OPINION | NSFAS's missing billions a disgrace

Former NSFAS CEO Steven Zwane
Former NSFAS CEO Steven Zwane
Image: Supplied

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme lost R7.5 billion because of mismanagement in recent years, parliament has heard.

NSFAS disbursed R14.1 billion to 460,342 students at universities and TVET colleges in SA in 2017, according to the most recent financial report available on the agency’s website. This works out to an average spend per student of about R30,629 for the year.

Financial support of students who cannot afford to pay for their studies at tertiary institutions is in the interest of the individual student, but is also essential to the future wellbeing of our country in every respect — politically, socially, economically.

It boggles the mind that up to now, the root cause of the misuse of the money has not been established.

Access to education, or its historic lack, underpins democratic SA’s dire state — reflected inter alia in planning failures, infrastructure breakdowns, resource deficiencies, social upheaval and our ongoing struggles to come to terms with racism and other prejudices.

So, the toting up of R7.5 billion in irregular spending by NSFAS officials is criminal, to say the least.

NSFAS administrator Randall Carollisen said R1.2bn was disbursed incorrectly by the system in excess of contract amounts, R2bn intended to cover historic debt was misused, and R4.3bn illegally disbursed to students due to “lack of controls”.

Carollisen couched the egregious acts in euphemistic language that skirted the actual causes of money being lost. It boggles the mind that up to now, according to Carollisen, the root cause of the misuse of the money has not been established. As a result, we can also assume that no steps have been taken either to hold accountable those who failed the state, or to prevent a recurrence of this wastage.

We suggest that a more accurate conspectus of NSFAS is that its managers mostly are utterly incapable of doing the basic job entrusted to them, which is properly and ethically managing, and protecting, the huge financial resources allocated by the state.

There is no mitigation to be found in the fact that many thousands of other public servants make a habit of wasting, losing and stealing money channelled by the fiscus from hard-pressed taxpayers for critical social services.

Government must wield the axe aggressively among useless, wayward NSFAS staffers and bring in top graduates from among newly-qualified cohorts, who are passionate and untainted, to clean up this critical agency.