UKZN medical school probes set to cost over R156 mln

2018-12-03 16:10

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The financial strain of corruption at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school has cost the institution dearly — with more than R77 million having been spent on security and investigations since last year.

And, the university expects the cost of the investigation, Operation Clever, to rise to more than R156 million by the end of this year, with no real end in sight.

Corruption involving awarding students places at UKZN’s Nelson Mandela Medical School was uncovered in 2017.

Owners of Durban eatery Little Gujarat, Varsha and Hiteshkumar Bhatt, and a former school teacher, Preshni Hiramun, were arrested in connection with this racket, but this year charges against them were dropped.

A report by UKZN’s chief financial officer, Nontuthuko Mbhele, submitted to the university’s financial committee (Fincom) revealed:
• UKZN has spent more than R16,6 million on 24-hour surveillance and security for the building where “the evidence is stored”.
• More than R20 million has been spent on security for staff conducting the investigation — including accommodating them in a safehouse.
• Some R24 million has been spent on “covert operations”.
• UKZN expects to pay more than R8 million on security over exam papers; and
• Staff suspended for being involved in the racket will cost UKZN more than R2,7 million by the end of this year.

The report said that the Fincom had “noted with concern the significant costs” related to Operation Clever, and requested a breakdown of costs. The investigation began in July 2017. To date, it has incurred a cost of R77 806 486.

Sources who spoke to The Witness questioned how the university could be spending so much money on things like security and investigators when it currently employs security companies and has a legal office.

“Staff are entitled to know what the money is being used for, but we are always told it’s a sensitive matter. We’re not privy to what is going on, and it is not clear as to when it [the investigation] will wrap up.”

Insiders described UKZN’s legal office on the Westville campus — which is said to be the hub of the investigation — as a “fortress” that is strongly guarded.

UKZN spokesperson Normah Zondo would not provide any details of the investigation, but said the first round of disciplinary procedures will begin before the end of this year.

“Our purpose for this expenditure remains utterly fundamental: to secure UKZN’s reputation and standing, both nationally and internationally,” she said.

“To this end, we have set in place programmes to strengthen the university systems that are key to its core business for the core purpose of eliminating our vulnerability to fraud and corruption.

“These programmes will run concurrently with the phasing out of the investigative and disciplinary activities presently under way.

“The costs involved have been contained and are being closely monitored.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn
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