Ernest Mabuza, Journalist - 21 October 2022
Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa says his committee has asked that a meeting between the Special Investigating Unit and the department of higher education be held to discuss how the SIU could be involved in the investigation into the National Skills Fund.
The department of higher education & training needs to engage with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to ensure that problems at the National Skills Fund (NSF) do not recur.
This remark was made by deputy minister of higher education Buti Manamela when the department presented an update to parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Thursday regarding an investigation into the NSF.
The fund, which is a public entity established by the government in 1999 and reports to the minister of higher education, provides funding for skills development initiatives.
In a report presented by the director-general for higher education Nkosinathi Sishi, he said a report complied by private forensic company Nexus showed there was reasonable suspicion of corruption, fraud, money laundering and theft in 10 of the projects which formed part of the R2.5bn unverified skills development expenditure by the fund.
The Nexus report was commissioned after R5bn in unexplained expenditure contained in the NSF annual financial statement for the 2019/20 year auditor-general report was flagged.
The report by Nexus was presented to higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande in March this year.
Sishi told the committee that one of the projects did not benefit students because the skills development activities did not take place.
Sishi said the investigation by Nexus said there were deficiencies regarding the grant processes at the NSF.
One of the deficiencies was that approved learnerships were not provided to the NSF for verification before the NSF made payments regarding learner expenditure.
Manamela said after Nzimande received the report in March, he handed it over to Sishi for internal consequence management and external pursuance of criminal investigations against individuals implicated in the report.
“Based on legal advice received by the ministry and the department, certain actions have been taken to ensure the implementation of the report.
“To date five officials have been placed in precautionary suspension. The Hawks have been approached and all required documentation has been handed over to them to facilitate criminal investigations,” Manamela said.
Hawks head Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya confirmed receipt of information from the NSF and said a case docket was opened at Pretoria Central police station.
“As the investigation progresses, the docket will be split so that each project is incorporated in its own case docket,” Lebeya said.
SIU head Andy Mothibi said the SIU’s main observation was that the report did not really cover the civil litigation part.
Mothibi said while there were cases of corruption, fraud and theft being investigated, the department could immensely benefit if the SIU came in to ensure that what the department had lost was recovered. He said other areas that the SIU could work in included fruitless and wasteful expenditure, excessive overcharging, maladministration and malpractice.
“Having engaged with the report, we believe we could engage with the department further and from our side pursue a proclamation that will enable us as SIU to assist the department to plug the significant gap that has been omitted by the investigators,” Mothibi said.
Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the committee was happy with the disciplinary processes that were taking place.
Hlengwa said the committee was also happy that the Hawks-led criminal investigations were under way.
He said the third aspect which must arise was the SIU-led process. “We would request there is [a co-ordination] of diaries between the department and the SIU and that a meeting is held within 14 days to fill in the third leg of this process,” Hlengwa said.
Hlengwa said what was now before Scopa was based on a sample of 10 providers. He said the SIU investigation cannot be a sample, which gave an indication that there was a problem.
'I think we would want to refer what we need to do to the SIU and ensure that proclamation is drafted in earnest and as a matter of priority so that we can bring this matter to a logical legal conclusion,” Hlengwa said.
‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’