Union Wants NSFAS Boss Fired But He Defends His Record

A civil war seems to be raging at the student financial aid scheme with some staff supporting the Administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen and others supporting their union's calls for him to be removed.  The battle moved from the picket outside the head office to parliament this week (virtually at least) as the portfolio committee sat through 5 hours of allegations and denials. 

Things were so bad at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme in 2017 and 2018 that the previous Minister of Higher Education, Naledi Pandor, removed the Board of the organisation. It's functions were replaced by an Administrator and that role was given to Dr Randall Carolissen. Two years later and from the outside things seem to have stabilised at NSFAS with a significant increase in payments to students, a move away from payments via institutions to a student-centered model, and all applications now performed online via students' cellphones.

The success rate of disbursements is now more than 95%, and of the 470 000 university students funded, 467 000 are receiving their payments regularly without problems.

But from the point of view of the unionised workers at NSFAS things are not good. They have laid complaints against the Administrator with the Public Protector and now also with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education. They allege that things are worse now under the Administrator than there were before.

Carolissen has run the institution into the ground, said Nehawu at a virtual meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Friday 9th October.  The meeting lasted more than five hours but didn't come up with many final answers. Carolissen issued a general denial of the allegations against him and then spent some time going through individual claims which he denied specifically. Other claims required access to documents and minutes of meetings which he promised to make available to the committee.

Former spokesman for the organisation Kagisho Mamabolo is now part of the Newhawu delegation and expressed the opinion that all the actions of the previous NSFAS management are always denigrated by Carolissen.  

One of the more serious allegations against Carolissen is that he mislead parliament. On this, Mapulane said, "the allegations are that the Administrator on three occasions has mislead Parliament." 

The three occasions, according to Nehawu, are as follows:

  1. The Administrator gave an impression to Parliament that he was the one responsible for the termination of the VBS Mutual Bank contract when in actual fact, the contract was terminated by the previous board.
  2. The Administrator created an impression that NSFAS has moved away from the voucher system to the eWallet system but the Union says these two operating platforms work on the same system and that it is not true when NSFAS said they've moved away from the SBux.
  3. The reasons given by the Administrator for the delay in the tabling of the annual report last year were false and that when the Administrator blamed the Auditor-General, it was actually because they hired someone who was not competent and had to revert back to the employees who done it for years

During a meeting with the Portfolio Committee, Dr Randall Carolissen denied the allegations that were laid against him. 

Some of the allegations made by the union were clearly incorrect. The whistleblower who was presenting to parliament claimed that Thaaniya Isaacs was presented as being a Chartered Accountant but was not, and 'only had an undergraduate degree from UCT'. A simple search on the website of SAICA shows that Thaaniya Isaacs is registered with the government body for CAs, and has been since 2002. It only requires a BCom degree to become a CA, which is completed by a period of articles and then completing a Board exam.

Another allegation from Nehawu was that the extended tenure of the Administrator was invalid because Minister Blade Nzimande did not publish the notice of this extension in the Government Gazette. However simply checking the Government Gazette of 28th September number 43739 will show that this is not correct.

The trade union's Western Cape provincial secretary, Eric Kweleta spoke to eNCA and said, "The arrival of the Administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, really presented hope for us because we thought that he's going to fix things as the appointment of him was really to turn around the institution".

However, the Union is then said to have seen that two years after his appointment, NSFAS is far worse than it was back then and is characterised by corruption, maladministration and that Carolissen has "arrogance" and "victimises employees" and never had the intention to turn NSFAS around.

Nehawu engaged with Carolissen when his term was extended where they agreed on a process to correct things. After that, Nehawu says, "we've never had any engagement with him" and that "he's just been ducking and diving every time we wanted to meet with him".

Kweleta stated the following during the interview:

The Minister must really let him go as soon as possible and ensure that one, there's a board that is established in that institution and there's a CEO that is employed because as we speak, this is the only hope of the children of the working class

The Portfolio Committee met with Carolissen on Friday where he prepared responses to the questions and allegations and he acknowledges that the responses were not covering the specific allegations which were raised.

When asked about the Administrator's response, Mapulane answered:

We agreed that we must give him enough time to go and look at those allegations to go and prepare detailed responses. In the next two weeks, we will schedule another meeting.

Nehawu is also questioning the relationship between the Higher Education Minister and Carolissen and the Committee's response to this is that they haven't gone into that allegation as Mapulane says, "They were saying on Friday, there was a person that has been appointed at NSFAS and that person used to work with the Minister before and that in their view constitutes some improper relationship".

The Committee has not received a response to that question and will receive responses in the next two weeks and deal with the matter.

Mapulane further commented:

We have got no reason to believe that there is that improper relationship between the Minister and the NSFAS Administrator ... There are issues that we need to isolate ... We will need to engage the Minister of Higher Education because it will be unfair that we come to conclusions without engaging with him.

The Union said that under Carolissen's watch, he's allowed NSFAS to be marred by corruption, maladministration and the victimisation of employees.

Nehawu previously laid charges against the CEO and previous board of NSFAS regarding maladministration and corruption.

During the meeting it was established that NSFAS does not currently have a CEO, Chief Information Office or a Chief Financial Officer. The Administrator expanded on how difficult it has been to find someone who has the wide ranging skill set needed to be successful at leading the organisation. "The business of running NSFAS is extremely complex," said Carolissen. He went on to explain that he found the current situation untenable as it could lead to allegations of conflict of interest. It must also lead to a significant workload for the individual who is replacing the role of the Board and also it seems, much of executive management. As things stand the Administrator's role will end in two and half months and three of the top 4 positions in executive management are currently vacant.


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