NSFAS debt not being 'written off': Blade Nzimande

Minister of higher education, science and innovation Dr Blade Nzimande said on Tuesday there will be no 'writing off' of historic student debt, slamming a statement from the DA.
Minister of higher education, science and innovation Dr Blade Nzimande said on Tuesday there will be no 'writing off' of historic student debt, slamming a statement from the DA.
Image: Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande has slammed the DA's claim that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was “writing off” nearly R2bn in student debt.

A week ago, the DA's shadow minister of higher education Belinda Bozzoli, issued a statement questioning the apparent writing off of R1.96bn. This came after Nzimande's response to parliamentary questions.

Bozzoli called on Nzimande to give clarity on the criteria that would be used to write off the debt. But Nzimande on Tuesday said the DA's claims were “factually incorrect and irresponsible”.

“I would also like to respond to the absurd allegations from the DA that NSFAS is going to be writing off the student historic debt. I don’t know where they take this from,” he said.

“NSFAS administrator Dr Randall Carolissen ... clearly stated that the R1.96bn referred to by Prof Bozzoli is actually irregular expenditure that arose when the previous board applied unspent historic debt from 2016 and 2017 to fund NSFAS qualifying students in 2018.

This was a legitimate diversion of funds. However, due processes were not followed to get approval from National Treasury. As a result, the AG [auditor-general] raised it as irregular expenditure. This was not a loss to the fiscus but will simply be an adjustment of a book entry, with no release of funds or incurrence of any liability.

“NSFAS is in the process of clearing all irregular expenditure and the AG advised that NSFAS should clear this irregularity as 'writing off historic debt'.”

R3bn to be spent on devices for NSFAS students

The minister also confirmed that the processing of buying laptops and other electronic devices for NSFAS students would begin by the end of this week.

“We have agreed with National Treasury that given the huge amounts involved in the central acquisition of outstanding tablets ... I do not want people to come back pointing fingers at me and asking how we procured these electronics without following proper procedure,” he said.

“I will not be party to any misuse of taxpayers' money - because we are talking about approximately R3bn here. So we plead for patience from parents and students because there might be a two-to-three weeks' delay.

“We are also finalising the process of verifying which NSFAS students already have acquired devices, to avoid mistakenly issuing some students with more than one device per student.

“As we had said, we are still committed that no student will be left behind in our effort to save the academic year.”


X