Read our report again, Minister Nzimande
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) notes Minister Blade Nzimande’s comments at his media conference today, and his reaction to our investigation report and the leaked voice recordings in which the NSFAS debacle is discussed by three individuals. OUTA has identified two of them in our investigation report, notably Ernest Khosa (chairman of the NSFAS board) and Thula Ntumba.
Ntumba’s wife, Tshegofatso Ntumba, is a director of Coinvest, one of the service providers appointed in 2022 to handle the payment of NSFAS student allowances. OUTA exposed irregularities with the tender process through which Coinvest Africa (Pty) Ltd, Tenet Technology (Pty) Ltd, Ezaga Holdings (Pty) Ltd and Norraco Corporation (Pty) Ltd were appointed as early as October 2022, but not without first writing to the NSFAS board, who ignored our requests for further information through a PAIA application.
In December 2023 we shared our student accommodation report with NSFAS and the Minister’s office, and only received acknowledgement of receipt from NSFAS. We are still waiting for any response from the Minister’s office.
Despite OUTA’s warnings to NSFAS that their system will result in problems and extra costs for students, they went ahead and implemented it in July 2023.
“We note that Minister Nzimande has indicated possible legal action. We will defend any legal action taken against us in this regard, as we take our work seriously and do not disseminate reports and statements that we cannot substantiate,” said Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s CEO.
Rudie Heyneke, OUTA’s head of investigations, reiterated that OUTA has never claimed that Nzimande paid funds from NSFAS to the SACP. “Our report clearly states that Mr A (Ntumba) said the following: ‘I gave him a million rands for the Communist Party. Just imagine. For the conference. When there was nothing. I donated with the very same company that created T-shirts last year together with the bags.’”
According to OUTA, it seems that Minister Nzimande is deliberately skirting around the issues raised by OUTA’s report and the claims made by Ntumba in the recordings. “The question that Minister Nzimande needs to directly answer is whether the SACP benefited with cash or services worth R1 million for its 2022 conference from any NSFAS service provider or individual linked to such a service provider,” Heyneke said.
Duvenage says OUTA takes exception to Minister Nzimande’s claims that the organisation “serves the interests of the elite”.
“Saying that we have no regard for the poor and that we want to disrupt the start of the academic year is disingenuous. OUTA is a civil action organisation, supported and funded by ordinary citizens, in the quest to expose those involved in corruption and/or maladministration of our country’s very limited resources and tax funds. All our work is aimed at reducing waste and corruption in the public sector and, in so doing, our work flows directly toward benefiting everyone and the more so, the poorest of the poor who suffer the most when it comes to poor service delivery by the State,” Duvenage said.
“We also take exception to the Minister's claims that we are engaging with disgruntled service providers. We are not taking any service providers' side in this matter, and we do our investigation without fear or favour. OUTA gets its information from whistleblowers who want to help expose corruption in the Department of Higher Education. We also have no benefit in disrupting the start of the new academic year.”
Heyneke said it seems that OUTA is being blamed in advance by Minister Nzimande for students’ building anger at the malfeasance taking place within NSFAS. “The fact is that the anger has been building since last year. We have had engagements with several students and student organisations regarding the non-payment of allowances. NSFAS themselves issued a statement earlier this month in which they acknowledged that there are still 20 000 students who haven't received their allowances, and they promised that all outstanding allowances will be paid by January 15th.”
OUTA reiterated its call on students to protest peacefully and to not damage any infrastructure.
Heyneke also referred to OUTA’s statement on the looming crisis with NSFAS-accredited student accommodation (see here). “We completed an investigation into student accommodation tenders at NSFAS, and the findings are cause for grave concern. By early October, only about 6.5% of the 397 000 beds needed for NSFAS-funded students countrywide had been accredited. We doubt that significant progress was made in this regard. Perhaps NSFAS can update students on how this is progressing. Or will students have to sleep in restrooms, libraries and other public spaces again like many had to do at the start of the 2023 academic year?”
OUTA also reacted to Minister Nzimande’s promise that “many” students will graduate soon thanks to NSFAS. “That is the NSFAS mandate, but what he is not saying is that thousands of NSFAS students can’t even access their final results because of unpaid university fees. All the Minister has to do is to engage with student bodies to see that for himself,” said Heyneke.
Duvenage adds: “We find it very interesting that Minister Nzimande now suggests that OUTA provides him with all the information we have on these matters. NSFAS, the Services SETA and others within his ministry have continuously given us the run-around when it comes to our request for information. Of course, now that the heat is on and he cannot ignore OUTA’s claims, he is keen to get more information. We are happy to meet with the Minister, when and if he reaches out and requests a meeting with us, as our previous attempts to meet with him and his department have not been taken seriously and have come to naught.”
According to Duvenage, it should also be noted that the former CEO of NSFAS, Andile Nongogo, in a City Press article on 22 October 2023, referred to recordings during which the NSFAS chair discussed his future as CEO. “So, as part of good governance, both NSFAS and the minister in charge of NSFAS should have investigated Nongogo’s claims. They had more than three months to shed light on these recordings.”
OUTA said it also looks forward to President Ramaphosa announcing a broader scope for the NSFAS investigation by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) so that these recordings – which OUTA has already shared with the SIU in December – can be properly investigated.
OUTA confirmed that criminal charges had been drawn up with regards to the leaked recordings against Minister Nzimande, Ernest Khosa, Thula Ntumba, the directors of Coinvest as well as Coinvest Africa itself for corruption and bribery in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (No. 12 of 2004).
“We will also share the report and recordings with the Auditor-General of SA, the Public Protector, Werksmans Attorneys, the South African Revenue Service (SARS), National Treasury and USAf, the umbrella body for universities. It will also be given to the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation for oversight purposes,” Heyneke said.
Duvenage repeated OUTA’s call for Nzimande and Khosa to resign. “If they don’t want to resign, President Ramaphosa must for once show that he is putting the country before his party and remove them from their positions.”
OUTA’s report on the NSFAS recordings can be found here: main report, annexure A (report on the Services SETA), annexure B (preliminary report on NSFAS), annexure C (report on SSETA and Star Sign and Print), annexure D (report on SSETA and Five Star) and annexure E (report on NSFAS direct payment contracts).
More on the criminal charges against Andile Nongogo is here.
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