NSFAS theft: No one to blame for erroneous transfer of R14m to student, court hears

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Sibongile Mani pictured in 2017.
Sibongile Mani pictured in 2017.
Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile
  • Three forensic investigations into how R14 million was transferred into convicted Walter Sisulu University student Sibongile Mani came back inconclusive.
  • The 31-year-old was found guilty of theft after she spent R818 000 of the R14 million instead of reporting the erroneous transfer.
  • Mani will be sentenced for theft on 8 March.  

The magistrate in the case of a Walter Sisulu University student, who unlawfully used National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funds, said she found the testimony of State witnesses to be truthful, honest and reliable. 

On Monday, East London Regional Court magistrate Twannet Olivier found Sibongile Mani, 31, guilty of stealing R818 000 of the R14 million that was accidentally transferred into her account in 2017.

She was only entitled to a R1 400 food allowance and was accused of failing to report the transfer.

Mani chose to embark on a spending spree. 

READ | Walter Sisulu University student found guilty of stealing NSFAS money

The accounting graduate was arrested in May 2018 by the Serious Commercial Crime Unit of the Hawks. 

A case of theft was opened by Intellimali, a Cape Town-based company responsible for distributing NSFAS funds to students.

Delivering judgment, Olivier said the evidence of each witness was clear and direct, and each one testified on certain aspects of the processes followed by the university, NSFAS and Intellimali per duties and tasks. 

She added witness testimonies were further collaborated by documented evidence which was placed on record in detail.

In his testimony on 1 August 2019, 62-year-old Intellimali director Roy Jackson told the court the Public Protector, auditors Ernst & Young, and Department of Higher Education and Training investigated how Mani got the R14 million.

However, he said, they could not find out who was at fault.

READ | KES pupil stabbed to death outside Sandton nightclub, 18-year-old arrested

Jackson told the court the erroneous payment was due to a systems error caused by a "ridiculous or absurd" technical glitch or a hacker. 

When asked by prosecutor Luthando Makoyi why he decided to open a criminal case against Mani, Jackson said it was because Intellimali suffered financially because of her failure to report the error immediately.

He added not only did Intellimali transfer R820 000 used by Mani to the university, it hired Ernst & Young for R500 000 to launch an investigation that did not hold anyone to account.

On 15 July 2021, a former senior NSFAS official, Adam Williams, told the court he could not confirm that corrupt activity led to Mani erroneously getting the R14 million. 

Williams, a former senior legal department manager at NSFAS, said unless there was a corruption element, the case against Mani would be a civil and not a criminal case.

ALSO READ | I cannot confirm wrongdoing in R14m erroneous transfer to student, ex-NSFAS official tells court

He also told the court NSFAS transferred R100 million to the university in 2017 after it insisted it could handle administering funds for students.

However, the university hired a service provider - Intellimali - that erroneously transferred R14 million of the money to a single student instead of giving her the required R1 400.

Williams added NSFAS had no oversight of third party service providers, including the one that made the error, Intellimali.

He said an upfront payment in the region of R100 million was paid to the university by NSFAS. 

Williams added the millions paid to the university for student aid came from the Department of Higher Education and Training.

The State's last witness was the university's chief financial officer, Morgan Nhiwatiwa, who told the court he was the acting chief financial officer at NSFAS when the erroneous transfer happened.

He said he only joined the university in 2019. 

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