Monday, September 4, 2017 11:17 am
By Rhulani Thembi Siweya
The recent public outburst at a young woman who received millions of rand from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is such an unfortunate occurrence mainly because it’s a question of one innocent soul falling victim of the rot in the administration of our public institutions. What she has done by utilising the funds deposited into her account is wrong and indefensible, however, we should not be side tracked from putting the blame for this debacle where it belongs: the officials working for the service provider charged with the responsibility to distribute the funds. Our students have since been leading a struggle for free education. We have seen the impact of the Fees-must-fall movement and the consistent commitment from our students yet we find our country embroiled in scandals involving such figures.
The rot in the administration of our public institutions is so rife that it has reached intolerable levels and its finding space to exist even in institutions meant to assist the poor such as NSFAS. Our state institutions are choked by high levels of corruption rendering them ineffective. This status quo has led to failure in service delivery by some institutions and that hurts our people. Once hailed as burgeoning democracy, we are now a nation embroiled in one scandal after other involving administrators of our state-owned enterprises including the political oversees. This malady must come to a stop for the sake of our country.
Whilst I accept and understand that NFSAS is not responsible for administration and distribution of resources available to the needy students at the level of academic institutions, proper checks and balances into how such distribution is carried out needs to be maintained. The fact that NSFAS has auctioned responsibility of administration and distribution of available resources is an indictment on the state and its institutions. With those limited resources, administrators at NSFAS found it prudent to procure another company to discharge their responsibility and then pay that company out of the same limited coffers!
It should be noted that I understand that NSFAS is not a solution to the drive and call for free education, the role it plays is however very important in funding higher education. We need to appreciate the intervention NSFAS is delivering to society, we also note that tax payers continue to make their contribution and for this reason, our people deserve to be serviced better and free of corruption.
The manner in which our administration has lost the confidence has reached such high levels that with all allegations of maladministration mushrooming daily, the ability of state to effectively ward off such allegations in such a way that would convince the public, has diminished. It remains my desire to hear from the corridors of power on the current issue of NSFAS, more so that it affects young people. It is common knowledge that NSFAS beneficiaries are young people, it would be expected that a congress movement of young people would express itself on the recent scandal. It is worrying that after so many days since the incident these structures remain silent like what just happened is normal. Is this silence by a number of state Institutions and other civil society organisation an act of endorsement of corruption or fatigue?
I have also noted that some Universities might have developed a tendency of redirecting NSFAS funds to other services thereby leaving students frustrated and with no help. We have received reports of University official soliciting sex from students in exchange for NSFAS funding, a practice the state has not really dealt with. This is the extent to which our state institutions have been corrupted and very little is being done by those in position of responsibility.
In light of the 14 Million rand received by one person, we need to start thinking about many unreported cases of similar errors. How many have benefited either erroneously of through corruption of this magnitude with no one getting arrested?
We must all defend vulnerable people in all spheres of governance and any other institution of the state. The transfer of such millions to an innocent student is such a worrisome situation more so that she has since been demonised and made to look like a criminal. This young student is an innocent victim of high levels of institutionalised maladministration with the potential corruption.
It can’t be real and correct that such an amount is transferred to one student undetected by quality assurance supervisors. One is worried that if we commit such errors, does it mean that our administration is so weak that large sums of monies can just be transferred erroneously without repercussions? We need to start investing in building capacity within our institution and the current situation should serve us as learning and wake up call.
I call on government to quickly distance itself against such corrupt acts; denounce every act of dishonesty committed by state officials and order the administration and distribution of funds back to NSFAS and any other institution that has outsourced functions to third parties to stop such practices immediately. We cannot continue to watch our institutions commit such levels of corruption and remain silent. It is time that we strengthen our administration by all means, this will start with appointment of capable and qualified personnel into positions of responsibility within the state. We must refuse to look away from allegations of corruption. It cannot continue to be business as usual.
Rhulani Thembi Siweya is the founder of Africa Unmasked and also an NEC member of the ANCYL. She writes in her personal capacity