Missing millions probe

2015-11-04 06:00

A FORENSIC investigation is under way to get to the bottom of allegations that millions of rands intended for tertiary student funding are potentially going astray.

“We cannot quantify how much yet, that is part of the mandate of the probe. We need to find out how much money, intended for poor students to get into the system, has been lost.

“But we are speaking of millions,” Khaye Nkwanyana, the spokesperson for Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, said on Sunday.

He said that allegations of fraud and corruption relating to the disbursement of funds from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) included syndicate involvement and collusion at various levels.

The NSFAS is responsible for providing loans and bursaries to students at tertiary institutions.

Nkwanyana said that lots of allegations had been made, and one of the major problems that had been identified was “collusion at university level where allocations are distributed”.

After the forensic investigation is completed, serious cases could be referred to the Hawks for prosecution, Nkwanyana said.

The investigation will also come up with recommendations “to close the holes so that we have a watertight system, in which nobody can exploit it through corruption”.

Nkwanyana said that the R9,5 billion allocation for student funding this year and the R11 billion set for next year “is a lot of money that will bring in academically deserving students”.

“If funds are not diverted through corruption it will mean more access for the poor. It could make a lot of difference,” he said.

Nkwanyana said the minister was to be updated about the probe last week but this was put on hold amid the #FeesMustFall protests.

An independent firm, Nexus Forensic Services, has been awarded the tender and had begun its work two months ago, with a year’s deadline to complete a report, the deputy director-general of Higher Education and Training Diane Parker said.

She was more circumspect about the extent of the problem, saying that they had received lots of anecdotal reports that had not been verified.

“We do not know the extent of the problem or how widespread it is,” she said.

Parker said there were frequent accounts of individuals getting funds based on fraudulent documents, but if syndicates were involved at financial aid offices or the NSFAS offices, then that would make a difference in terms of the scale of the abuse.

“Investigators will check whether claims are authentic or not, whether funding is haemorrhaging and if so, where this is happening, and how we can set up a better system to stop abuse,” she said.

According to its latest annual report, NSFAS has disbursed a total of R50 billion of funds since 1991, assisting 1,5 million students.

We cannot quantify how much yet, that is part of the mandate of the probe. We need to find out how much money, intended for poor students to get into the system, has been lost

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