Parliament prioritises big guns

Cape Town - Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana, who earns R2.8m a year, secured more than R30 000 to study this year without actually applying for a bursary, while the applications of a number of low-ranking parliamentary staff were rejected.

In a document headed “2017 Bursary Applications”, seen by City Press, Mgidlana’s name is conspicuous by its absence. However, Parliament subsequently confirmed it had been paying his study costs, as part of his terms and conditions of employment, since December 2014.

However, it could not be categorically confirmed whether Mgidlana had received bursaries in previous years.

Questions have also been raised over the application for a R1.136m bursary by Unathi Mtya, a top manager in the information and communication technology field, who was hired in the second half of 2016.

According to the document, Mtya – who is Parliament’s new chief information officer – wants to pursue a master’s degree in technology management at Columbia University in the US.

City Press has seen a letter, dated February 1, from training and development manager Lebuso Monyatsi, instructing credit controller Tsholofelo Molefe to make direct payments to the University of SA (Unisa) in lieu of fees for Mgidlana’s bursary.

According to the letter, a R15 371.50 fee was payable on registration, and two amounts of R7 685.75 were to be paid by May 16 and August 16.

"No budget is bottomless"

Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the legislature had allocated a bursary budget of R1.5m for this year when it invited staff to apply for bursaries.

He said out of 155 applications totalling R5.6m – which far exceeded the budgeted R1.5m – only 50 applications could be approved.

“While Parliament would have liked to assist each and every applicant, the reality is that no budget is bottomless.”

Mothapo said to ensure fairness and equal opportunity for all staff members, preference was given to new applicants who had not previously benefited from the bursary fund and who met basic requirements.

He dismissed as “outrageously false” a claim that Parliament was sending Mtya to study in the US, although he explained that as part of Mtya’s employment conditions at Parliament, she would benefit from its bursary fund.

Mothapo told City Press that when Mtya was recruited by Parliament “following a lengthy search for a suitably qualified person”, she had already been accepted at Columbia University and her studies were to be sponsored by her previous employer.

Mothapo said Parliament would only contribute an amount equivalent to the cost of a similar course locally, but given the R1.5m budget allocated for education, “it is inconceivable and impractical that Parliament would hand over the alleged R1.1m – almost the entire bursary budget – to one staff member”.

Mgidlana’s situation was not entirely different in that, when Parliament engaged him in 2014, he was pursuing his master’s degree in business leadership through Unisa, funded by his previous employer, according to Mothapo.

“[Since he became] a staff member, the institution took over the funding of his studies, in line with the training and development policy, to ensure that his studies [were] not unduly compromised by his employment by Parliament,” he said.

Mothapo said that, with the exception of Mtya and Mgidlana, the rest of the bursary beneficiaries this year were junior managers and ordinary staff.

Limited resources

In its written response to unsuccessful bursary applicants, Parliament said it was impossible to approve all bursary applications because it had limited financial resources, and that the number of applications received far exceeded its available budget.

One of the unsuccessful bursary applicants, a parliamentary researcher, told City Press he had decided to put his studies on hold as he could not afford to pay out of his own pocket or take a loan.

“I am very disappointed because I wanted to expand my skills and experience in analysing legislative and related work,” said the researcher.

Another employee, who needed about R50 000 from Parliament, ended up securing a loan from a bank after being turned down by the employer.

The employee, who has a young family, had received a loan from Parliament last year and completed an undergraduate degree but wanted to further his studies.

“It is difficult to understand it when you are being told that resources are limited, and yet you have people at a higher salary level getting more than 20 times the bursary you wanted,” he said.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) criticised Parliament for not prioritising junior and mid-level staff.

Disang Mocumi, Nehawu’s deputy chair at Parliament, called it “a continuation of abuse of power, culture of entitlement and excessive looting and crude corruption which violates workers’ rights and undermines collective bargaining”.

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