management level gave testimonies under oath. They gave accounts of the situation and their experiences at the entity, particularly with regard to disciplinary processes against them. Employees gave detailed accounts of irregular appointments and processes that were not followed which had led to irregularly appointed persons taking over the functions of the appointed personnel. Particular concern was expressed about the fact that an advisor had rewritten the five-year strategic plan for NSFAS as well as the Annual Performance Plan in order to align key performance indicators and outcomes with the terms of reference of the Administrator instead of aligning them with the strategic framework of NSFAS which had been aligned to the goals and plans of government. The period under Administration was cited as an “era of predetermined outcomes”. The Chairperson said that the situation sounded like a horror based on the accounts given.

Members were concerned about the future of NSFAS as a critical entity for enabling the poor and working class to access an education and the disregard of processes by the Administration. The Members asked the entity and its employees a myriad of questions and would receive written responses to these.

Members asked if the allegation that there were only two employees in the unit that disbursed R32 billion to students correct. Were employees in the planning unit informed that an advisor had been appointed to augment capacity and if not, why not? Was the Administration saying that the IT manager became disruptive and uncooperative after an advisor was appointed? Why were the offices bugged? What was the motive for the CFO being removed as a member of the bid adjudication committee just before a decision was made on a large tender? On duplicate positions, what was happening and what was the status quo for payment versus what was supposed to happen according to the policies? How many people had been appointed during the Administrator’s term without proper processes? Regarding the Sbux and the Wallet system, was the difference only in the name and one function which had changed?  Was it still the same system but administered differently? What was the cause for the delay in the Annual Report during the previous and current year? Did the planning department of NSFAS account accurately to the Portfolio Committee on the service delivery environment during the 2019/2020 financial year? Why were external providers appointed to work on the Annual Performance Plan and Strategic Plan when NSFAS had a planning department?  Why had the advisor been trying to access information without the IT Manager’s knowledge?

The Committee was deeply concerned about the situation at NSFAS. It unanimously agreed that there would be an oversight inquiry into the entity. There would be a follow up meeting and various other stakeholders would be called to provide information to the Committee.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks

The Chairperson greeted those present. There were apologies from Prof B Bozzoli (DA) and the Deputy Minister.  

The meeting was a follow-up to the previous meeting with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU) and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) as a result of a submission made to the Committee by NEHAWU. There were issues that had to be followed up as the meeting scheduled for the previous week had been postponed when NEHAWU had sent an apology as it was having an National Executive Committee meeting. NEHAWU also informed the Committee that there was a process to engage management and find labour peace in the work place. Members were unhappy, so the meeting could not proceed and the meeting had been re-scheduled for the present time.

He said that, prior to the meeting the previous week, some information had been received from NEHAWU together with its presentation, which the Committee had hoped NEHAWU would present but that had not transpired. NEHAWU said that it had been informed that the meeting was postponed and it was requested to attend the current meeting. The Chairperson stated that the issues being dealt with were not only related to employer-employee. The Committee respected the right of the employer and employee to engage and encouraged regular engagement but some of the issues brought to the Committee’s attention was out of that realm and required the Committee’s involvement. It was the Committee’s role to ensure oversight of public organisations to guarantee that public organisations were run properly.

The Chairperson had received a letter from NEHAWU, two days earlier, which indicated that it had engaged with the employer and there were employees that had been suspended and it was in the process of getting those employees reinstated. NEHAWU believed that the issues it had raised in the past were employer-employee issues which were being addressed and therefore would not be able to participate in the meeting.

He stated that the Committee respected NEHAWU’s right to appear and share information with the Committee. However, the process had been initiated by the Committee it was now a Parliamentary process and it was for the Committee to make an evaluation based on the information before it. The Committee would proceed with the matter before it and make a determination after NSFAS’s response.

The Committee had felt that it had to engage with the employees of NSFAS and letters of invitation were sent to the relevant employees. As they were public officials, they had to appear before the Committee. The Committee was well within its rights to request the employees to appear and provide information. However, not all those invited would be appearing before the Committee. The Administrator had agreed that the employees should attend. Arrangements had been made with legal services to administer an oath in line with Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act to ensure that those invited provided the correct information but were also protected.

Arrangements were made to invite the relevant officials. Those who did not attend would be subpoenaed, but the employees appeared to be cooperating and had indicated their attendance. He invited the Members to comment.

Discussion

Mr B Nodada (DA) greeted those present and thanked the Chairperson for the feedback. The challenge was that NEHAWU had brought information and lots of allegations, very serious allegations of misconduct, fraud, corruption and misleading Parliament and various others to the Committee. NEHAWU was a union that represented workers at NSFAS, and it was NEHAWU that had drafted the presentation. The challenge was that the presentation was a NEHAWU presentation. Therefore it was important that the Committee did not just get information in bits but followed a very specific process. He proposed that the NEHAWU had to be subpoenaed to present its presentation and when that had been done, a process that allowed any NSFAS employee to provide information based on the allegations presented or any other allegation should be followed. Outside of the employees invited that day, there were more employees that could provide information, but the platform had to be opened up.

He added that if NEHAWU was subpoenaed and NSFAS employees were invited, the process would have to become a formal inquiry so that everyone involved in the allegations was given the right to represent themselves. The Ministerial Task Team (MTT) also had to be invited to brief the Committee on the work it had done so far and where to it would go. If the process was done in drips and drabs the Committee would not get to the bottom of what was happening at NSFAS or find a remedy for the situation. He proposed the Committee take the route of having a full inquiry, subpoenaing NEHAWU and inviting employees to present, inviting NSFAS and the Administrator to present, the Minister. The Committee had to go down that route with the information from the Auditor General as that would create a full picture of what was transpiring at NSFAS.

Mr Nodada reiterated that the process had to be done correctly and the issues had to be addressed at the root, especially if NEHAWU was going to be making excuses for not attending. Its reasons for not attending did not make sense because the issues put forward were not employee-employer relations but issues of maladministration, governance, fraud and corruption, and flouting legal prescripts of the country on how to run the entity. The root cause of what was transpiring at NSFAS had to be determined and it had to be given the right remedies. The relevant stakeholders had to be subpoenaed and invited, there had to be a full inquiry followed by a full discussion and, ultimately, a final decision on the matter had to be taken.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) greeted those present and welcomed the Chairperson’s briefing. He appreciated that provisions had been made for the officials from NSFAS and legal cushioning had been offered to protect them. A month previously, he had said that an independent forensic investigators be appointed to investigate NSFAS or an inquiry had to be undertaken. However, the meeting had felt that it was too soon for such actions. He was glad that Mr Nodada now agreed that an inquiry had to be held.

He had wanted to comment on NEHAWU. On Monday, the union had released a press statement addressing the Committee's stance that the union used them as a bargaining chip. NEHAWU stated that the Committee was “mad” to think that NEHAWU was using the Portfolio Committee as a bargaining chip. Furthermore, it had not been the Chairperson’s view, but a view expressed by many in the previous week’s meeting. However, NEHAWU wanted to pin it on the Chairperson.

Mr Letsie noted the letter sent the day before by NEHAWU to inform the Committee that it was busy with the processing of the issues and was adamant that the issues were employer-employee issues. He wanted to inform NEHAWU that those issues, were not employee-employer issues, but were serious maladministration issues that had an impact on the public purse.

As a way forward, he proposed that the affirmation or the oath be administered. The presentation sent by NEHAWU had to be presented by NEHAWU so that it could be questioned on issues arising. He wanted clarity on some issues as there were some students whose NSFAS applications from January had not been finalised yet and the meeting could not be postponed because the Committee still had other work to do.

Legally, the Committee could not use what NEHAWU would have presented and that was fine. He proposed that NEHAWU be subpoenaed with immediate effect and if it did not want to provide evidence, it had to say so. The previous week NEHAWU had presented the Committee with an excuse about having an NEC as if it was not aware it would have NEC and subsequently it said that the issues were employer-employee issues.

Mr Letsie said that a message had to be sent to NEHAWU and all other unions because in future it would be extremely difficult for the Committee to intervene in issues raised once the Committee had been used as a bargaining chip. After the Committee had been used for bargaining and the resources of the state had been used for bargaining with the employer, then the Committee had been told it was an employee-employer matter. Next time it had to think of employer-employee relations before it wrote to the Committee. If it was a case of what he thought it was, some of the employees of NEHAWU would be charged very soon. He did not know if NEHAWU was intentionally throwing its own employees under a train.

He added that NEHAWU had been a majority union at the University of Zululand but it was no longer a majority union and one of the reasons  was its behaviour. NEHAWU had to be informed that throwing its members under a train would not assist it in the near future. He proposed that the meeting proceed with NSFAS. He thanked the NSFAS employees for attending despite being thrown under the bus by NEHAWU.

Mr Letsie echoed the Chairperson’s frustrations that the process was initiated because of NEHAWU and not the Committee. NEHAWU had presented to the Committee and it was agreed that there had to be a follow-up meeting. NEHAWU had not only made a presentation to the Committee, it had also provided a set of comprehensive documents. The Union had obviously been ready to attend until the last minute and he did not want the Committee to be bogged by the reasons why it was not attending, but it was strange. A statement had been released the previous week communicating the views of the Members and NEHAWU had made it a personal thing and that those were the views of the Chairperson. He did not want to get into a slinging match with the General Secretary, who was never part of the process and did not pitch as part of the delegation that attend the meeting. He did not want to discuss the matter of the General Secretary because it was clear that something was happening behind the scenes that the Committee was not aware about and that it was at the expense of the NSFAS employees.

The Chairperson stated that information had been brought to the Committee and it therefore it became the Committee’s information and the Committee would compile a report on the information. The meeting had to proceed based on the information provided to it. Going forward, Mr Nodada’s proposals and Mr Letsie’s two options would be considered, but not before the submissions were made by the employees. The NSFAS employees present were the employees who were determined to be relevant and if more employees had to be identified, it could still be done. The Committee should not enter into the slinging match because at the end of the day, the public would judge. The public would determine the reasons why NEHAWU had brought such serious allegations of maladministration in the entity but then, on the eve of the presentation, a senior official in the union somersaults and silences everybody. The public had to make its own determination. He said that he was sure everybody else could see what was happening. The union was a very important trade union in the federation and was also subject to accounting to its members. He was sure the members of NEHAWU were disappointed. He added that he had been receiving numerous calls from members of the union.

Administering of the Oath

Ms Fatima Ebrahim, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, read the information regarding taking the oath and affirmation for the NSFAS employees. She asked each of the NSFAS employees individually to take the oath or affirmation.  

Mr Milizwe Delo, NSFAS employee, said that he would not be talking much in the meeting and perhaps it was not necessary for him take the oath or affirmation.

Ms Ebrahim said that regardless of whether he spoke or not he could take the Oath or Affirmation as a specific question could be made to him or he may want to comment as the matter proceeded.

Mr Delo took the oath.

The following NSFAS employees also took the oath:

Ms Malikah Hildebrand, Systems and Support Manager

Mr Kagisho Mamabolo, General Manager (GM): Corporate Services.

Ms Nqwenelwa Ncede, SM: planning and performance.

Ms Linda Mcetywa, NSFAS employee.

Ms Babalwa Mtini, Senior Manager (SM): Loans and Bursaries, who was on the list, was not on platform.

The Chairperson asked if the oath had been administered to all.

Ms Ebrahim responded that two or three had not taken the Oath but it could be administered at the time the employees spoke, provided that they had heard everything she had said.

The Chairperson said that the oaths had been administered and those who had not taken, it would take it before they spoke. He thanked Ms Ebrahim.

Dr Randall Carolissen, NSFAS Administrator, said that Ms Noxi Mbatha had been requested to provide an affidavit but had indicated that she would rather testify personally. He had therefore not invited her. He would leave it up to the Chairperson’s discretion to have her sworn in or not.

The Chairperson asked what her position was.

Dr Carolissen said that she was a project manager at NSFAS.

The Chairperson said that he thought it was not necessary as the list of employees that she was part of had been given the right to decline and if she had declined to do it in writing there was not much that could be done. Due to time constraints not everyone could be invited to the platform and the employees were not invited to address the Committee but were invited to comment on the allegations in writing.

He proposed a five minute break.

Mr Gilbert Muvavarirwa, General Manager: Information and Communications Technology (ICT) strategy, and Ms Marlene Bosset, SM: Organisational Development, took the oath.

The Chairperson said that the process of administering Oaths was completed.

Welcoming of new Committee Member

Mr Letsie said that he welcomed Mr S Tambo from the EFF.

The Chairperson welcomed Mr Tambo.

Mr Tambo thanked Mr Letsie for the welcome and said he hoped he would be able to work together with the Committee to achieve as much progress as possible.

The Chairperson thanked him and said that the Committee had worked very well with Mr Keetse until he had left and robust engagements had taken place. He had been replaced by Dr Thembekwayo who had worked well with the Committee but she had left as she was deployed to Health. The Committee wished Dr Thembekwayo well and welcomed Mr Tambo to the Committee.

The Chairperson said the Committee had received the NSFAS presentation and expected NSFAS to mainly follow-up on the issues from the last meeting. To avoid repetition, Dr Carolissen could indicate if a matter had been dealt with before, unless there were new developments. The Chairperson informed Dr Carolissen that he would ask questions of clarity and raise issues during the presentation to get clarity about the matters.

Administrator’s opening remarks

Dr Carolissen greeted those present and thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present on the serious allegations and address some of them. NSFAS welcomed an inquiry because the amount of information it could provide in the short time of the meeting was limiting. It was a welcome development if it was going to go ahead and other parties would also then be allowed to provide input on the matter. He would be extremely pleased if the Committee could take that route and get to the bottom of many of the allegations. Some of the investigations were forensic investigations and there were currently disciplinary actions underway against some of the employees. It was especially important as he would be leaving the organisation on 31 December 2020 and wanted the opportunity to clear his name and ensure that his reputation was restored, as well as to ensure that outstanding issues were addressed before the incoming executive entered.

On the delay in the Annual Report that was reported on in the media, he said that the delay was not due to NSFAS but due to a current discussion with National Treasury (NT) and the Auditor-General (AG) about some of the interpretations regarding the announcement by President Zuma in December 2017. He wanted to set the record straight as it appeared the Committee had not received the correct information or it had been given the wrong information. The Minister had been briefed as well the Minister of Finance and he was working closely with the NT DG on the matter. If there was a delay in that information being communicated to the Committee, he would follow up on why that had occurred. It was not due to a delay by NSFAS and it was causing an enormous amount of media interest about NSFAS falling to pieces, and that had to be addressed. He would follow up on the matter and ensure that the Chairperson received the correct information.

In regard to the previous week’s meeting, he said that NSFAS had prepared an extensive narrative.

The Chairperson said that he was sure that the Administrator was aware that the Committee had a meeting with the AG on Wednesday.

Dr Carolissen replied that he was aware.

The Chairperson said that the AG had presented audit outcomes for the entire portfolio of Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and Members had asked the representative of the AG what the reasons were for the delay. The Auditor-General’s official told the Members that NSFAS’s turn-around time was slow and it had asked NSFAS for information but it was not received as quickly as it would have liked.  AGSA blamed NSFAS and said it had delayed the provision of information. He had been told that getting information from NSFAS was terrible. Was the Administrator saying that the AG representative had misled the Committee?

Dr Carolissen said that a full report would be provided to the Committee on the matter. He said that up till a short time ago additional information was still being requested by the local Auditor-General’s office and in the meanwhile he, the Minister and the NT DG had been engaging at the AG’s national office on an important matter that related to the 2018 announcement. Unfortunately, he could not provide more information about that but he was willing to share the full schedule of the responses and additional responses received up until recently which would allow the Chairperson to make his own assessment about the misleading claim.  

The Chairperson said that it would be appreciated because the information the Committee had from the AG was that there were some inefficiencies on the part of NSFAS and that was the basis up on which the Committee had decided to call on NSFAS to ensure that the process was finalised. He said that normally the procedure was supposed to be done by the Minister but the Minister could not be blamed as there was a grey area. Ordinarily, the Department and all its entities had to table their annual reports before 3o September every year and if there were delays or no tabling the executive authority, which was the Minister, had to inform Parliament and table the reasons why the annual report was unable to be tabled to the speaker. In that instance it did not happen but there was a request by the Minister of Finance that tabling be done at a later stage. When the Committee had received the briefing from the AG it had not yet received any reasons from the Minister concerning the tabling of the annual report. The Committee would appreciate the information from NSFAS as it wanted to know the reasons for the delay.

Dr Carolissen thanked the Chairperson and said that NSFAS would adhere to the submission it sent the previous week but he wanted to read his covering letter into the minutes.

Dr Carolissen read a letter entitled “NSFAS response to follow-up questions from the Portfolio Committee in Higher Education, Science and Technology and NEHAWU”. The above subject referred to written correspondence dated 12 October 2020 addressed to the office of Dr Carolissen, the NSFAS Executive Administrator, and the content which is noticed. The purpose of the letter was to respond to the additional assertions made by the NEHAWU delegation and questions posed by the Members of the Committee during the Parliamentary session on the 9th of October 2020.  In addition to that, NSFAS had noted several misrepresentations made by NEHAWU and its members in the written submissions during its presentations to the Committee.

In that submission NSFAS provided documentary evidence to counter the misrepresentations as, given the emphatic nature with which these allegations were presented, it was unlikely that these were simple errors on the part of NEHAWU and its members. Examples of that included:

  1. The assertion that the Administration misled Parliament on matters relating to VBS.
  2. The Parliamentary recordings and minutes of the meetings held on 29 August 2019 disproved that allegation. That misrepresentation was clearly orchestrated by Mr Mamabolo to bring the Administrator’s reputation into disrepute.
  3. Reporting matters to the SIU - documentary evidence of files handed over to the SIU had been attached as evidence.
  4. The NSFAS Wallet versus Sbux: while the underlying system was the same, important changes were introduced to make the channel safer and differentiate it from its previous form. The Administrator had on many occasions referred to the need to replace the system together with direct payments to student bank accounts. NSFAS was of the view that its Chief Operating Officer (COO) had adequately explained the distinction between the NSFAS Wallet and the previous Sbux systems.
  5. The late submission of the Annual Report in 2019. Mr Mamabolo received and responded to an email to the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) pertaining to the signing off of the Annual Report on the 4th of November 2019 which was consistent with the date on which the Annual Report was submitted to Parliament. To allege that the late submission was due to poor technical preparations was untrue and misleading. Beyond that, Mr Mamabolo as a senior executive was privy to many discussions with the AGSA and was at all times aware of the rationale for the late submission. Again for the record, there was an email trail of correspondence with the AGSA to support the NSFAS version in that matter.
  6. Allegations that the appointment of the Administrator for an extended term was done by letter. The gazette for the extended term is attached. The appointment was thus legitimate and statements made by NEHAWU to the contrary are therefore reckless and misleading.
  7. Claims that executives did not have the necessary qualifications. Evidence indicated that the reports from the verification agents attached to that submission clearly indicated Ms Thaaniya Isaacs’ qualifications. The claim made by Ms Bosset of NEHAWU was, therefore, not true.
  8. Claims that the disbursement process was now worse: A special section had been dedicated to that matter and outlines the changes made during the Administration. Before and after process maps are made available for perusal.

The Administrator stated that in a previous submission, an attached score card, that had been vetted and signed off by the DHET and the DG, showed the Administrator had scored 80% performance, which was above what was required. There were many correspondences from stakeholders to show that the Administrator had made major gains and improvements in the Administration of NSFAS notwithstanding the fact that more had to be done.

He said that, of the general comments and NEHAWU allegations, the gravamen of the compliant continued to be framed as broad allegations lacking in specificity which undermined its ability to respond thereto. In an effort to assist that process, NSFAS had, nevertheless, responded to the allegations where possible and highlighted the additional information that was required to properly respond and interrogate the allegations.

He reaffirmed that NSFAS welcomed a deep down investigation. NSFAS was further disturbed by serious breaches of protocol. The Administrator had a prior agreement with the Chairperson of the Committee that the names of staff not yet in the public domain would be kept confidential to allow current and past staff to present their views and protect them should the allegations be unfounded. Yet, Ms Bosset had named people in her list of alleged irregular appointments. Some of these allegations would be disproved.

NEHAWU had associated the Administrator with the infamous the South African Revenue Service (SARS) rouge unit simply because he was a SARS employee. That unit remained under judicial scrutiny and such allegations would taint all SARS employees going forward. He was deeply offended by that association.

The Administrator noted that Ms Bosset had stated that she had checked and was convinced that Ms Isaacs, until 9 October 2020, was not a qualified chartered accountant. That would be ingenious, as Ms Bosset was an experienced Human Resources (HR) Professional and had done many such checks and therefore to not have picked up that Ms Isaacs was a Charted Accountant, was very difficult to believe.

The Administrator stated that the submission would go into many details and he would call on the COO to assist with technical parts of the presentation. He was open to being questioned by the Committee as he went through the presentation. He said that before he began the presentation he wanted to quote the Public Finance Management Act (PMFA).

Mr Anele Kabingesi, Committee Secretary, interjected and said that the presentation on the screen was not the presentation that had been sent to the Committee the previous day and thought it was the wrong presentation.

Dr Carolissen said that he was presenting the previous week’s presentation which had not been presented. He would go through the presentation quickly and then present the latest presentation which dealt with the latest allegations. He asked for the Chairperson’s guidance.

The Chairperson asked how substantially different the presentation was from the new presentation.  

Dr Carolissen said that NSFAS specifically wanted to deal with the issues of misleading Parliament so there was an overlap but he would manage the time. The issue of “hand of God” would be dealt with in the latest presentation and he would skip the discussion on the NSFAS Laptop tenders as the Committee had requested a detailed report on the matter, which would be provided to the Committee in seven days. He said that he would manage the time but he felt it was important to introduce the presentation as it was an important part of the entity’s initial responses.

The Chairperson said that Dr Carolissen would be given 45 minutes to an hour and that he could decide which parts of the presentation he wanted to present to the Committee.

NSFAS presentation in response to NEHAWU allegations

The NSFAS presentation covered the responses of NSFAS to alleged irregular appointments and NEHAWU allegations.

The triggers leading the initial risk assessment were presented. He stated that the appointment of advisors was done with occurrence with the DHET and Minister.

The Chairperson asked to interject on appointments. He said that the Minister had been asked to provide information regarding section 17b of the Amendment Act which said the Minister had to determine the salary and remuneration and other benefits of the Administrator and Advisors, for which he had to be approved by the Minister of Finance. The Minister had still not responded to the Committee on that and a reminder had been sent as well. He asked if the information related to that available at DHET was available at NSFAS at well. Was there a legal basis for the remuneration of the Administrator and Advisors and who had determined the amounts? Had it been determined by the Minister or Administrator and what were the actual amounts? What were the remuneration packages of the Administrator and advisors? Could that information be provided in the meeting?

Dr Carolissen said that he had contacted the DHET and asked if it was presenting the information and he was told that it would manage the provision of the information. He said that he would continue to receive the previous remuneration that he received at SARS as he was seconded. All the information and sign-offs were with DHET. He would prefer if the DHET presented on the matter. He had asked if DHET would be presenting and was told that they were not given a slot in that meeting.

The Chairperson asked if he knew what the packages of the advisors were.

Mr Carolissen replied that he did know but did not want to guess incorrectly as he had been told DHET would deal with the matter. He had a rough idea of the amounts.

The Chairperson said that it was not DHET that paid advisors as it was approved by DHET but implemented by NSFAS.

Dr Carolissen said that during the course of the meeting he would ask someone to compile the information so that it could be dealt with the in the meeting.

The Chairperson said that he wanted to know who determined what but perhaps that would come from the Minister. He asked if anyone from the Department was on the platform and could answer why the Committee had not received that information.

Ms Diane Parker, Deputy Director General: University Education, DHET, said that she was not aware that the information had been requested from the Department but she would follow up with the Minister’s office.  The various submissions approved by both Ministers over the time period of the Administration were available and there was no reason why the information could not be provided.

The Chairperson asked if there was anyone from the Minister’s office that could explain why the Committee had not received the information.

Ms Eudy Mabuza, DHET, said that the information was being put together and would be submitted by the following week.

The Chairperson noted that the information had been asked for about three weeks back.

Dr Carolissen said he would skip the risk assessment section as it had been dealt with before. The Administration was in the final stage of three stages of the handover would be finalised and the Ministerial Task Team would be assisted with the NSFAS redesign.

The business rescue from August 2018 to March 2019 was outlined. The Chief Executive Officer(CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Risk Officer (CRO) had resigned and only the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and he remained. Work had to be done to complete reconciliations and rescue the 2018 year while preparing for 2019. Governance structures, which were absent, had to be developed. All the vacancies were frozen and a critical skills list was developed as the entity was especially short on ICT skills. The ICT system had crashed every night and there was a record of that happening. Technical experts were appointed on a short-term basis to assist with the rescue. The first phase was designed to appoint people on a contract basis so that in the second phase permanent people could be appointed. The details of who had been contracted and their permanent replacements were available. There were still contract employees as some skills were scare and recruitment was difficult. NSFAS was on its third round of recruitment for a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and CFO as it could not find the correct people.

There was a complete absence of HR and ICT policies. The requirement for ICT was critical as there was no ICT governance and people were working on a live system. ICT security was a concern as there were multiple portals where the system could be breached that had to be shut down and disbursements were happening haphazardly. Disbursements had not been logged and there had been no reconciliation down to student level but for the first time ever NSFAS was reconciling down to student level.

Dr Carolissen went through the measures for the stabilisation of NSFAS. Work had been done to stabilise the ICT systems, which were no longer fit for purpose. The systems installed in 2012 had been two different systems literally smashed together. Two newly appointed ICT experts were present and could comment on improvements if given the chance. All voucher systems had been scrapped and cash disbursements were introduced.

Forensic investigations were initiated and criminal charges had been laid. Dr Carolissen said that was one thing he was keen to hand over to the Committee so that the Committee could see the type of things that happened at NSFAS.

To build sustainability, appointments for the senior executive team had been made. NSFAS was in the process of appointing an HR Executive while the process of appointing a CIO had been almost completed but after the checking of references, the processes had been stopped. The Scheme was close to appointing a CEO. Dr Carolissen was doing final reference checks and would be making a recommendation soon. He said that the big challenge was appointing a CFO. A short list had been developed but in the past week, two of the three candidates had withdrawn.

The Annual Performance Plan and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) had been redesigned in consultation with the AG, DHET and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) because the APP score had reflected 9.5% and 12% for the preceding year, which did not really reflect the performance of the organisation with the redesign there was move towards 80%. It was proud of that achievement. The Administrator was working very closely with the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) to develop a future operating model for NSFAS. If the Committee invited the Task Team to a meeting, it could get another perspective on NSFAS.

He said that he would skip to the new presentation but was happy to engage on questions on the remainder of the presentation. He said that there was a big misunderstanding within NSFAS about its APP and KPIs. He said that when the Administrator was appointed, he had assumed the role of the Board and executive management and the Terms of Reference (ToR) overrode all previous APPs and KPIs because of the state of the organisation.

The Administration had great difficulty convincing the staff that it could not continue with old APPs and KPIs because they had become irrelevant. The purpose of the ToR was to rescue NSFAS and that had caused a lot of conflict and resistance in the organisation. He had raised that matter with the Committee earlier when NSFAS was criticised for scoring so low on the APP and to that end, he was forced to bring in experts for assistance and guidance to get NSFAS to a better state.

On alleged irregular appointments, Dr Carolissen said that he had dealt with advisors to an extent. These appointments were done in full concurrence with both Ministers. One of the conditions was that he consult with the Minister when he made major changes, which he did. He took full responsibility for the appointment of advisors.

On the appointment of senior executives that Dr Carolissen was involved with, he said that he had sat on almost all the panels except for the interview of Ms Thaaniya Isaacs as he had worked with her for a year. The recruitment process involved a declaration that had to be signed in terms of anyone you had known or previously worked with or if there was any perceived conflicts with the person. According to the process, the chairperson and the rest of the committee debate the matter and then ruled if there was a conflict or not. If there was conflict, you were recused. To the best of his recollection, the only interviews he had attended were the interviews that dealt with people that reported at senior level to the CEO.

On the unilateral reorganisation of NSFAS, he said that the plan of the MTT was that after the first year of Administration, NSFAS would have been redesigned. It became clear early on that one year was not enough to fix NSFAS and redesign it. He had, therefore, sought agreement and had had discussions with DHET to design an interim team, so that technical experts could be brought on board to support and for DHET to provide NSFAS with sufficient time. The interim reorganisation of NSFAS was never intended to replace the work to be done by the MTT.

The MTT could talk to the matter and when it came up with a new operating model, that new model would replace the interim model which was only designed to be implemented for two years at most. NSFAS had been devoid of critical skills and a very top-heavy management structure and managers with limited technical skills. Dr Carolissen said, unashamedly, that had caused the collapse of NSFAS.  He said that the evidence could be provided and that was why the Administration had been forced to bring in technical experts to rescue the organisation.

The Chairperson said that two issues had been raised that had to be discussed: The changing of the organisational structure; and introducing a critical risk. The Committee had previously asked for information on differences between the previous structure and the new structure. It was previously told that the old structure was too top-heavy and the new one was lean to allow for the appointment of technical experts. That information had to be provided. On irregular appointments, he said that each case had to be discussed individually instead of Dr Carolissen presenting a blanket denial.

Dr Carolissen replied that he did not intend to skip any of the items. The critical vacancy list contained technical designations for people as opposed to managerial lists. All the money that had been saved from vacancies was pooled and a prioritised list was created, with the initial focus being to get ICT people on board. The critical list had been made available. On irregular appointments, explanations for each of the 30 cases on the list had been provided.

The Chairperson repeated that all the cases had to be covered.

NSFAS follow up presentation in response to NEHAWU allegations  

Dr Carolissen outlined the presentation that would deal with the allegations and eight matters, some of which he had already dealt with.

On allegations that the system was worse than before, he strongly denied it. If the system’s performance for 2018 and 2019 were compared, he could say that it was in a much better space, even if it was not fit for purpose. The technical experts could talk to the matter as well. He had told the Minister that the system had to be replaced but that it could be kept running for another year or two. The main challenge with the system was that it was two systems that required the writing of manual interfaces between the two to transfer data.

He would hand over to the COO to speak to the VBS allegations, which were being denied.

VBS matter

Ms Nthuseng Mphahlele, COO, said that NSFAS vehemently refuted the allegation that the Administrator claimed that he ended the VBS contract. She had traced the matter back to the Committee meeting and had checked the recording and produced a verbatim transcription of the discussion of the matter. The Administrator’s response to Mr Nodada’s question about the funds NSFAS put into VBS was outlined. The recordings disproved the allegations as there was no indication that the Administrator had said that he had cancelled the contract with VBS.

SIU Briefing

Ms Mphahlele said another allegation from NEHAWU was that NSFAS never reported matters to the SIU. NSFAS was not aware of reports to the SIU by NEHAWU but she confirmed that NSFAS had met with a delegation from the SIU on 13 November 2019 to brief the delegation on various forensic matters where the SIU could potentially assist in taking the matters forward. Evidence of handing over files to the SIU for their potential investigation had been submitted as part of written submission to Committee on 19 October 2020. Therefore the allegation was disproved.

Reasons why the Annual Report was late

There was an allegation that the Administrator had lied about the reasons for the delay in the Annual Report 2018/19 and that it was not due to technical audit issues but the actual compilation of the Annual Report. To disprove that allegation, correspondence from Mr Mamabolo to Mr Prakash Mangrey was attached which indicated that the report was signed off for printing to commence on 4 November 2019. The email did not make reference to the inefficiency of NSFAS but it showed that the AGSA had signed off on the APP. That disputed the allegation.

Alleged whistle-blower incident

The matter had been reviewed internally again and legal advice indicated that it was not a protected disclosure. She outlined what had transpired in the case. Based on discussions with NEHAWU, there was a possibility of referral to an independent arbiter.

Disbursement processes and the “Hand of God”

Ms Nthuseng said the Administration was not tasked to replace the systems at any point but had optimised the system and made sure that student payments were disbursed properly. She said that she would discuss the Sbux vouchers versus the NSFAS Wallet, the disbursement process and the “Hand of God” next.

NSFAS Wallet vs SBux vouchers

The allegation was that the Administrator had created a perception that that was a different system. She said that there had been some contradiction as she and the Administrator had said there was never an intention to replace the systems and it was always about optimising the system. NSFAS had stopped the SBux Voucher product and moved to the NSFAS Wallet in 2019 to ensure that students were empowered. She emphasised that students did not have the power to use the cash as they wanted under the previous system.

CellBux was the service provider for both the NSFAS Wallet and SBux voucher products. She detailed the differences between the two products. The SBux voucher product had pockets and there were aging balances as cash withdrawal was not available. With the NSFAS Wallet product, students could make cash withdrawals directly through their mobile devices. She emphasised that if one were to ask a student if there was a difference, the answer would be an overwhelming, “Yes”.

She discussed the initial non-automation of the Wallet which had already been addressed. There was a development and a movement away from the verification processes on excel spreadsheets. The process had since been automated. That disproved the allegation that the process was not automated.

The disbursement process now and then

NSFAS had failed to disburse to students in 2017 and 2018. Disbursements were done on a daily basis without proper logic as to which student to pay, how much, and when. The Scheme had adopted a practice of upfront payments to institutions with no accompanying remittances to inform institutions which students to pay.  Institutions remained with large sums of money not knowing what to do and students did not receive due allowances well into July/August 2018. That had since been resolved and institutions received remittances so they knew what payments to make.

She said that the disbursement process could not be considered in isolation as it was at the end of the NSFAS payment value chain and the activities that preceded the disbursement informed the process. The disbursement processes had been improved and there were quality checks.

Hands of God

She said that she would touch on the issue briefly as it had been discussed in the last meeting.  There were about 28 000 applications that were flagged as withdrawn by the system for 2020. The number appeared too high and there was a root cause analysis and it was established that the applications were not withdrawn by students but a code running in the background. The code was developed to eliminate duplicates and instead of removing one record when a duplication was identified all the records were removed. The code was fixed and the matching records were reinstated. There was an audit trail for that and it was available to the Committee.

In the case of the CACHE, ODS, Filtering and Validation and Case Management not being operational, she said that the process of CACHE, ODS, Filtering and Validation was, in fact, automated. However, during the 2020 application cycle, system logic gaps were identified and quality control measures put in place to ensure that the necessary checks were applied. The issue was reduced in the 2021 Application Cycle. Exception handling was in place to ensure that records were processed correctly. On the “Hand of God” aspect, there were just over 2 000 applications that had currently been flagged as withdrawn and according to the audit trail those applications had been withdrawn by students.

Student un-funding (SARS)

On the recent student un-funding matter, she said that, as part of its checks, NSFAS had to check whether students were within the income threshold or within the allowed N+ years to complete their studies. In that process 5 242 students were initially identified as funded but above the thresholds because NSFAS had used income declared verified against credit bureau information. That year checks had gone further as data had been obtained from SARS. When declared income was compared to the household income there were serious inconsistencies.

When an issue that could lead to irregular expenditure was identified, NSFAS was required by the PMFA to stop the disbursement and inform the students about the finding. Students were informed about the discrepancy between declared incomes and the SARS income figures and asked them to submit any information they had to disprove the claim. Students could appeal and submit written information to motivate a change in household circumstances. NSFAS had received 944 petitions, of which 488 were approved and 456 were rejected.

Dr Carolissen said, in order to save time, a complete record of all the minutes relating to the laptop tender matter would be provided. He requested that, with the Chairperson’s permission, that the presentation end there and that he move to the irregular appointments.

The Chairperson accepted the proposal as the Committee had requested a detailed report on the laptop matter. He wanted to determine when the matter would be dealt with, so that it was not assumed that the matter was being avoided. Information had been requested from a number of sources as well as the Administrator. Information had already been received by the Department and the Committee would be able to schedule two days. He was not sure what was scheduled for 24 and 25 November 2020, but he suggested those dates be used to go through the entire procurement process.

Administrator’s response to alleged irregular appointments

Dr Carolissen said that the report contained most of the information. The latest information had to be added but NSFAS was comfortable that it could submit within seven days.

On irregular appointments, he said that four sets of appointments had happened under the Administrator. One was that of Advisors which he had dealt with, the second were the short term technical contracts which required a procurement process and “Body Shop” people had been contracted to find individuals with specific skills who were then appointed on short term contract of three to six months. The third was where there was an urgent need and failure in the organisation and headhunting would be carried out. The fourth type of appointments was the permanent appointments which had followed protocol and the recruitment policy, including vetting, and that process had been well documented. He said that he wanted to spend time on two issues: the one was the contentious…

The Chairperson interjected and asked if what the Administrator had mentioned was included in policy.

Dr Carolissen replied that it was. The recruitment of advisors had been formalised through the DHET process and the recruitment of “Body Shop” for persons with specific urgently required skills which was a procurement process and was dealt with within NSFAS.   

The Chairperson said that he was just asking if there was a policy for recruitment.

Dr Carolissen that there was around 37 allegations of irregular appointments and he wanted to deal with the three that he was familiar with.

The Chairperson said that what the Administrator was raising, was in terms of the levels or types of appointments. Was it in the policy?

Dr Carolissen replied that it was in the policy. A recruitment policy existed, the discussion NSFAS had with the DHET on advisors was fully documented and the “Body Shop” was documented as well. The challenge was where NSFAS had to headhunt people. There were serious gaps in the organisation and that was where issues of nepotism or the creation of posts for friends had occurred.

He reminded the Committee that right at the start of the Administration, he had identified a severe shortage of technical skills and a list of the technical skills needed was created in order to save the organisation. About R20 million was ring-fenced and the critical skills required were determined in an Exco meeting. Initially the focus was on ICT skills, but the list was available. It was a living list which was updated as people were hired and as more funds became available.

The Chairperson asked if the appointments, the levels and the procedures that Dr Carolissen had mentioned were included in the policy and what the policy was.

Dr Carolissen said that the recruitment policy that had not existed before or was outdated had been updated and there was a policy for recruitment.

The Chairperson asked if the policy for recruitment explained the conditions under which the entity headhunted.

Dr Carolissen confirmed that it did.

The Chairperson asked if it was part of the package given to the Committee.

Dr Carolissen said that it was available but he was not sure if it was part of the package. If not, it could be sent straight away.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would like to look at the policy. He said that Dr Carolissen had to move to the specifics.

Dr Carolissen said that he would deal with the allegations that he was directly involved with. Ms Sibongile Mncwabe was cited as being in a specially created post but when the inefficiencies of the top structure were considered it was determined that too many people were reporting to the CEO and the executive had decided that some of functions had to be grouped under one person and called corporate affairs. The functions were HR, marketing, contact centre and occupational health and safety, amongst others. There were robust discussions with the DHET on that appointment because there was a question about whether to reorganise or to wait for the Ministerial Task Team. Eventually it was agreed that the Ministerial Task Team would take too long and that would be an interim arrangement should be made. The post was scoped and, as with all senior posts, concurrence was sought from the Minister on the filling of the post. The post was then advertised and Ms Mncwabe applied. The panel had recommended her appointment. All the records were available. Ms Mncwabe’s recruitment had gone through the full process, including validation and vetting. From Dr Carolissen’s point of view, it was a regular appointment.

The Chairperson said that the issue being raised was that when the motivation for the post was submitted, Ms Mncwabe was present in the meeting. Ms Mncwabe was in a meeting which had discussed the creation of a position and was later appointed to that position. That was the allegation made. He asked for more information on that point.

Mr Carolissen said that Ms Mncwabe had been his advisor and she had applied following the advertisement of the position. Ms Mncwabe had been in the meeting with the Minister as part of her job was to be a liaison between himself and all the stakeholders. The post was not discussed in the meeting as the Administrator was in concurrence with the Minister, so the post was discussed at DHET level and not in the meeting.

He rejected the allegation that the post was discussed in her presence and that it was designed for her to apply. He said at that point he was not even sure that she would apply as it was merely to get concurrence for the post.

The Chairperson asked if Dr Carolissen did not find anything worrying about the situation where an employee was present when a post was discussed and then subsequently applied and was appointed to that post.

Dr Carolissen said that she had applied subsequently but anybody could apply for an advertised post. He could not deny anyone from applying for a post upfront. He said that the Chairperson could apply for an advertised position if he felt he was a fit.

The Chairperson questioned Dr Carolissen’s statement about him applying for a post.

Dr Carolissen said that the post was not made in Ms Mncwabe’s presence and he was merely seeking concurrence from Minister for the advertisement of the post. The Minister was not part of the creation of the post.

The Chairperson said the Minister had given approval and it was discussed in the same meeting where she was present.

Dr Carolissen said the Minister gave concurrence to continue with the filling of the post.

Dr Carolissen was inaudible.

The Chairperson asked someone to call Dr Carolissen so that he could unmute himself.

Dr Carolissen apologised.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had a document that began with Ms Verna Stuurman and asked if someone could take the Committee through the document and then the Administrator could return to the appointments in which he was involved. There were appointments where it was said that the appointees were either the Administrators’ friends, colleagues, acquaintances and so on. These were the appointments he would have wanted the Administrator to speak to as there were even pictures in some cases.

Dr Carolissen said that he was hoping to cover the top ones before addressing those appointments but he would address the matter.

In the case of Ms Stuurman, he said that he had met her once or twice as they came from the same area, Ravensmead. He had met her at a community outreach function. Before that he had never met her. He knew her father as a school principal, but they were never house friends. He could not claim she was familiar with him or was a friend of his or that he appointed her because of obscure reasons. Ms Stuurman had made a submission which he had read. He rejected the notion that she was appointed as she was a friend or anything of that nature.

In the case of Ms Taryn Fortune, he said that he thought Ms Bosset had claimed she had worked for his wife at AHI. He said that it was true that his wife was a manager at AHI but Ms Fortune never worked at AHI. He did not know where the allegation came from.

On the case of Ms Estelle Heideman, he said that she was a friend of his wife and belonged to same book club as his wife. She was not friends with the Administrator, but his wife. She was not interviewed by him and was interviewed by Mr Jomo Jacobs and someone else when NSFAS was looking at ways to integrate the NSFAS curriculum into the Life Sciences coursework for high school learners. Ms Heideman worked first as an outreach officer in the Free State and had subsequently worked with the Department of Basic Education where she had done the work he had just described.

The Chairperson asked how she was appointed at NSFAS.

The Chairperson replied that she had sent her Curriculum Vitae (CV) to him and he had passed it on to Mr Jacobs, who had resigned in the meanwhile, and had said it looked like a good candidate. Mr Jacobs did the interview and appointed her and the Administrator had nothing to do with the appointment.  

The Chairperson asked if there was an advertisement for the post.

Dr Carolissen said that it was a short term appointment as he had described. The idea was that once the contract had expired, she would vacate the post which she had done and NSFAS was in the process of appointing someone permanently.

The Chairperson asked about the case of Ms Stuurman.

Dr Carolissen said that it was the same case with Ms Stuurman as she was appointed on a contract. Her contract had expired and she was not reappointed, also for the same reason. In the second phase of Administration temporary appointments would be limited and NSFAS would start doing permanent appointments.

The Chairperson asked if there was no advertisement and if Ms Stuurman was just appointed after her CV had been received and passed on by the Administrator who instructed that she be appointed.

Dr Carolissen said that he did not instruct that she be appointed He said that he had said NSFAS was in need of people to do outreach and if you want to consider her you could. He said that he did not instruct anybody to appoint anybody. He received a host of CVs, even today, and which he passed on to HR and management and said if you are looking for talent you can consider these people.

He said the Chairperson was familiar with the process as he had discussed how to deal with unsolicited CVs many times as there were people who were not applying for jobs but simply sending CVs because they believed they had something to offer NSFAS or they might be jobless.  

The Chairperson asked Dr Carolissen to move on.

In the case of Mr Willem Basson, he said that they had gone to the same school but were not in the same standard and were not school friends in that sense. Mr Basson and the Administrator’s brother were in the struggle together underground and he was more of friend of his brother. After 12-15 years in around 2012 he bumped into him when they both were on their way to Pretoria. He had then asked what he was doing at the moment and was told by Mr Basson that he was working at the police. Dr Carolissen then explained what he was doing and they hooked up and Mr Basson explained the important work he was doing at the Police running its APP.

Dr Carolissen repeated that he was at the same school with Mr Basson but not in the same standard and they were not school friends. Mr Basson was working with his brother in the underground and that was how he knew of him but the two were not friends. Many years later they met at the airport and Mr Basson had explained the work he was doing and then they became friends in Pretoria as Mr Basson had moved to Pretoria. At the time, when the Administrator had presented to Parliament, there was very deep unhappiness about the poor reporting against the entity’s APP and KPIs, so much so that a comment was made that its performance was not reflected in the score of 12%. He had made an undertaking that he would address the matter and he had asked Mr Basson how to resolve the particular issue as he had taken early retirement.

Dr Carolissen had offered Mr Basson a one month contract and asked him to fix the issue as the entity was in trouble. He was also requested to assist the people who had done the work and train them as he was an expert in APPs and KPIs. In a very short space of time he was able to move the entity’s scores and redesign its KPIs in conjunction with the requirements of the NT, AG and the DPME. With the redesigned KPIs, the score was now 80%. That was how Mr Basson had joined the organisation and it was on a short term contract as well as with the idea was of Mr Basson transferring skills, then leaving.

He had reported the matter to Ms Mncwabe at the time as the two of them were working together and she could testify to the success or not of the intervention. The intervention had saved the entity from being “roasted” by the Committee and AG for very poor reporting against the APP and KPIs. He was more comfortable now that the APP was fully aligned to the terms of reference of the Administrator.

Dr Carolissen asked if there was anyone else he had to speak about.

The Chairperson said that the allegation had been made that Mr Basson was taken on without any processes being completed, and even the staff that were working with performance management and APPs were not aware of his “on boarding”. He was given access to the system and initially he had sent an email to Ms Ncede and that was when she had indicated that there as an intruder on the system and was later on informed that a person had been “on boarded”. The NSFAS staff were not aware and therefore treated Mr Basson as an intruder. The main allegation was that Mr Basson was appointed without due process being followed because he had attended the same school as the Administrator, they were friends and had grown up together.

Dr Carolissen said that he had stated in the previous submission that he was a public figure as he had taught thousands of students and his activist work had brought him into contact with many people and organisations. He said that basically anyone appointed could be accused of being his friend. He said that he did not see any conflict with appointing someone from the same town he was from and if conflict interest was checked, it would be determined that that did not constitute a conflict of interest. Mr Basson was not related to him, there was no inappropriateness in the appointment and he did not personally benefit from it. Mr Basson was appointed at a level below the Administrator by Ms Mncwabe. He was not throwing her under the bus but when he inquired about appointments he got the assurance that all processes had been followed. Ms Mncwabe would be best to comment on the matter as he did not check every appointment.

The Chairperson asked who the Chief of Corporate Support was.

Dr Carolissen said it was Ms Sibongile Mncwabe.

The Chairperson referred to the document that said that Mr Basson was not competent in the areas of performance management and APPs but was a policeman working in the Western Cape. Was that information untrue?

Dr Carolissen said that the information was untrue and that Mr Basson had worked directly for the Minister of Police and was responsible for the South African Police Service (SAPS) APP and KPIs. He had seen Mr Basson’s submission and if it were considered, it would be seen that he was a highly competent person and was part of the design of the APP system for public officials. To say that Mr Basson was a policeman or worked in the Western Cape was untrue. He was not sure if the Committee had the correct submission but he would ensure that it did. Mr Basson was competent and had advanced the entity’s reporting structure.

The Chairperson said that there were too many documents that he was working with and that he was trying to locate the affidavit. He asked the Administrator to move on to Mr Colin Fourie and Johan Fourie. 

Dr Carolissen said that Mr Colin Fourie was one of the advisors that he had proposed at the start of the Administration and was signed off by the Minister and himself as having the correct credentials and experience. Mr C Fourie had come through the advisory function and he was not sure if Mr J Fourie was there at the time when he had arrived or if he was appointed subsequently. He said that he was not aware that he was related to Mr C Fourie and whether the relationship was declared or not.

The Chairperson asked if there was no relationship with Mr Fourie.

Mr Carolissen said that he was told that the Fouries were cousins or nephews but he had not validated that, but he could.

The Chairperson asked if there had been a relationship between the Administrator and Mr C Fourie.

Dr Carolissen replied that the only relation had with Mr C Fourie was that they studied together at the University of the Western Cape in 1979 but since then they had lost contact.

The Chairperson asked the Dr Carolissen to proceed.

Dr Carolissen said that the Chairperson could mention anyone he might have skipped. There were currently outstanding forensic investigations against some of the people on the platform in which the employees were implicated and disciplinary action had begun. All the forensic reports would be made available to the Committee. He could not quote from those reports on a public platform as important disciplinary hearings might be jeopardised.

The Chairperson said that Dr Carolissen was correct and that should not be done. He said that the next allegation was in relation to Mr Moeketsi Shai where it was claimed that he was a friend of the Administrator, there was no advert, and he was interviewed by the Administrator who had also previously worked with him at SARS. The Administrator initially tried to appoint him in HR and then he was appointed as a strategy specialist which was a function already acquired by NSFAS through a procurement process.

Dr Carolissen said that Mr Moeketsi had never worked with him at SARS and that he was a consultant at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) when he had worked at SABS in the early 2000s. Since about 2004, he had not had contact with Mr Moeketsi, except for one occasion where they had coffee together. They had lost touch but because he had been impressed by Mr Moeketsi’s work and how he addressed the challenges the entity had with its APP and KPI, he had called and asked Mr Moeketsi to see if he could assist the entity. Mr Moeketsi was then appointed on a short term contract and his relationship with the Planning and Monitoring head, Ms Ncede, deteriorated to such an extent that the Administrator decided it would not work. Ms Ncede absolutely refused to take any advice or mentorship from him to the extent that Mr Moeketsi gave up. He believed that Mr Moeketsi would be someone valuable to call to speak to the situation. Mr Moeketsi had made a submission that was included in the pack.

The Chairperson said that the information stated that after Mr Moeketsi’s appointment, he could not complete the work and that he was paid R490 000 after his appointment without the necessary procurement process. Mr Moeketsi had been paid but could not do the work and Mr Basson had to be taken on board to complete the work.

Dr Carolissen said that he would dispute that Mr Moeketsi could not do the work. Work had been done and a document was presented to the entity that aligned the Administrator TOR with the KPIs but Ms Ncede totally rejected it and refused to incorporate it into her system. The relationship between Ms Ncede and Mr Moeketsi was not good and that was when he had decided to bring Mr Basson on board.  Work was done and there was evidence.

The Chairperson said in annexure 1.8 from the union there was a screen shot of a Facebook post by Mr Basson on 27 September 2015 which stated that Mr Randall Carolissen was a brother, friend, confidant, comrade, homeboy, the finest product from Ravensmead in the Western Cape. The post confirmed that the Administrator and Mr Basson were friends, “homies” and comrades. It had been submitted as proof that the two were friends.

Dr Carolissen said that in 2012 when the two of them were reacquainted or bumped into each other they had become friends and exchanged many stories. He said that he had many Facebook friends and the reason he became acquainted with Mr Basson was because he had told him stories about his brother. He said he had become fond of Mr Basson and they had started calling each other comrade due to mutual respect. He said that he had no reason to hide that he regarded Mr Basson very highly and vice a versa. He said that it he would not deny it and he had many Facebook friends that corresponded with him directly.

The Chairperson said that Dr Carolissen had not denied the post and asked if there were any other persons that were said to be related to the Administrator that had been missed.

Dr Carolissen replied that he thought he had dealt with all of the cases. He said that he wanted to put it on record that none of the people were family of his and there was no personal gain for him in any of the cases. The COO could speak on the other people named as irregular appointments. He did not know if the Chairperson wanted to return to the matter of someone of the people on the platform that were implicated in forensic investigations and that had disciplinary processes against them that were very close to completion.

The Chairperson said that he was not sure if that was included with the irregular appointments which were still being dealt with. He asked if the case of Ms Estelle had been dealt with.

Dr Carolissen replied yes.

The Chairperson said that Ms Heideman was said to be a friend of the Administrator’s wife and whose post did not have an advert and where her CV was provided by the Administrator.

Dr Carolissen confirmed that her CV had been passed onto Mr Jacobs but he denied in the strongest terms that he had instructed the appointment of any one of the people he had received CVs from. He said that he received CVs daily which he either passed onto HR or ICT, and then recused himself from any further appointment process.

The Chairperson asked if the case of Mr Enrico Fourie had been dealt with.

Dr Carolissen said that he had not dealt with it all as he had come from a business trip and had seen Mr E Fourie around and was told that he had been recruited through the Supply Chain Management (SCM) process. He had zero dealings with him and had only seen him when he had arrived on site.

The Chairperson said that it stated that Mr E Fourie did not have qualifications and no vetting process was followed.

Dr Carolissen said that the person who made the appointment had to provide the information because he was assured that all processes had been followed. Mr E Fourie was recruited through “Body Shop” which was a special recruitment process for highly skilled persons and did not go through an HR process, but an SCM process.

The Chairperson said that there was the case of Ms Fortune who had reported to the Administrator’s wife.

Dr Carolissen said that he had dealt with the allegation. His wife had worked at AHI as a manager but Ms Fortune never worked for her and he did not know where the allegation came from.

The Chairperson asked if she was appointed following the proper process.

Dr Carolissen said that she was appointed by Ms Bosset who could testify on the matter. He said that it was also a case where he had passed her CV onto HR. 

The Chairperson said that the other alleged irregular appointments had to be dealt with.

Dr Carolissen said that the full recruitment process for Ms Mncwabe could be provided to the Committee.

The Chairperson said for now he wanted to determine if there was a process.

Dr Carolissen said that there was full process.

The Chairperson asked if the rest of the appointments could be dealt with.

Dr Carolissen said that he would have to ask some of his colleagues to assist as he did not get involved with appointments below him.

The Chairperson said that time had run out and he was sure his colleagues were not happy with him. He asked if there was anything outstanding that could be dealt with before the employees testified.  

Dr Carolissen said that he could not think of anything he wanted to add but thought the questions in the discussion would prompt his thinking.

Discussion

The Chairperson wanted to go ahead with the NSFAS employee testimonials but asked if the employees or the Members needed a break.

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) suggested that the meeting should continue as it would be a long process.

Mr Nodada said that people had to be allowed to do the presentation and that questions be asked at the end because when there were interjections in between it took a bit of time. Some of the questions could be asked and answered in writing.

The Chairperson acknowledged Mr Nodada’s advice but said the responsibility of the Chairperson was to ensure that all the information was put at the disposal of the Committee. If a Chairperson interjected it was to get all the information. He said that the meeting would proceed with no body break.

Mr Ngcobo said that the interjections and probing into things that were not clear gave the Committee an advantage. That also prevented information from falling in the cracks and the Chairperson had to be sure that he understood everything. The interjections helped.

The Chairperson said that that was what he always tried to do.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said that the interjections assisted the process moving forward even before questions and discussion.

The Chairperson said that he knew Mr Nodada wanted to ask his questions but Mr Nodada had to allow him to guide the meeting because all the relevant answers had to be placed before the Committee. He called for the meeting to proceed. The Chairperson outlined the order in which the employees would testify. He said that all the NSFAS employees had taken an oath but the former employees had not taken an oath. The NSFAS employees had been invited to share what was known about all the allegations brought to the Committee’s attention.

NSFAS employee testimonials

Mr Kagisho Mamabolo proposed that he be followed by Ms Malikah Hildebrand as some of the issue he would raise would be linked to her space and then could be grouped together and then proceed in the order suggested by the Chairperson.

The Chairperson agreed.

Testimony of Mr Kagisho Mamabolo

Mr Mamabolo thanked the Committee and appreciated the invitation even though double invitation had been received as they had been invited as NSFAS employees and NEHAWU members. Today the employees would be wearing their NSFAS employee cap and when their union selected them to come back they would avail themselves.

The Chairperson said initially the employees had been invited as part of the delegation but after NEHAWU had pulled out, they were invited as employees because their perspective they could assist the Committee. He clarified that the employees were not invited to represent the union as the union had said it was not participating but they had been invited as NSFAS employees.

Mr Mamabolo said he had been a member of the NSFAS Executive Committee since December 2014 and he had attended most of the Exco meetings except for one on 3 February 2020 that he was excluded from without being given a reason. It had since transpired that in that Exco meeting that his fate and role had been determined. He said that he was the General Manager for Corporate Services and the National Spokesperson for NSFAS. As the General Manager for Corporate Services he played a substantive role. He was responsible for Research and Policy unit and the Marketing and Communications unit, both of which were headed by senior managers. He was also responsible for the executive support of the office of the CEO or office of the Administrator. He was also responsible for facilities management which was headed by a manager.

After the appointment of the Administrator, lots of configurations had taken place without consultation with him or any other employees in his department. Currently he was only responsible for the Marketing and Communications department and the Contact Centre department had been added to his portfolio. Research, Executive Support and Facilities Management had been removed from his scope without any process or business case or performance management process. In the 14 years of him working in government he considered himself as a very ethical and a good public servant who was dedicated to service. He had not been subjected to any disciplinary hearing or charged with misconduct until recently.

On the Administrator’s submission that he could not recall the name of Mr Jomo Jacobs, he said that Mr Jacobs was appointed as the General Manager for Operations and later moved on to General Manager Stakeholder Management. Mr Jacobs was never responsible for Outreach, Marketing and Communications as suggested by the Administrator. He highlighted the point as it had led to the irregular appointment of Ms Stuurman and Ms Heideman both of whom were recruited by Mr Jacobs, assisted by Ms Bosset, who would give a submission in that regard through a process that was not in line with government frameworks and the recruitment policy. That had been the case in a number of appointments under Dr Carolissen which had consequently created a conflict of interest because there was preferential treatment for the employment of some people NSFAS under the guise that they were specialists. He said that there were various mechanisms in government to prevent the accounting authority from making decisions based on feelings and those processes had to be followed to avoid conflict of interest.

Ms Stuurman and Ms Heideman were moved into Mr Mamabolo’s department of Marketing and Communications towards the end of their contracts as a result of Mr Jomo Jacobs resigning. It would be in the interests of the Committee to invite Mr Jacobs to give his version of the story. His interaction with Verna (Stuurman) and Estelle (Heideman) was not good and it had come to his attention that that was why Mr Jacobs had left. Due to the relationship between the Administrator and Ms Stuurman and Ms Heideman there were out-of-work conversations and discussions that would be used against employees at a later stage. A clear example was that he had been reprimanded by Dr Carolissen because Ms Heideman had presented her concerns and complaints to Dr Carolissen’s wife. Her complaint was written and put in an envelope and given to Dr Carolissen’s wife who then gave it to Dr Carolissen and he passed it on to Mr Mamabolo.

When Ms Stuurman was not performing, she had been added to his department and he had objected. When he raised the matter of her non-performance with Dr Carolissen, he was told that he had to understand that she was someone who had challenges that she was aware of. Dr Carolissen further committed to speaking to Ms Stuurman’s father, with whom he understood he was “homies”. It was in that situation that he had discovered that the situation was much deeper than he thought. Even entities under administration must not deviate from following process and frameworks of government. 

On the laptop tender, he said he had been a member of the Bid Adjudication Committee (BAC) which was the highest committee for overseeing tenders but he was removed from the committee without reasons. He had received the necessary training and had presided over many tenders at NSFAS. It was a requirement as a member of the BAC that he be vetted and attend training so that he could adjudicate. Considering the last minute reconfiguration of the BAC following the abandonment of the laptop tender, he queried whether the new members had been vetted and trained. NSFAS had been working with institutions on the laptop tender for many years as some had the capacity to deliver on laptop tenders and some had already delivered laptops.

NSFAS employees raised the question of the reason for the laptop tender process as many institutions had already delivered laptops. He believed that the decision to bring the tender process of laptops to NSFAS was a bad judgement and was an overreach. It was an overreach because NSFAS’s mandate was to provide and create systems in which funding could move from the scheme to students. If that meant funding had to be made available to students to purchase laptops, so be it, but for NSFAS to take over the responsibility of procuring laptops had raised a lot of questions and had brought the organisation into disrepute. The NSFAS brand was tarnished as it had taken on a responsibility that did not fall within its mandate.

On the Annual Report, Mr Mamabolo said that an impression had been created that his correspondence to the AG suggested that everything was in order. He had been producing annual reports since the day he was appointed in government and in all the positions he had held, he had never missed a deadline. When an annual report was created, a framework was followed which was inclusive of the NT Annual Report Guidelines, the framework for strategic annual performance plans, framework for managing performance and information as well as the departmental financial reporting framework. The Annual Report Guide for schedule 3a public entities was added as an additional document for NSFAS as well. That ultimately affected the quality of the report. The Annual Report being debated before the Committee had not followed those steps. The AG would be able to present information on the matter.

Mr Mamabolo said that annual reports had deadlines for which the draft had to be submitted to the AG by the 31 May. If that deadline were missed, the AG would be delayed in the submission of its audit. Therefore it would be disingenuous to report to stakeholders that the deadline had been missed because the AG was still looking at its books. There was evidence that showed the point in question. There were the minutes from two meetings where the AG raised the matter with the Executive Management and the Audit and Risk Committee: if information was submitted late, the AG would require more time and the deadline would be missed. He said that he had advised the Administration that in that regard the Minister would have to apologise to Parliament and that was included in the minutes.

On the policies that Dr Carolissen had referred to, he said that there was evidence of policies. There was a NSFAS recruitment policy that was first signed on 23 September 2011 and, upon Dr Carolissen’s arrival, he had signed it on 6 August 2019 and again, after second thoughts, he signed it on 16 August 2019. The two copies were available and that was on example where the Administrator and his team applied a brainwave approach on how to run the entity as decisions were made and reversed based on how they felt and what had been heard in the corridors. The employees had been subjected to ill-treatment because anything said or advised had been disregarded. There was evidence that the employees had reported, provided information and advised the Administration which was their main responsibility. If the Administration made wrong decisions it had to account and could not blame employees.

The NSFAS Selection and Recruitment policy was approved on 12 March 2015 and on 1 April 2017 that policy was reviewed. There were many other policies in that regard.

He said the concern was not that the employees were angry but they wanted to help the entity move forward and the only way for that to happen was to have their skills and advice considered. Now that things had gone wrong and employees were being purged and charged and then they had been brought back as if nothing had happened. Currently, he had been charged twice but there was no charge alleging that he had stolen money. The CCMA had determined that he be reinstated and, at his last CCMA appearance, NSFAS had withdrawn all the charges against him. Thereafter, he returned to NSFAS and found that his role had been changed which meant that most of the employees that had been charged and moved while there had been a parallel process which brought in people in the guise of being experts to take over their responsibilities.

He said that he currently did not know where he stood with his work because the person appointed as the Chief Corporate Services Officer, Ms Mncwabe, had no experience in HR and Communication. The previous board had made a decision, of which there were records, that the position of Chief Corporate Services Officer was not necessary but a Chief Executive for HR was required. Therefore Corporate Services had to remain at the level of a general manager. As a schedule 3a public entity, NSFAS did not have to duplicate structures that existed at the national DHET. It was small public entity that did not need a spokesperson and that was included in his role as a communications officer. There were many cases of duplication of roles like that. People who had been charged were now returning back to work to find that their roles had been replaced. He said he would hand over to Ms Hildebrand to speak on Sbux and disbursements and welcomed any questions.

The Chairperson thanked him and said that the meeting had to adjourn until 1pm for a break.

Testimony of Ms Malikah Hildebrand

Ms Malikah Hildebrand said that she had been the System and Support Manager since 2013, supporting the Cellbux environment and back office at NSFAS. She said that she was an honest person with integrity as NSFAS had proved with multiple investigations. In July 2019, she was placed under precautionary suspension and was exited from the building without any charges. The charges were lodged on 7 February 2020 and all the charges were performance-related. The charges were not initiated by her line-manager but by Ms Issacs.  Although Ms Hildebrand was fully exonerated from all the charges, she had not received any communication from NSFAS speaking to the outcomes of all the investigations. It was a comfort to her to hear Dr Carolissen say that the details of the investigations would be made available.

The reason for her testimony was that as she had watched a Committee session a couple of weeks ago, she had noted a comment that the Sbux system and the NSFAS wallet was not the same thing. As the manager responsible for the Cellbux system, that had left her confused. The system began with Cellbux which had a white label called Sbux. Cellbux was the owner of the platform that customised the NSFAS benefit in 2013 to include pockets for vouchers and Cellbux had always been able to distribute cash. Since 2013, NSFAS had made extensive use of that functionality when transport allowances were disbursed as part of the cash wallet within the Cellbux solution. At the beginning of 2019, the team was informed that Cellbux would no longer be used and there was talk of a letter that would be sent to Cellbux as part of a six-month notice ending the contract, but, to her knowledge, it was not sent. A week or two weeks later, the team had been advised that Sbux would no longer be used. After that, an instruction had been sent to change the white label name to NSFAS Wallet. She was in charge of ensuring the name change in documents and platforms and that the name would no longer be used.

In Ms Hildebrand’s understanding, there had been no changes and Cellbux had operated as per usual with system upgrades and minor enhancements. It was the same contract under a different label and only cash and not vouchers were disbursed but all the functionality had already had in place with Cellbux. The new solution being used for Technical, Vocational Educational and Training Colleges (TVETs), was not physical cash sent via EFT or that they could withdraw at an ATM, but cash sent via Cellbux to students’ wallets and students could withdraw cash from the wallets by creating a cash voucher which could also be spent at a registered merchant as well. Students needed to go to registered merchants to withdraw cash and it worked similar to the “e-wallet system”.

On the pockets solution, she said that Cellbux was required to develop pockets in 2013 because the Ministerial Committee, at that time, proposed that they would like students to spend their book money on books and accommodation money on accommodation, etc.  That was a huge requirement and the voucher system was hugely contested, especially by students as funds were ring fenced within various vouchers and there were outcries from the landlords and book community that students were not spending their funds on what they were supposed to. She understood that an organisation could go through process and policy changes, but she wanted to testify that the same system that NSFAS was currently using was being used before she had been suspended. The student disbursement function, as opposed to an institutional payment, went directly to students as cash and thereafter what students spent the money on could not be tracked.

In the time since she had been reinstated by NSFAS after she had been exonerated, she was quite happy because she had been on suspension for a year and three months. She was happy to be able to return to work, but then issues she was not previously aware of came up. One was that NSFAS had drafted a letter of retrenchment that was made available to NEHAWU outlining the disbandment of the NSFAS-Wallet team. Another concern was the redundancy of posts. She could not reconcile how a name change could result in a disbandment of a team and those people were being considered for redundancy or retrenchment. She said that NSFAS system was a huge involved system with multiple integrated packages and the Cellbux system was essentially the printer at the end of the process and it did not matter what printer was used to disburse to students. A team would still be required to have oversight, monitor, analyse and do exception checks. It frightened her that, on reporting back to the office in the new virtual environment, the NSFAS that she had left a year and three months previously was exactly the same.

The automation mentioned was automation that would have allowed the disbursement engine to determine which, how much and when students should be paid. That disbursement engine then gave that information to the printers, Cellbux, to effect. The disbursement cycle was not complete after that process as Cellbux would give NSFAS a return file which indicated successful and non-successful disbursements. She was surprised to discover that the back chain of the disbursement cycle had been left by the wayside as it would have a direct impact on students. A student could appear to have received an allowance that had not been delivered due to an error, such as blocked account or incorrect cell phone number. If a student did not receive the money, it had to be returned into the NSFAS system and be made available for disbursement again. She was not comforted to hear that that NSFAS was not struggling with disbursement at the moment. There were many reported figures regarding which students had received disbursements and who of those had received payment or part-payment.

Ms Hildebrand said that she had questions in the same sense that Committee had as she had been away for over a year and a lot did not make sense. She said that in the current position she found herself was different from previously. She had gone from being a Systems and Support Manager for Sbux to a Systems and Support Manager for NSFAS-Wallet, only to find out during her hearing that she was still being referred to as a Sbux Manager. She did not know why. A lot did not make sense in respect of the retrenchment and disbandment of the team and being made redundant. She found herself back at her work in the same position that she was in when she had been suspended. It did not appear that NSFAS had made much progress in the last year and a half.

Prior to her suspension, Ms Hildebrand had put in a lot of work with NSFAS ICT to automate all of the processes that were required on a daily basis. A year or two ago NSFAS was disbursing daily and she had highlighted issues about that process to NSFAS at the time as it did not leave enough time to close off the disbursement cycle. Upon her return, disbursements were now being scheduled monthly and might also be weekly, but there were fewer runs than in prior years. She said that she had also noticed that all the verification checks she used to do had been automated but she still saw errors in disbursements where there were records that would be deemed as incorrect payments and they would have to be blocked. There could be blocks for various reasons and she was not sure how many were still in play but it would be related to the Phoenix loan account per student. If a loan account was not set up correctly for a student, not attached to the correct institution or correct funder, then the disbursements could not go out as it would have implications for the financial management system at NSFAS.

Checks were performed manually previously but they were documented and submitted to NSFAS management, ICT and project management offices. She was set to start working on the return of failed disbursements project right before she was suspended and to that date it was still a painful point for NSFAS. She had informed Ms Tasneem Salasa that she would still make herself available for advice on the system when she was originally suspended.

Ms Hildebrand felt that she had been thrown under the bus, train, aeroplane and ship but so were the rest of her colleagues as she noticed that they were frantic and she felt for them. A rosy picture was not being painted that day but, for herself, it was a scary picture walking into NSFAS.

On the new features added to the new system, she said that a lot of the changes made were not made to Cellbux but to a list of defects and enhancements on the NSFAS system that had fallen by the wayside year on year. The disbursement part was always left to later on in the year as the application cycle was being dealt with and all ICT resources were directed towards that and as resources were freed up, enhancements and defects were dealt with. Some strides had been made there. There were a lot of security features and breaches from before she went on suspension. For example, PE College highlighted issues around the NSFAS portal and it was dealing with the fall out of the breech that had allowed third parties to change student numbers and take control of students’ portal accounts. She hoped that those breaches had been addressed while she was on suspension.

Ms Hildebrand asked the Committee why the suspension was necessitated if it meant putting the organisation at risk. Why was the name changed from Sbux to NSFAS Wallet? Why was her title changed? She was required to go back and look at the last year and three months’ disbursement processing that had not been done and get the entity to catch up. That made her very afraid and had caused her a lot of harm. She was a single-parent and had worked hard all her life and had worked very hard for NSFAS and had made sacrifices for the organisation because she believed in what it was trying to do. She believed NSFAS was the gateway for students to higher education and she believed in the organisation. It made her uncomfortable to hear the rosy reports submitted to the media, Parliament and other areas when all was not well at home for NSFAS.  She welcomed the fact that the Chairperson had welcomed others to provide testimonies. She was covered unless there were questions. Ms Bosset could follow her.

The Chairperson asked if Ms Hildebrand was working on the disbursement of a year and a half’s backlog.

Ms Hildebrand said that it seemed that there had been an attempt to process it, but they did not know how to cater for all the response actions that had not been posted to the loan accounts. It seemed that right now, it was trying to analyse which students were affected and how far back it went for each run over the last year and three months. There had to be reconciliation but at the moment the three systems used for disbursement, ODS, Phoenix and the Cellbux, were not in alignment. The three systems had to be in alignment before the academic year closed. She had also been incorporated into a close-out team to consider 2017-2019 processing.

The Chairperson asked if SBux and NSFAS Wallet was the same system under Cellbux.

Ms Hildebrand said that it was the same system unless anyone could show her that the contract had ended. She did not know if a new contract was entered into with Cellbux, but it was the same system. The system was accessed in the same way it always had been, but she had noticed a change had been made on the dialling string. That was a minor change that just meant the hash string that students dialled to access the system on their phones had changed. It was exactly the same thing technology-wise.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Hildebrand for coming and said that the information she had provided was noted. He could pick up her emotions during her testimony but he was glad that she could finish her testimony. The Committee would be interested to see how the questions she had raised would be answered.

Testimony of Ms Marlene Bosset

Ms Marlene Bosset greeted those present and thanked the Committee for the invitation. She said she was testifying because some people had ongoing disciplinary hearings and she was concerned. Her disciplinary hearing had been concluded the past Tuesday and the employer had brought up the fact that she had testified on 9 October 2020 and had wanted to use it against her through the senior employer relations agreement. Fortunately, the Commissioner had not allowed that as evidence. She was a civil servant committed to making NSFAS work.

On the whistle blower, Ms Bosset said she had heard the legal technicalities but wanted to bring it to the Committee’s attention that the whistle blower…

The Chairperson interjected and said that he wanted to get clarity about her decision to testify as part of the NEHAWU delegation to Parliament or in another forum, but she could continue and answer his question after speaking.

Ms Bosset said she would do that. She continued on that whistle blower case and said that she wanted to bring it to the Committee’s attention that the matter had been escalated to the CCMA which had agreed to refer it to the Labour Court as an unfair dismissal.

On the unilateral restructuring at NSFAS, Ms Bosset said that she had heard a lot about it. She wanted to speak to the critical vacancy list as it was under her, and came directly from the Administrator and the Exco when they were involved. When a restructuring was done the strategies, current operating model and value chain were considered but the process was never informed by any of that. She would be called in one day to draft a critical vacancy list, and she had evidence, and the next day she would called in and it would be changed. The critical vacancy listed changed on a weekly basis and it was just not when additional funds came on board as the pool of money remained the same, but changes were made. Her manager could also testify to that. One thing about the critical vacancy list was that it replaced the approved Board structure and went above the head count approved by the Board. The minutes for that could be provided to the Committee.

The Board had approved a head structure of 465, but the critical vacancy list went way over that number. The Committee could get that information.

Ms Bosset had said that the Board-approved structure was top-heavy and there were reasons for that but the structure in place now was as top-heavy, if not even more so, as there had been 41 senior managers under the Board-approved structure and there were 41 senior managers now although senior manager positions had been deleted without consultations. New positions were created by the Administrator without consultation. There was an additional executive member and it was heavier than before. Therefore the argument that it was top-heavy did not make sense to her. It could be proved that it was heavier.

On policies, Ms Bosset said that she had been suspended more than a year ago and at that time there was an outdated recruitment policy. At the time of her suspension, irregular appointments were already happening and were clearly in violation of that outdated policy. There was nothing about four types of recruitment and that policy could be provided. If the policy had been changed she welcomed that, but it was also her understanding that no new policies were consulted with the trade union at all. If there was a new policy, it had been signed unilaterally by the Administrator. As Mr Mamabolo had said, policies had changed. She said that the Administrator had said that when he had arrived, there were no policies but there were policies, although many were outdated. The Administrator had made changes to the policies unilaterally at different times. There were Exco minutes about why the Disciplinary Policy was changed so that certain employees could be targeted immediately after. There was no fair process and, when union went out on strike, that was one of the issues raised as were the policies that involved consultation with employees and trade unions.

She said that she had constantly written to all her managers, including the HR advisors, saying that the outdated policies were a risk to the organisation and had to be changed but that had not happened during the time that she was there. There were so many things going on in HR that she had written an email to one of the HR advisors and stated that she was at a point where she could no longer collude on the illegal activities. There were clear violations and she could no longer take it. Not only as an employee but as a citizen as well, she got to point where she could not turn a blind eye any longer. Shortly after she had written that email, she had been suspended. She was delighted that the Administrator had said that the BDO Consulting’s forensic investigation report would be provided to the Committee simply because she was not charged with stealing one cent from NSFAS as Mr Mamabolo and Ms Hildebrand had said, yet there was an impression created that there had been a purging of thieves and looters.

On irregularities, she said that much had been said about it and how it was part of a policy but she was had been given CVs and instructions that the policy did not cover. The former HR Executive, Ms Dwane, and she would comment on irregular appointments.

In the case of Ms Stuurman, Ms Bosset said she that she had received a call that she had to be part of the interview process. When she arrived, there was no recruitment and she found herself in a meeting with Mr Jacobs who had received a CV from the Administrator. It was just the two of them interviewing Ms Stuurman outside of any process. She had participated in that interview but was then given an instruction to fly to Bloemfontein to interview Ms Heideman, which was another CV that had been sent to Mr Jacobs by the Administrator. That was a bit shady to her and she said she would not be part of the interview as it was outside of process.

In the case of Mr Shai, she said the Administrator had told her personally that he had a CV of a person whom he wanted to appoint as an Organisational Development (OD) specialist. She had a look at the CV and the person was not an OD expert. After she had returned from a holiday, she found out that he would no longer be appointed in OD but as a service provider. That was a question mark to her as one month the person was an OD specialist and the next he was an APP specialist. Maybe he was multi skilled. She was personally involved and welcomed a forensic audit that could be done on her phone to verify the CVs and information she had received from the Administrator to consider people for appointment to positions that did not exist within NSFAS.

Regarding Ms Fortune, Ms Bosset said she was hardworking but was not sure how the appointment came about. She said that the Administrator had called her aside and said that there was a person that he knew who would be perfect for the position and had told her other things about the candidate that were not appropriate to be repeated. The next thing she knew, she had interviewed the person with somebody else. Ms Fortune was a wonderful human being but it was outside of the process and her CV had stated that she worked at AHI and the Administrator’s wife was listed as her line manager, who was also her reference. The CV could be admitted as evidence. The Administrator had said that she, Ms Bosset, had appointed Ms Fortune but she did not sign the appointment letters as the Administrator did that.

Regarding irregular appoints, Ms Bosset said that she could say something about every person but there was evidence of how the appointments had happened.

Ms Bosset had some trouble with her audio and the issue was resolved.

The Chairperson said that if she said she could say a lot about irregular appointments it had to be said.

Ms Bosset attempted to outline who she had already spoken about and who her colleagues had spoken about so far.

The Chairperson said that Ms Bosset had to provide the information she knew.

Ms Bosset said that Mr Basson and Dr Carolissen had attended high school together and were a year apart in age and it was her understanding that they were friends as per the Facebook page. Mr Basson and the Administrator also attended events at RUSET, the Ravensmead Uitsig Education Trust (RUEST). Dr Carolissen was also an old friend of Ms Stuurman’s father and there was evidence of that on Facebook but she had known that prior as Ms Stuurman had told her that herself as well as that was how she got to know about the position at NSFAS.  

Ms Fortune, was a person who, according to her own CV, had reported to the wife of the Administrator. Ms Heideman was also known to the Administrator’s wife as confirmed by Facebook.

Mr Fourie and the Administrator as per their own discussion with her had been friends since their university days.

Ms Ziyanda, whose surname she could not remember, was appointed through the Senior Executive Management Service (SEMS) process through a recruitment panel. She said that she could produce evidence where the process was really interesting as Dr Carolissen was earlier quoted as saying he was only involved in interviews where the people reported directly to him. In that instance, the candidate was sent an email which simply said that she would be interviewed the following day but before the panel interview happened, there was an email to the service provider that stated that the Administrator would also meet with the person the following day. That follow-up appointment with the Administrator and the candidate was a private meeting. That was before the panel had approved appointment and the candidate was not reporting to the Administrator, unlike what was said by him. There was evidence that within that meeting… (Ms Bosset was inaudible)

Ms Bosset stated that the HR Executive could talk to the appointment of people in ICT where she was provided with CVs and told who the preferred candidate was. She could also talk to positions where she had been made aware of where people were acting in positions that did not exist in NSFAS. An acting allowance was being paid, but acting allowances were only supposed to be paid for six months, according to the policy but they had been acting in that position for a year. In two instances people were provided with permanent employment. They were permanent employees at a lower level in the organisation but, without a recruitment process or any competitive process, were given permanent positions at higher levels. She could provide evidence of that and said that the evidence was actually already provided.

Ms Bosset lost connectivity and the Chairperson said he would return to her if she connected again.

Testimony of Ms Nqwenelwa Ncede

Ms Ncede said that she was the Senior Manager for Strategic Planning and Performance. She had been a civil servant since 2007 and had held various positions since then. She had been in the monitoring, planning and performance space for almost a decade.

Ms Ncede said the Annual Performance Plans (APPs) were important as it was what the Committee monitored. She was concerned about the Administrator’s lack of knowledge about the strategic planning space and government legislation. The strategic planning and performance unit followed legislation and it dealt with the PMFA, Treasury Regulations and Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation frameworks, guidelines on planning and monitoring, NT instruction notes and templates, Production Price Indexes (PPIs) and others. There was a lot of things to be complied with and she said that she had received various training by the DPME, NT and National School of Government. Training had not come from consultants and she had been in that space for almost 12 years now on different platforms.

Ms Ncede had a Master’s degree in Business Administration dealing with strategy and she was currently doing her PHD and focusing on strategic management of government, trying to scrutinise the framework and assist government to improve its strategic framework.

Regarding the 2018/19 APP, she said that the most important thing was that the Administrator had intended to change the indicators of the institution based on the advice he had received from Ms Thaaniya Isaacs, who was a consultant at that time, an auditor from Ernst&Young, the company which provided audit services to NSFAS. She was called into the meeting in November and Ms Isaacs advised the Administrator that he had to revise the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the institution, which were aligned to its mandate, to be aligned to the TOR of the Administrator. According to the legislation that could not happen and legislation had to be followed. In one of the training sessions at the DPME, she had asked if that was possible in a state of emergency and she was told that there could be no deviation from the legislation.

On 8 March 2019, there was communication from the AGSA about the Administrator’s request to remove the KPIs of the institution for the 2018/19 APP. AGSA had assessed the request and advised that it could not support the request made to amend the 2018/19 APP of NSFAS.

The Administrator’s fear was in terms of performance but, unfortunately, we had to speak the truth so that those that were trusted by government to take decisions according to the APP. She could not declare performance that was not a true reflection of the service delivery environment of NSFAS.  For that reason, she had been viewed as a destructive person and was told by the Administrator that she was too straightjacketed, a bureaucrat and that she was too structured in an unstructured environment. The Administrator did not want to listen to advice that was based on legislation.

She was certain that the Committee would receive the 2019/20 APP soon and she was sure, as a qualified official, that NSFAS would receive an adverse finding in its service delivery environment. The planning unit had submitted strategic plans and the APPs of NSFAS that had been created together with the NSFAS management on 15 November 2018 and that APP was supposed to be for 2019/20, but in January, an instruction was received from NT through DHET to freeze the salaries of executives and senior managers. Ms Ncede was then removed from that process and Mr Neil Garrod, an advisor, had developed the indicators together with a senior management executive from project management , Mr Mathee. All the indicators from the initial strategic plan spoke to the mandate of the institution and were according to the SMART principle, aligned to the strategic plan and APP were reliable, well- defined, cost effective, appropriate and relevant. These were removed and replaced with the ToR of the Administrator.

Only three indicators were not removed, therefore the planning unit of NSFAS could not use its tools and that meant only three indicators could be monitored because all the other indicators were “garbage” that did not make sense and could not produce information that was reliable. There was a responsibility to provide reliable information that had SMART principles, technical descriptions and that spoke to the mandate of the institution.

Ms Ncede had advised the Administrator on 2 July 2019 that the quarterly report was due for submission at the end of 2019 as per the quarterly reporting guidelines and she had identified the several areas of concern which would affect the quarterly reporting. The areas were that the APP was not aligned to the strategic plan, the removed baselines made it impossible to measure performance in that year. In the 2019/20 financial year, the entity would begin a process of gathering baselines which could not be disclosed in the Annual Report. She further advised that the new indicators did not meet the requirements of the SMART criteria as per the legislative requirements. According to policy a good performance indicator had to possess the following attributes: well-defined, reliable, verifiable, cost-effective, appropriate and relevant. She also advised that the document did not allow the Monitoring and Evaluation process of developing technical descriptions and the performance targets were not reliable and in SMART principle. She advised that the misaligned APP and Strategic Plan would make it difficult for the AGSA to perform the audit due to the limited scope of performance information and its reliability and completeness. She said that if the Unit found it difficult to use the tools it was equipped with by government to measure the service delivery environment, it was likely to be worse for the AGSA.

She said that the 80% of what the Administrator was saying was “garbage” and the information was not reliable. She was certain that the AGSA would vindicate her and give an adverse finding because what was included in the Annual Report would not be a true reflection of what had transpired in the service delivery environment. It was difficult to follow the money as the indicators were not measurable. The Strategic Plan, APP and the budget were not linked as the APP was a standalone document.

On 11 September an email was received from the DHET. Seemingly, the Administrator and his advisor, Mr Prakash Mangrey, were invited to a PMFA meeting at the Department. That email stated that NSFAS was advised that Chapter 6 of the PMFA and specific Treasury regulations were key to compliance of public entities and that the entity should make use of the PMFA and Treasury regulations when submitting requests to the Department. The email also stated that NSFAS was reminded, regarding the 2018/19 APP that NSFAS had submitted, that an APP should be aligned with the Strategic Plan, KPIs and budget. That was the APP that was developed by the Planning Unit together with NSFAS management. However, when the entity was requested to revise the budget to reduce the allocation for compensation of senior managers, a NT directive, in the process NSFAS had amended the APP and submitted the requested information to the Department during January 2019. The amendments included the Administrator’s ToR.

Ms Ncede said that essentially the Administrator was also cautioned by DHET and further to that on 4 February 2020, the AG came to NSFAS, while she was still there, and conducted a preliminary audit. The AG was sending emails to her and the Administrator which referred to annexure A in which there were misalignments between the Strategic Plan and the APP. NSFAS was invited to provide comment on those alignments of the KPIs. These misalignments could result in non-compliance with Treasury Regulations 5.2.3 and the framework for strategic plans and APPs.

She said that the Administrator had been advised several times and she was not sure if it was in an effort to not report or because he wanted to do things his own way, but whatever he had tried to do with his friends was not legislated. She said that as the Administrator viewed her as someone who was too straightjacketed. He had opted to introduce parallel structures into the Planning Unit and she had seen several people brought in. The Unit continued to do its work but the Administrator would bring in advisors, Mr Basson and others, to ensure disruption in the unit and to do whatever the Administrator asked of them but the work they were doing was not legislated.

Ms Ncede was suspended because there was an intruder that was seeking the NSFAS Strategic Planning documents and she immediately raised an alarm as the email was sent from a private SharePoint email. She raised the alarm with the Administrator and his advisors that there was an intruder seeking confidential information about the institution and asked if the Administrator was aware of the person because she had checked for that person in the NSFAS database, only to find that person was registered as the Strategic and APP Specialist.

She asked Members to note that that title did not exist in government. She said that she then received a response after five days questioning whether she was saying there were fraudsters in the entity and saying she had to wait for a charge sheet. As her office reported to the Executive Authority (EA), the EA and the Administrator delegated powers to Ms Mncwabe to charge her. She was surprised that it was Ms Mncwabe who had appointed Mr Basson. The charge sheet was received after 5 days and on 25 May the Administrator called her and others into a recorded meeting and said that the Planning Unit had not done its work but the Administration had done it and got 80%. Ms Ncede said that there was no evidence for that figure, there was only evidence for 11.7% for the overall performance of the institution, based on measurable indicators. Immediately after that meeting, she received a ready-made quarterly report from Ms Mncwabe and the Administrator and had to remove the one that she had measured (which had been evidence-based) and replace it with the report that was commissioned outside of the Planning Unit, without any evidence. She could not do that. She was told by the Administrator that if the Unit did not do its work, Mr Basson whom he knew, would come and work with it. If the 80% was not included, she would be disciplined. She responded that she could not do it as it was unethical and against good Corporate Governance, as well as unlawful.

In fact, when Mr Basson’s APP was presented to Parliament, the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture, and Mr Nodada, asked if the entity was aspiring to receive a qualified audit because the APP’s indicators were wrong. She had never before heard of an indicator that was “aspiring to receive a qualified audit opinion”.

Because the indicators in the report were wrong, the Planning Unit had written a memo on 4 February 2020 saying that the Planning Unit of NSFAS was distancing itself from the 2020-2025 Strategic Plan and 2020/21 APP provided by service provider. The Unit did not wish to bring the institution and national government into disrepute nor wish for the institution to repeat what had transpired during the 2019/20 financial year as indicated in various communications to the executive office during the latter year. It was also important to alert the Administrators and Advisors that the State of the Nation Address was on 13 February 2020 and the budget speech on the 26 February 2020, but NSFAS had not submitted the SMART indicators for inclusion in the budget vote.

She said that in May 2020, Mr Nodada had raised a question about the presentation being different from the Strategic Plan and the Administrator’s response was that the Planning Unit that had created the presentation and was doing disastrous work. She said that that was not true as there was a request for a presentation to be prepared based on the service provider’s APP. She said that the service provider could not leave his work hanging because part of the process was to prepare a presentation for Parliament and she did not know how she was supposed to prepare a presentation on subject matter that she was not aware of.  The Unit and NSFAS had a Strategic Plan that she could talk to and which she was sure was correctly aligned with to government strategies but that plan was not considered. The plan was sent to the AGSA, which confirmed that it was correct, but it never reached Parliament: the APP developed by the service provider was the one that had reached Parliament.

Mr Basson was at NSFAS to ensure that the Strategic Plan and APP rejected by Parliament was amended and the Unit was forced to do that presentation. It was amended by Ms Mncwabe and then sent to Parliament. All the documents that the Committee had received during the Administration were not coming from the Planning Unit.

She had warned and cautioned the Administrator several times as it was also her responsibility to advise to the Executive Officers and others and ensure reporting to DHET, Treasury and Parliament. Ms Ncede was alerting the Committee that the Annual Report would not be a true reflection of what had transpired in NSFAS.

Mr Basson’s background was in the Police and he had qualifications in policing but he did not have an understanding of the education sector. He did not understand the sector and the environment. She was much better educated than he. On his CV, it stated that he started in 2009 in the planning unit which was the very same year she had started and if he was true planner he would know training was provided by the National School of Government, NT and the DPME.

She said that the presentation was created by Ms Mncwabe and the revised APP and Strategic Plan had not been done by the Unit and it was incorrectly done with incorrect indicators and programmes.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Ncede and asked Ms Bosset to complete her presentation.

Ms Bosset said she was not sure if the Chairperson had heard her complete the irregular appointments list.

The Chairperson said he was not sure as well as she was still speaking when she lost connection.

Ms Bosset said she was speaking about Ms Ziyanda Mzamo and was not sure if the Chairperson had heard her. That appointment had gone through a recruitment panel and she was informed that she would have an interview with a panel that excluded the HR Executive and before the panel had concluded or met with the candidate, she received an email that she would have a meeting with the Administrator. Bearing in the mind that the Administrator was on record saying he never met with people unless they reported directly to him. That meeting was held privately and at the meeting it emerged that benefits were promised to the candidate, such as relocation of goods, a private school for their child and accommodation. These things were completely outside of the NFAS policy or at least the policy that was there when Ms Bosset was there. It was also unusual for an Administrator to promise benefits to any candidate. That appointment was highly, highly irregular.

She asked if the Chairperson had heard her speak about those appointed to permanent posts without proper process.

The Chairperson said that he had heard her talk about acting appointments.

She said that the policy that spoke to acting allowances was very clear and said that an acting position could only be held for six months unless that was another policy had changed unilaterally and that she was unaware of. There had to be a formal letter of appointment to an acting position. On the list, Ms Bosset had the names of individuals who had been moved permanently, by the Administrator, from one position to another without any of the necessary processes being followed. That was discussed in the board meeting and she had minutes to that effect. People were given those permanent, higher positions without competitive processes and outside of processes. She was personally aware of at least three such positions.

The Chairperson said that what Ms Bosset was saying was quite serious and asked if she could provide the evidence she had and what she had said in writing. She was explaining a situation where there was chaos and a disregard of policies and irregular appointments.

Ms Bosset said that the evidence had been submitted in the files previously.

The Chairperson requested that she submit a statement of what she had said in that meeting with supporting documents. He asked for clarity on the instruction that she had received to go to Bloemfontein.   

Ms Bosset said that Mr Jacobs had instructed her to go to Bloemfontein after he had received the CV from the Administrator. That was outside of formal recruitment process.

The Chairperson asked who Mr Jacobs was.

Ms Bosset explained that Mr Jacobs had been the General Manager for Stakeholder Engagement but he had left the organisation.

The Chairperson asked who the other HR manager was that could corroborate what she said.

Ms Bosset said it was Ms Vuyokazi Dwane, the former HR Executive who was on the platform.

The Chairperson asked for clarity on what she had said earlier about her testimony at Parliament being used against her in her disciplinary hearing.

Concerning her testimony to the Committee being used at her disciplinary hearing, Ms Bosset said that she had attended the Committee meeting under NEHAWU on 9 October and during her disciplinary hearing that was raised by the employer who wanted to use it against her as they had pulled out her sick note and asked questions about her testifying. The Commissioner, however, stopped that and said that her attendance at a Committee meeting could not be used against her in a meeting.  She was taken aback by the situation.

The Chairperson said that he was not sure why NSFAS would do something like that and wanted an explanation. He inquired about Ms Dwane.

Ms Bosset said that Ms Dwane was the previous HR Executive who had left NSFAS under duress and had submitted an affidavit and was willing to talk to irregular appointments.

The Chairperson asked if Ms Dwane was on the platform. She was but she had not been sworn in.

The Chairperson asked her to submit what she would say in writing as well and administered the oath.

Testimony of Ms Dwane

Ms Dwane took an oath and said that she had submitted a four-page affidavit which she would talk to. She said that the Administrator had said that there were no executives as they had all left. She was the only remaining executive until 24 June 2020. She described the time under Administration as the “the age of predetermination” in terms of disciplinary process and outcomes, recruitment outcomes and job evaluation outcomes.

She would begin with the disciplinary process and cited her own.  In 2019 after her suspension, an external chair was hired and paid to act on NSFAS’s behalf. That was a Bowman’s Law employee that had found her not found guilty on all counts. Yet the following day, she had received a letter disputing the findings that had been prepared by an agent that NSFAS had paid and said that they were planning to expel her and asked her to provide reasons why she should not be dismissed. Thereafter the policy on discipline was changed to exclude all external chairpersons and use advisors and Governance, Risk Management and Compliance (GRC) executives as chairpersons to facilitate the predetermined outcomes that the Administrator sought. That was one instance of predetermination.

The second instance of predetermination related to recruitment outcomes and it was a time when advertisements would be referred to as “so and so’s” job. She had included the names of some of those people in her statement.

The Chairperson asked her to take the Committee through that as he was sure it was not a long list.

Ms Dwane asked if she could read a paragraph from her statement so that the Chairperson could grasp the details. She read that the period of administration at NSFAS had been categorised by nepotism, favouritism and side-lining which found expression in the predetermination of outcomes whether the outcomes were disciplinary or recruitment outcomes. The examples were countless and in order to provide a full picture of the extent to which that rot had penetrated the HR system and process, deeper inquiry and investigation by an impartial third party would be required. It had been a period where fair and objective process and assessment of contribution had been abolished.

She continued reading that, as an HR executive at the time, she was often on the receiving end of single CVs handed to her by advisors during the recruitment process with the Administrator repeatedly punting the right to head-hunt. One such example was where the ICT Advisor, Dr Sibongiseni Thotsejane, shared the CV of a person who had since been appointed into the organisation. She understood that that person’s surname was Ndamase and she did not engage in the process but rather referred it to the HR practitioner who was responsible for that.

Continuing to making a farce of the recruitment process, in another instance the Administrator had asked about the advertising of “Mafilika’s job” when the prospective candidate was sitting in the meeting. That prospective candidate ultimately became the successful candidate.

In late 2018, she often received repeated instructions that she should send advertisements directly to the Administrator so that they could be distributed within his network. Another instance was when the role for SM: Stakeholder Relations was advertised and then re-advertised as a specific individual had not applied. Ms Fayroes Sherry, who was the talent sourcing specialist, was instructed by Mr Mohamed Muktar, Advisor to the Administrator, to find out why Ms Tshewula, for whom the job had been created, had not applied for the job. After a conversation with Ms Tshewula, Sherry indicated that it was “because she just wanted to serve and was not motivated by title or stature”. The recruitment assignment was eventually cancelled. However, it is interesting to note that Ms Tshewula, whose official title was executive assistant in the CEO’s office, had been in receipt of an acting allowance at senior management level for a role that did not appear on the approved organisational structure. That arrangement was at least 18 months old and in excess of the provisions defined by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) on acting allowances. The same applied to Ms Sherry acting in the non- approved role of talent sourcing lead, another creation of the Administrator.

Ms Dwane said that the use “or dare she say abuse” of the supply chain management process evident in the example of the recruitment of Ms Mzamo, which Ms Bosset had made reference to, demonstrated that the Administrator was prepared to use any means possible in order to influence outcomes of what should have been a fair and transparent process. What became particularly blatant during the 2019/2020 period of the Administration was how she was side-lined, especially in the recruitment process through the appointment of the talent sourcing specialist to act in a non-existent supposedly senior role. That had resulted in her being excluded from the recruitment processes as the HR executive involving the executives, CEO and Chief Corporate Services Officer, COO and CIO and the CFO.

In Ms Dwane’s view was that it was done to create space for a less questioning and more junior official. As an executive she was aware of her fiduciary responsibility in the organisation while a more junior employee could get away with stating that she was unquestioningly carrying out an instruction. She was also of the view that, with the agenda being predetermined outcomes, the Chief Corporate Services Officer‘s role which was also designed to nullify the HR executive role and authority. She believed that her involvement in processes would have been viewed as an impediment by the Administrator and his advisors.

She had raised her concerns about the practices that she was frequently observing and she initially sought to cultivate a relationship of trust and therefore she had many conversations with Mr Mohamed whom she encouraged to counsel the Administrator in a manner that would steer his decision-making towards policy and legislative compliance. As time progressed, she realised the futility of the situation she found herself in and wrote more emails while still having conversations. She was mindful of the four and half months she had been on suspension and that her disciplinary processes had been described by her lawyer as a textbook witch-hunt during 2019. She was exonerated but never again accepted as an executive. The Administrator never mentioned a HR executive because she was just in the blind spot.

When the load became too much for her to bear, she escalated matters and with the services of a lawyer brought the matter to the DHET Minister. Between April and June 2020, a series of letters followed wherein she wrote about the treatment she had suffered at the hands of the Administrator and his advisors all with the Minister copied in. In response she was threatened with suspension by Mr Mahomed and received a charge from Ms Isaacs, who was not her line manager but an official on the same level as her. The Minister’s response was a deafening silence and she was left with no option but to tender her resignation on 24 June 2020. She said that that was part of her statement that spoke to predetermined recruitment and disciplinary outcomes.

She addressed job evaluation outcomes and the critical vacancy list that Ms Bosset had mentioned. She gave an example of what would happen at Exco meetings where posts where posts and salaries were determined arbitrarily. She said that, in terms of regulations, in order to arrive at a remuneration level, there was a process of defining the job’s key performance outcomes, level of responsibilities and other factors. It was not a wish list.  At one of her last exco meetings in May or June, a number of new positions particularly in operations, such as the recruitment of Ms Mphahlele, had been identified as requirements. At that meeting she said that grades and remuneration levels could not just simply be determined as there had to be a job evaluation that was methodical and defendable. By the time that she resigned that process was under the way but there were a number of people employed at grades and salary levels that had been determined without process.

The Chairperson said it appeared that it was an environment that was not governed by the rules. The Committee would hear from the Administrator as most of the issues related to him. It was very concerning. He asked about the affidavit or letter Ms Dwane had sent to the Committee.

Ms Dwane said that she had submitted an affidavit with attachments of emails supporting all the claims that she had made. 

The Chairperson requested that she resubmit the information as the Committee was currently receiving a high volume of documents. He said that what she was explaining was horrific and he was sure no one would be proud to be associated with such an environment. He thanked Ms Dwane.

The Chairperson said he had not restricted anybody but asked Mr Gilbert Muvavarirwa to be precise as time was running out.

Testimony by Mr Gilbert Muvavarirwa

Mr Muvavarirwa was the GM for ICT strategy and had joined NSFAS in 2017. He said he wanted to start with the topic of “who’s bugging whom?” which would give a highlight of the culture of fear that existed at NSFAS.

One night in July 2019, he had been working late in the office, around eight or nine pm, and there was a knock of his door by a lady, Sharon, from facilities and behind her were five gentlemen with gadgets he had never seen before, and they asked if they could come into his office. He asked what they wanted to do in his office and they said that a technical surveillance was being conducted. He asked them how that could be done without prior notice. It was strange that they had to come that time in the evening.

He had been told to leave his office and he questioned why he had to leave his office. He left his office and stood outside with Sharon. He had never before seen what he saw that day. The gentlemen had gadgets that were seen in movies went into the ceilings and they told him that they were debugging. That was why he titled what his evidence as who was bugging who. He was told that things that were in his office were being debugged as with all the offices. Why would he put equipment in his own office to bug himself? He thought that they were not debugging but putting certain things in his office to listen to his conversations with other NSFAS officers. One day after disciplinary charges were supposed to be laid against him, a senior manager employee relationships official, Mr Lungisa Mtumtum, told him the HR Boardroom was bugged. He then realised that the organisation had been bugged. He asked if it was legal for an institution like NSFAS to have surveillance equipment installed. He was not saying that was the case, but it was what he had heard. That instilled fear in himself and other employees as most people at NSFAS knew the place was bugged and hereafter people spoke and had meetings outside of their offices.

On instability in the ICT department, he said that there had been a high level of turn-over of executives. Since 2018, there had been four executives. In September 2018, the then CIO left the position and it was filled by in October 2018 by Mr Colin Fourie, whom he reported to. In his engagements with Mr Fourie on strategy, he had determined that he was clueless. After Mr Fourie had realised he could not discuss anything related to strategy, Mr Muvavarirwa was victimised. In March 2020 Mr Fourie was moved from the Department as head of ICT reporting to the Administrator and the position was taken on by Dr Thotsejane. Dr Thotsejane left within a few months under unclear conditions but he had been suspended by then. The position was then taken over by Luyanda but he had been sitting in disciplinary hearings that he knew nothing about. Dr Thotsejane, under oath, said that she was not responsible for the charge sheet under his name. That showed that there were predetermined outcomes as Ms Dwane had discussed.

There was a high turnover for senior management in the ICT department as various managers left. Mr Muvavarirwa outlined how various senior managers had left. The affidavits and why these managers had left NSFAS were included in the evidence. The high turnover in the Department made it very unstable. There was a high dependency on third party service providers where there was no return on investment. He gave examples of the work done by Dimension Data and Adapt IT that did not have a justifiable return on investment.

He said that even though he was a GM ICT, he would find people employed that he was not aware of in his department. He had to write an email to HR to query people, Ramez and Sean, who had moved from being contractors to full employees. There were no interviews or CVs for their hiring and when he asked about it, Mr Mtumtum told him that management knew about it.  He questioned how that had happened as it violated recruitment processes. His victimisation continued as he had pointed out irregularities.

Mr Muvavarirwa said that Mr Jovan, who was a cousin to Mr C Fourie, had brought in his cousin and he did not even know when the interviews were conducted. That raised questions about how people were coming into the organisation.

On restructuring, he said that he had been privy to an ICT document that depicted an organogram that had not included him. He said that he had been targeted since the previous year as someone who had to leave the organisation and the proof was in there. There were predetermined outcomes when it came to anyone being charged at NSFAS. He said that his employment relationship with NSFAS was broken and he was waiting for the outcome.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their presence and for honouring the Committee’s invitation. The picture painted was a horrible one, a terrible picture and it was very depressing. He did not know if it there was a big collusion by all the employees to present, or if it was farfetched or what was really happening. He said that he was quite aware that it was late but he would take Members comments as engagements had to be allowed. He was really horrified about the situation as NSFAS was an institution placed under administration to address the terrible situation it was in and so to receive those testimonies, was very concerning. That informed the Committee that the situation in NSFAS was much worse now than before. As the NSFAS employee had said, it was an “era of predetermined outcomes”.

Discussion

Mr Nodada said that he hoped that the Chairperson was more convinced that the proposals made by himself and Mr Letsie regarding investigations was a route that the Committee should take. The Chairperson’s interjections gave further reason why an inquiry was the best approach because there would be probing. The information the Committee had received was leading the Committee to that point as the Administrator and NSFAS employees had given different accounts of the same matters. The Committee had to determine if the route of a full inquiry and various investigations which might lead to criminal charges should be explored. It was the Committee’s responsibility as an oversight body to take particular action based on the information it received. It was quite appalling, depressing and sad that the entity, which was supposed to be dealing with the funding of poor students who were dependent on funding from taxpayers to acquire skills and change their lives for the better, was literally crumbling and crashing to the ground. It was extremely appalling from the mismanagement of the APP and Strategic Plan which flouted legal processes to the poor management of tenders and irregular appointments with serious allegations. The very reason the country had issues with its public service was irregular appointments and that was why services could not be delivered and a mess was created. If there were a full inquiry, the AG, Minister and the DHET had to be involved as the allegations were serious. He emphasised that there be a full inquiry was necessary to assess the situation and create a solution to move NSFAS forward. That could be an achievement of the Sixth Administration, if properly done.

Mr Nodada requested that his questions be put on record. They could be answered verbally but he wanted the responses in writing as well.

He asked the Administrator if any members of the Bid Adjudication Committee (BAC) and Bid Evaluation Committee (BEC) were replaced. Yes or no? Were members replaced and why? Would the Administrator be able to confirm if those replaced had received the relevant training as per Treasury regulations and the Public Service code of conduct?

He asked how the Administrator had arrived at the decision to appoint Ms Nwabe, who was not an acting CFO, as chairperson of the BAC. What were the reasons that disqualified the CFO from being the chairperson of the BAC, as per regulations?

Mr Nodada had read the report from the DHET DG about the sequence of events for the laptop tender and that concerned him. He asked the Administrator or Ms Mncwabe directly, why Ms Mncwabe had appointed Mr Nqaba Nqandela, who was sent by the Minister and whom she had worked with previously in the Minister’s office? He requested a comprehensive response to that question. Why was the GM of Corporate Services suspended?

On the APP, he said that it was an important issue and he had asked the Administrator why certain pages in the APP did not correspond with the Strategic Plan and why the presentation differed from the previous strategic plan. He had asked the Administrator to put these things in writing and they were. Even the amounts of R490 000 versus just over R500 000 did not match, even now, and these were all reasons why the inquiry was necessary. He asked why, in the development of the APP, external providers were appointed to work on the APP and Strategic Plan when NSFAS had a planning department.

Was Mr Shai or Mr Basson the consultant appointed to complete the APP as it appeared two people were appointed to do the same work? Was there any consequence management against Mr Shai for not completing the work he had been paid R490 000 to do? When Ms Ncede informed the Administrator about somebody requesting information without her knowledge, what had he done and what had been done to ensure that Ms Ncede was involved with the people appointed by the Administrator to ensure the APP and Strategic Plan was completed through the correct prescripts? Why was Mr Basson trying to access information without Ms Ncede’s knowledge? If the Administrator was not aware, Mr Basson had to be subpoenaed to answer the questions himself.

Mr Nodada said that there were allegations that the Administrator had side-lined the Planning Unit and asked why the Administrator had done that in the development of the APP and Strategic Plan. Was it true that Ms Mncwabe had developed an APP and Strategic Plan and sent it through to Ms Ncede to develop something that was outside of the prescripts of what the AG had advised and which she could not support? That was in relation to the Administrator’s ToR which had replaced the targets set for NSFAS.

Mr Nodada said that he would next ask questions directed at the employees.

Did the planning department of NSFAS account accurately to the Portfolio Committee on the service delivery environment during the 2019/2020 financial year? If the answer was yes, he needed substantiation. He requested a written response if the answer was no, so that it could be established if Parliament had been misled or not as that was the allegation. That was very serious when it came to the APP and Strategic Plan. Was the planning unit able to see the impact of the key performance indicators being replaced with the ToR of the Administrator in service delivery and had the money gone to the correct students? He asked Ms Ncede, or any other NSFAS employee of NSFAS with information, to respond.  What was the cause for the delay in the Annual Report during the previous and current year? The Committee was still waiting for the AG to audit NSFAS as there was currently a delay, as there had been in the previous year. That trajectory could not continue. Was that something that happened before the entity was placed under administration or was it something new according to the employees? How many people were involved in the production of the APP during the period under Administration? He requested a response to that from the Administrator and from the employees.

On Sbux and the Wallet system, Mr Nodada asked employees for more clarity on the systems. Was it only the name and the one function which changed allowances to cash and removed vendors?  Was it still the same system but administered differently? The Administrator had said the Wallet was being used and justified how different it was, but was the actual system the same? Was the tender still given to the same provider? He requested clarity on the matter.

Mr Nodada asked the Administrator if the Chief Risk Officer of NSFAS had motivated for the insourcing of the internal audit while the end of the financial year audit for NSFAS was there.

He reiterated that there had to be a full inquiry, internal investigation and the AG had to be invited to brief the Committee, especially after the end of the current financial year and that a decision be made on how the matter on hand be taken forward. The Minister, the DG and more NSFAS employees would also have to come forward in order for the Committee to address the matter. He thanked the NSFAS employees for appearing before the Committee. He said that he was disappointed by some of the Administrator’s responses from a moral perspective on some matters about how he had relationships with some of the appointees. He hoped that all his questions would be answered in writing.

The Chairperson said that he was glad Mr Nodada saw the benefits of proceeding with the meeting and that the Committee could receive information without NEHAWU attending. Perhaps the General Secretary did not know what was being presented in the meeting.

Ms Mananiso welcomed the presentations and witnesses. She said that history remembered the brave and thanked the NSFAS employees for their bravery. NEHAWU could be applauded for bring the allegations to the Committee’s attention and thanked them in their absence for informing the Committee. She said that what Mr Nodada had asked had been raised by the Chairperson during the testimonies therefore she was covered on some issues.

She said that it was concerning that the Administrator received CVs and sent them along in the organisation and saw nothing wrong with that. She said to her surprise everybody that he received a CV from was appointed. She said that some of the allegations might be true considering nepotism.

Ms Mananiso asked the Administrator to explain which positions were created to recruit people externally during that period. Were processes followed as HR had said that processes were not followed most of the time? How many people had been appointed during the Administrator’s term without proper processes? That information had to be forwarded to the Committee.

Directed at Ms Hildebrand, she asked if she still felt threatened as she had indicated that she was living in fear in terms of her position at NSFAS. Did she feel that the situation at NSFAS was the same and had anything regarding retrenchment been communicated to her? Mr Mamabolo said that he had advised during the executive meeting that something had to be done concerning AG issues and had been ignored. Perhaps that indicated that there was a problem with the abuse of power within NSFAS.  Could it be confirmed that the AG had warned NSFAS that the Administrator had to pull up his socks? If so, the date for that warning had to be provided The Administrator had to answer that question.

Directed at the Administrator, Ms Mananiso asked why Mr Stalin Links was involved in the Annual Report.

On Ms Stuurman and Ms Heideman, who were appointed to do outreach, she asked what their job titles were and what was their status? Previously Mr Mamabolo had been introduced as the person dealing with outreach at NSFAS. On duplicate positions, she asked what was happening and what was the status quo for payment versus what was supposed to happen according to the policies.

The ANC had been clear when it was creating NSFAS that it would be an enabling system for the masses, poor and working class but what was happening now was that internal issues made students victims daily. She was very disappointed and there had to be oversight visits at the NSFAS offices. It seemed that the Committee had been misled to believe that the situation at NSFAS was improving. Ms Maaniso asked the NSFAS HR employee if she had attempted to write formally about what was happening when she was not invited to sit in and about what was not in line with policy.

Mr Ngcobo acknowledged the brave employees for testifying. On the non-attendance of NEHAWU, he said that the writing was on the wall and it was clear why NEHAWU did not attend, but he wished the union had been brave enough to defend its members to the end. To take a matter as serious as that to the Committee and let the process begin but withdraw half-way through was unacceptable. There was a big deal that had just happened under the table as NEHAWU was able to suddenly resolve all the issues. The issues were not resolved, given the employee testimonials. The situation was depressing, as the Chairperson had said.

He thanked the Administrator for his presentation. It seemed that the Administrator had some contact with a person whom he had known long time ago and then all of sudden contact is established and immediately after that there was an appointment. That had happened on several occasions. There was a pattern and it was very strange. He suggested that the Committee put time aside to discuss the matter again as there was not enough time for enjoinments. There were irregular appointments and despite there being two sides to the story, processes were not followed. The employees’ testimonies confirmed how processes had not been followed.

Mr Ngcobo said that Mr Jacobs had to be invited to the Committee but he was not sure if that would help as the Committee had heard a lot things and now needed to take a bigger step on how to move forward on the entire matter.

An employee had mentioned that there was a complaint from the Administrator’s wife and if that were true or even if there were a grain of truth he wanted to hear that. It was strange that a member was moved from the BAC just before there was a tender. What was the motive for Mr Mamabolo being removed as a member of that committee? It appeared that he was removed for a reason. He did not believe Mr Mamabolo was removed because he did not have the capacity. Mr Ngcobo said it was odd that an employee could be charged and then the person’s role was changed. He said that he had questions about Ms Mncwabe’s qualifications because of all the power she was allowed to wield in the organisation.

He noted that Ms Hildebrand had said a lot of things like being suspended without charges and being brought back without information on what had happened. How could someone be suspended without receiving a charge? Employees had to receive reasons for why they were suspended, even if it was broad, unless the Administrator had other information but he doubted that. That suspension was not done through the line manager as ordinarily done and all of those issues raised questions. If what Ms Hildebrand had said was true, why did it happen? There were processes for retrenchment that had to be followed. He asked if Ms Hildebrand was sure that she had been reinstated because reappointment and reinstatement were two different things. If she had been reinstated, she had to check because then she would have to be paid for the time she was away.

Mr Ngcobo said that he was concerned about Mr Basson’s qualifications based on the testimonials. If that was the case then a lot was wrong at NSFAS and he questioned why that was the case. He expressed himself angrily in the vernacular. NSFAS, which had been entrusted with the future of students, was playing games. What was the rationale behind the appointment of Ms Mncwabe?

He noted that Ms Bosset had mentioned the Administrator’s wife being a reference for an appointee which was concerning. Restructuring was mentioned but it appears that it was done haphazardly. The Administrator said that the aim for restructuring was a top heavy structure but in his view, it had ended up even heavier on the top.

On ICT instability and the high turn-over mentioned, he said that he had counted five employees that had left. The situation was worse than a high turnover situation. Why were the offices bugged? It appeared to Mr Ngcobo that it was a fact that the offices had been bugged, but if they were not, he requested a response from the Administrator saying they were not bugged, or he did not know of it. He recommended that something be done and perhaps the SIU services had to be invoked or other specialists to ensure that the offices were checked with immediate effect as he believed the offices were bugged. It appeared that a mafia syndicate had taken over in the NSFAS and he was disappointed as he had never thought that would happen.

Mr Ngcobo pointed out that the Committee was not being subjective or prejudging the Administrator but after listening to him multiple times and to the employees who said many things, he was concerned. He did not have new recommendations but supported that there be an oversight visit soon. Something serious had to be done such as an SIU investigation or forensic audit, although forensic audits generally took too long. The previous day the Chairperson had said, and he had agreed, that the administrators in general had become very fishy and were getting recycled and institutions were being looted.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Ncgobo and acknowledged the analogy about the pattern that existed for the Administrator when it came to appointees.

Mr Letsie thanked the NSFAS employees for presenting and said that he could imagine how difficult it must have been considering that they would have to return to work. One employee stated that the NSFAS had wanted to use her appearance before the Committee with NEHAWU a few weeks ago, during a hearing on a charge. Tomorrow some employees would be charged for minor things for what had been said in the Committee today. The Committee had to zoom in on what was happening at NSFAS as it appeared to him that it was a cartel environment not only at NSFAS, but in the entire he Public Service Education and Training (PSET) sector. NSFAS existed as an extremely important entity in the lives of millions of South Africans and if it died today or tomorrow, many people would be excluded from institutions of higher learning, be jobless and even resort to crime. NSFAS was important and it had to continue its work beyond the administration.

He was disappointed at NEHAWU for withdrawing because according to its letter it was as if it thought that the existence of NSFAS was secondary and that employee-employer relations were primary. That was disappointing coming from a union close to the hearts of some Members. He agreed with Mr Nodada who had supported his proposal for a full inquiry. The meeting had run over time but the matter was extremely important.

Mr Letsie said that a full inquiry was required and that perhaps the Committee had to discuss the ToR, the so-called irregular appointments and the disbursement of allowances. Students often wrote to the Committee Members about not receiving allowances which were their baseline for survival and students not getting allowances on time had dire consequences. The situation presented was a horror movie. Ms Dwane said that she had written to the Department and had received no reply. She had gone through disciplinary processes and been cleared but the employer refused to accept the results of its own disciplinary committee (DC) where it had appointed and paid for the chairperson but had rejected the outcomes. The Department had done nothing after she had written to it. The Committee would be accused of a witch-hunt against certain people in the Department, but it could not turn a blind eye to what was happening.

During the Administrator’s presentation, the Chairperson had asked questions inquiry style and Mr Letsie would have liked to ask questions as well, but he had not wanted to disturb the flow.

He said that he wanted to paint a picture before he asked a question. Ms Mncwabe was taken to NSFAS as an advisor to the Administrator and then sat in on a meeting where the creation of a post was discussed. The Committee was not privy to what had been submitted in that meeting but the resolution was to create that post. From an outside perspective it was easy to say that the meeting was about how to get her inside NSFAS as an employee. Her qualifications were probably considered and a tailor made advert was made that suited her. That meant the position was created specifically for her. The position was created and those who sat in the panel interviewing could perhaps one day come and tell the Committee that they were told to score Ms Mncwabe higher because that was what appeared had happened from the outside.

From where he was sitting it appeared that the position had been created specifically for Ms Mncwabe to enter NSFAS where she was appointed in HR. It appeared that Ms Mncwabe was a trusted soldier because she was the one who wrote a suspension letter to the General Manager of Corporate Services. During the first advertisement of the laptop tender, there was an allegation that Ms Mncwabe went to be an observer together with Mr Nqandela. After that the chairperson of the removed BAC was removed and Ms Mncwabe was appointed. The Administrator said that he was not going to ask Ms Mncwabe not to apply for positions but what about ethics? It was worrying that the Administrator had found nothing wrong with how the appointments happened. Mr Ncgobo had covered him on that.

In the files the Committee had received, there was a Facebook post of Mr Basson that indicated he was the Administrator’s long-time friend but the Administrator said that he was not his friend. The situation was extremely worrying and he was concerned about the ripple effect of all of these things. He was concerned about what would happen at NSFAS and how many students would be affected negatively by these things.

On Mr Shai, Mr Letsie said that screen shots had been sent to the Committee. Mr Shai was appointed as a service provider to deal with the APP but on the screen shot, it said that he was a process engineer, a PMO. Had he been appointed as a specialist? All the details were confusing. Mr Shai was paid R490 00 and then NSFAS appointed Mr Basson to complete his work. The taxpayer was paying for two people to do the same thing. Was that not fruitless expenditure? The report suggested there was a witch-hunt against people. Ms Ncede’s affidavit alleged that when Mr Basson arrived, she had alerted authorities in the system that there was an intruder and five days later she had been suspended but the Committee was told things were fine at NSFAS. He hoped all the employees suspended had been suspended with pay. As Mr Mamabolo had alleged, employees were informed that they had been reinstated but when they arrived, it was if they had been appointed in a new position with a new title.

That was stressful and NEHAWU wanted to say it was employer-employee relations when it was serious allegations that could not be left unattended. NEHAWU had to be subpoenaed to attend the inquiry and explain the two big lever files of information it had sent to the Committee as it could not make allegations and then come up with stories when it had to appear before the Committee. There was a dark cloud over Dr Carolissen and it looks like NEHAWU was smearing his name but did not have the guts to come and explain. He welcomed that the two days be set aside to deal with laptop tender matter. He did not understand why rules were blindly being broken. Why were the offices bugged?  Morals had been thrown out of the window and people would say that was an ANC-led government. He was concerned about his own organisation’s reputation as it would be reported as ANC deployees at NSFAS had done that and its name would be dragged through the mud. He could not allow that and the ANC MPs in the Committee condemned that.

Mr Letsie agreed that the SIU had to investigate as it was likely to uncover more information. It appeared that the Department was failing to do oversight on section three entities because the matters before the Committee should not have been before it. The Department had to handle these matters before it reached that stage. The employees could have leaked information but instead had gone to the Department for help but had received none.

The AG was not happy with the pace of information being sent from NSFAS. In her presentation, the COO had said something about Mr Mamabolo on 4 November but he could find contradictory information in the confidential documents on page five which mentioned the draft Annual Report for 2018/19 project plan. It stated that on 21 August 2019 under 13.1, Mr Mamabolo had indicated that the entity was at risk of not meeting the deadline of 31August to submit the Annual Report 2018/19, noting that some of the report was still outstanding. The service provider had indicated that printing and proofreading required two weeks. That supported what Mr Mamabolo was saying and did not support what was being said by the COO. He did not want to say the Committee was being misled but information was easily available and yet a different account was given. It was not correct as the information was there.

Mr Letsie asked if Mr Basson had been officially introduced to all staff members. Were employees in the planning unit informed that Mr Basson was appointed to augment capacity and if not, why not? Was the Administration saying that Ms Ncede became disruptive and uncooperative after Mr Basson was appointed? If not, why was she suspended after reporting the “intruder” on the system? The COO had presented on the “Hand of God” and vehemently denied its existence. Some students had sent Members screen shots of their applications but NSFAS said students had not applied. Was the Administration saying there would not be one person that was not on its system even though the Committee had screenshots from the students who had applied within the deadline? He wanted confirmation on that and a written response.

Was the allegation that there were only two employees in the unit that disbursed R32 billion to students correct? In the previous year when IT systems were discussed, there were five categories where the Administrator had spoken about the risk levels of each and had showed the Committee the situation when he had arrived versus during the administration and the biggest threat cited was security. The Administrator also said that employees could go home with laptops and disburse funds from there. What was the progress on that five category chart?

Mr Letsie said that the Members had covered the Administrator against on the allegations of a top heavy organisational structure. He had raised the point that Treasury had released a document guiding increases but NSFAS had increased the salaries of advisors by 2.8 % if he was not mistaken. They earned far more than the amount set by Treasury for advisors. What was the current situation as NSFAS was a section 3A institution? Why were the salaries of advisors increased?

On disciplinary cases, Mr Letsie suggested that the Committee pay close attention because the five employees were likely to be charged for something else. The Committee had to ensure that employees were not purged on the basis that they came and gave evidence. Ms Mncwabe had to be subpoenaed because when a name was mentioned many times, he did his own due diligence. He was not sure why she was not present as he had requested her presence before. He asked the Administrator to inform the Committee why she was not present. One could not go from an advisor to the Administrator and then, whilst one was there, have a position created that did not exist and be appointed in that position. The Committee was then told that the people had applied. That was a moral issue which was what state capture was about. It was a capture of NSFAS. His biggest issue was the death of NSFAS which would affect poor, working class and prospective students. 

Mr Letsie asked NEHAWU to protect its members. He was concerned about the issues in the IT department of NSFAS as appeared it was in a shambles.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) said that when the Committee had met with the Administrator in the first meeting, Members had been excited because it seemed that NSFAS would be taken from the red sea but now it was going back there. What was going on with the Administrator? Did the Administrator know anything about the removal of Mr Mamabolo from the tender committee? Was it true that he was removed? Was it true that there was a private meeting with the candidate as Ms Bosset had said? Was it true that there were employees in acting positions which did not exist? Was it true that Ms Bosset was mandated to go to Bloemfontein? Ms Dwane said that she had resigned due to nepotism, was that true? If not, why did she resign? Was it true that the office was bugged? What were the relations between the employees and consultants during the period of Administration? How many consultants had been appointed and what was the recruitment process? What was the impact of the consultants? What was the progress in filling of vacancies of posts such as CFO, COO and other senior management posts?

Dr W Boshoff (FF+) said that several people had mentioned that the situation sounded like a horror movie but to him it sounded like a Western with two different story lines. The one was that there was an unruly town of NSFAS and luckily the new sheriff, Dr Carolissen was appointed to restore order and he had to bring some sidekicks and deal harshly with some criminals but things were going well again. The other narrative was that there was a peaceful little town of NSFAS where everything went well until the crook, Dr Carolissen, arrived and disrupted everything. Both of these could not be true but perhaps none of the narratives could entirely true. He said that he agreed that there had to be a full investigation and if that was done even more would be uncovered than to date because the Committee had been impressed that the actual performance and actual payment of students had increased despite some errors. He wanted to know from the employees present before the Administration why NSFAS needed an Administrator because it seemed that all had gone well until Dr Carolissen arrived. That was incredible because it was placed under Administration for some reason. Much more information would be uncovered and he was not making up his mind on the end of that Western before the names rolled over the screen.

Chairperson’s summary

The Chairperson thanked everyone and said it had been a long day and he would make comments.

The submission the Committee had received as part of the evidence was titled ,“Who was bugging who?” and Mr Muvavarirwa had spoken to that about the bugging of the offices. It was worrying that there were listening devices installed in the offices. Why were public offices being bugged?

There was a document attached, Technical Surveillance Countermeasures, TSCM report, and it detailed offices and what the findings were. It was worrying, and a convincing explanation was required.

On irregular appointments, he said he had noted about 10 people who were said to be related to Dr Carolissen in some way and it was concerning that almost all of them had been appointed without proper processes. In most of the cases, Dr Carolissen had confirmed that he had passed CVs on to officials and they were appointed. The point was that as an Administrator, he was the Board, the CEO, the accounting authority and he was the most powerful person in the institution as power was vested in him. It was not ideal but happened under exceptional circumstances when an institution was collapsing. According to the legislation, when the Administrator was appointed, he had to follow good corporative governance principles when restoring institutions.

When the Administrator passed on a CV, there was a subliminal message that said, “please appoint that person”. He might not have said it in his own words but the message was clear to the employees that he passed CVs on to.  It was the Administrator who signed the appointment letter knowing very well that he had handed over the CV. Was the irregularity being regularised? People were appointed without process and ultimately the appointment letters were signed by the Administrator.

The case for advisors was different but still the Administrator knew the appointees closely or they were within his social circles. Dr Carolissen should have known that he could not do that, especially considering his experience as a professional in the public service, it was ethics 101. If anyone was associated with him he had to disclose interests and make sure that the process created a fair chance for everyone else to compete.

The Chairperson said that there was a list of ten people appointed irregularly who were all associated with the Administrator:

 Firstly, there was Ms Verna Stuurman, whose father was a long standing friend of the Administrator and the Administrator had not denied that. There was no advertisement for her post and no proper recruitment process.

Secondly, there was Ms Estelle Heideman, who was the Administrator’s wife’s friend, which he had not denied.  How did she get appointed if there was no advertisement? The Administrator had admitted to passing her CV along. The Chairperson believed that Ms Estelle Heideman was the person who was supposed to be interviewed in Bloemfontein, but whatever had happened she had been appointed.

Thirdly, there was Mr Willem Basson, who did not hide the fact that the Administrator was his friend and who had been appointed immediately after he had re-established contact with the Administrator after a long period. No process was followed in the appointment of Mr Basson and Ms Ncede contended that he was not competent to understand the NSFAS context.

Fourthly, was Mr Collin Fourie, who was the alleged friend of the Administrator and who had been appointed as an ICT advisor and according to Mr Muvavarirwa, he was out of his depth and did not understand ICT strategies and someone else was brought in later.

Mr Johan Fourie, the nephew of Mr Collin Fourie, was later appointed without processes being followed.

Sixth was Mr Moeketsi Shai, who was a friend of the Administrator and had been appointed without any advertisement or procurement process. Mr Shai was paid R490 000 and could not complete the APP and then Mr Basson had come in and completed the work.

Seventh, was Mr Enrico Fourie, who had a relationship with the Administrator who appointed him without any qualifications. The Administrator did not deny any relationship to him but said that the appointment did not come through him but was related to him.

Eighth, was Ms Taryn Fortune, who according to the evidence had previously reported to the wife of the Administrator at AHI and had been appointed for a post without an advertisement after her CV was passed on by the Administrator.

There was also Mr Prakash Mangrey, who had been appointed as a Finance Advisor and according to the allegations had previously worked with and was a close friend to the Administrator.

Lastly, there was the appointment of Ms Sibongile Mncwabe. It was a strange appointment, as Mr Letsie had said. She was initially an advisor to the Administrator and then a meeting was arranged which she was part of where the creation of a Chief Corporate Officer post was discussed. The position was then created. According to the submission from Ms Dwane, the requirements were structured that allowed for Ms Mncwabe to be appointed.

There were others that were said to be irregular but ten cases involved in the Administrator. Did the Administrator not see anything wrong with these appointments considering all the irregular appointments, the appointees being related to him? Was that acceptable in a public entity like NSFAS?

On the critical skills list, the Chairperson said that the Committee had requested that it be provided with the structure at NSFAS before and after the appointments. Some of the appointments were done irregularly and the nature of the other appointments was unknown but he wanted to see a comparison of the two organisational structures, the one approved by the Board and the one approved by the Administrator.  That was necessary to assess the claim that the structure was top-heavy. He was concerned about the evidence provided by Ms Hildebrand who had said that the IT system was the same since before she had left, with some improvements. That was worrying as that left doubt in his mind and he suspected that Parliament had been misled on that matter before.

The Chairperson noted that Ms Bosset had mentioned that the employer had used her appearance at Parliament against her. He asked for an explanation for that because those who had assisted Parliament should not be discriminated against. She had come as part of NEHAWU previously and today an oath was administered to give protection to employees under the Powers, Privileges and Immunities Act. Why would the employer want to punish the employee for coming to Parliament? Was Parliament not a constitutional body with a responsibility to do oversight?

He said that his impression after listening to two sides of the story was very different. Members were previously told that there was a sea change of developments and things were improving at NSFAS but he was not sure if that sea change was deterioration.

The issues of remuneration, benefits and salaries still had to be addressed and Dr Carolissen had promised that that information would be provided to the Committee. The Committee was interested in determining who had approved those payments. He was also concerned as the finance department of NSFAS had made payments and that department had to be using something to determine remuneration and benefits.

NSFAS and employees would be allowed to respond. Members had made proposals on the way forward and the unanimous view was that there had to be an inquiry, some forensic investigations, consideration of whether criminal offences had been committed so that they could be referred to the relevant law enforcement agencies.

Since the Committee had previously met with NEHAWU and met with NSFAS that day, the Chairperson requested the research staff to take notes of all the discussions and information provided so that a report could be prepared. These two meetings could not go to waste and had to be properly recorded and documented and form part of an on-going process of inquiry into NSFAS affairs. The matter would be taken as an ongoing process, starting three weeks back.

In the two day session, the questions that were still lingering and not explained would be determined and the relevant individuals had to be invited. Ms Fatima (Ebrahim, Legal Services Advisor) had previously explained on the Committee’s inquiry into the appointment of Prof Mbati that the rules of Parliament said that the Committee could inquire into and report on any part of the public entities. The process of inquiry into NSFAS had to be taken as an on-going inquiry, so that the process was not started from scratch and the benefits of the interactions of the last two weeks were not wasted. The Committee had received a lot of information from the employees that day and Members had asked many questions which had to be answered. The Committee’s team had to assist in packaging the questions and send them to the Administrator.

The Chairperson stated that entire day had to be scheduled for testimonies and an oath had to be administered as well. In the next engagement, the procurement process followed at NSFAS had to be discussed. The Administrator had been asked to compile a report which he had said was being completed. That had to be incorporated into that on-going inquiry by the Committee. The three procurement processes and those involved would be considered. Invitations would also be sent to the relevant persons to attend and the Members could make suggestions about who to invite.

When the Committee had listened to NSFAS and everybody else, a report could be drafted and sent to the House and then it could be debated and possibly adopted. It then would be binding.

That was how the Chairperson suggested the Committee proceed on the matter.

The Committee would follow up on questions that had to be answered. NSFAS employees would be allowed to respond but would also be allowed to submit written responses to questions. A report or preliminary report would be created with the information it had as well.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Letsie’s suggestion that that Ms Mncwabe be invited and that would be done. He had attempted to create a way forward that aligned with the Committee’s oversight role.

NSFAS employee responses

Mr Mamabolo said that he would prefer to respond in writing so that he could attach additional evidence.

The Chairperson requested that the testimony he had provided that day be submitted as an affidavit. The employees had given testimonies under oath but the Committee also wanted the written response in the form of an affidavit.

Ms Hildebrand opted to respond later in writing unless there was a pressing question.

Ms Bosset said that she would respond to questions in writing.

Ms Ncede she said that she would prefer to respond in writing as the planning situation was complex.

The Chairperson requested that she respond to Mr Nodada’s questions in writing. He suggested that all the questions be collated and in the next appearance the questions could be answered by Dr Carolissen. Other people that had to be called would be called and NEHAWU had to be summoned.

Administrator’s final remarks

Mr Carolissen interjected and said that he wanted to make one important point. He said that copious notes had been made about the questions raised and the inquiry was welcomed because he believed it would provide the Committee with more insight into the allegations. He said that he had checked with the CCMA and according to it there was no intimidation with regards to Ms Bosset attending the Committee and if it was the case he took strong exception to it. There was no bugging at NSFAS as he had been assured of that. There had been a debugging due to leakage of information.

On the issue around his wife, he said that he wanted to clarify the issue. Currently he and his wife were both under personal protection and he could not allow her name to be innocently dragged into discussions that could further compromise her security. He was concerned about his wife’s security more than his own.

An allegation was made that Ms Heideman gave information to his wife which was then passed on to him. He said he wanted to put it on record that Ms Heideman had delivered an envelope for his attention and she told his wife that in the envelope was a complaint about Mr Mamabolo. His response to that was that he did not entertain subordinate’s complaints about their bosses that were delivered at his house and had handed the letter unopened to Mr Mamabolo and told him to deal with the matter. He resented the fact that his wife was being implicated as a conduit to pass information.

He said that Ms Taryn Fortune had never worked at AHI where his wife had worked and that his wife was added as reference by Ms Fortune as they had taught together for a short while at Northlink College and his wife was not her manager. He said he was strong on these points as he had to protect his family from the process and begged the Chairperson to provide him with that protection.

Chairperson’s closing remarks

The Chairperson said that Dr Carolissen’s submission about his family was noted and Ms Heideman was at fault for involving the Administrator’s wife in NSFAS matters. Mr Mamabolo might have interpreted it differently based on the information about the relationship between the Ms Heideman and the Administrator’s wife. Ms Heideman had to be invited and questioned why she had involved the Administrator’s family.

The other issues raised by the Administrator were noted and there would be engagement again on it. There was the question of why Ms Fortune had included the Administrator’s wife as a reference when she knew the Administrator was working there.

The Chairperson was sure that Members had accepted the way forward and the summary that he had made. He thanked Members for the marathon of a meeting.

The Chairperson thanked the NSFAS employees. He said that the Committee was able to proceed on the matter without NEHAWU’s involvement because it was asking information from those affected and involved with the process. NEHAWU could always join at a later stage because its right to not attend had to be respected, but that did not stop the Committee from proceeding. NEHAWU could be left behind but NSFAS employees were the important stakeholders.

He thanked the employees for testifying at a great risk to their careers. The information would be utilised as it had been provided under oath. No one should victimise anybody that appeared before the Committee because people had fought and died for democracy which was guided by a constitution that placed Parliament at the epicentre of the oversight process and therefore the process had to be respected. When people were supposed to appear they had to appear, unlike Ms Mncwabe who had sent a letter. The processes of Parliament could not be subverted. If anyone that appeared to assist Parliament was threatened had that person had to inform the Committee immediately and it would go to extraordinary measures for their protection.

The parliamentary process on the matter had to go ahead and at the end of the oversight inquiry, a report would be created. Many other stakeholders would be invited, including the Minister and at the end, a report would be finalised and submitted with recommendations. 

The meeting was adjourned.

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