Varsity more a place of looting than of learning: report

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Varsity more a place of looting than of learning: report

Minister orders probe after allegations of shocking extravagance by MUT's top staff

Journalist

If you want to loot a university, the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) in Umlazi outside Durban can probably show you how.
A forensic report from 2016 is now warranting a closer look by Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor. She has asked for a 30-day independent assessment of the university, its governance, student accommodation, and the report. The assessor has until the end of June to report back.
The report mentions how some former top leaders splurged on personal cars, unapproved trips to Tanzania, and irregular appointments of senior staff. They approved their own bonuses and hired bodyguards at a cost of more than R1.4-million for former vice-chancellor Professor Mashupye Kgaphola.
According to the report, payments for the security guards were made in the absence of a contract with the security company.At the same time, the university fell deeper into debt due to unpaid student fees. Infrastructure upgrades planned in 2014, including accommodation for students, are still incomplete.
Pandor’s spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said the new leadership council of the university had in 2017 asked for the independent investigation so the problems could be identified and the university and its finances improved.
He explained the independent assessor at MUT “must identify and advise the minister on the source and nature of problems facing the institution, including those relating to the state of governance, financial management, supply chain management, human resources, information technology and any other matters that may arise”.
DA Higher Education spokesperson Belinda Bozzoli said she believed Pandor “may want to put MUT under administration, so severe was the universities’ debt from unpaid fees and leadership problems”.In March Pandor spoke to parliament about dysfunctional higher education institutions. saying the Higher Education Department “would crack down on financial maladministration and corruption”.
Her new intervention at MUT follows an investigation into corruption by the Special Investigating Unit at Tshwane South Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College, where it is alleged more than R600,000 was spent by the student representative council on a single party.
Reporting back to parliament last year, staff from MUT explained the dire financial and management situation. The university’s latest annual report is from 2015 and details R388-million long-term debt and R300-million short-term debt, with 63% of unpaid student fees being written off. 
Conducted by Ubuntu Advisory and Accounting Consulting, it details mismanagement for 257 pages. The report details how:• Five senior staff were irregularly hired and paid above approved salary bands.
• The senior director got three pay hikes in a single year. The report suggested that R48,000 be repaid, saying the hikes were not approved.
• Executive management approved their own performance bonuses in 2014.
• Policies for human resources, leave, firing staff, and remuneration were all in draft form or unapproved.
• Four officials and 16 students went on an all expenses paid university-related trip to Tanzania, but there are no records of university management approving this.
• Two tenders with IT companies were irregularly entered into.Kgaphola, who resigned in 2016, was, according to the report, paid out for 31 days of leave for which he didn’t qualify to be paid. Kgaphola, whose contract did not include a car allowance, was given an Audi A4 and then an Audi A6, which was subsequently involved in an accident and written off.  It was replaced by a Mercedes Benz. At least 46% of the use of the cars was personal.
Kgaphola , when approached for comment, said: “At this stage I am not commenting. I am in a legal dispute with the university over the termination of my employment. I cannot comment on the allegations in the report.”
He would not answer the question as to whether he was challenging the report’s findings.
According to the report there were allegedly irregular leases entered into for 14 external student accommodation premises which expired, leaving students having to live in poor, ill-equipped accommodation where landlords did not do sufficient maintenance. In one residence the lift had been broken from 2013 to 2016.
People were given leadership positions and free accommodation in residences even though they were not students, which was in breach of university policy on resident accommodation, the report found.
There was manipulation of computer systems to suggest residences held far more students that they actually did.
Problems with improving infrastructure were also encountered, as a report to parliament last year revealed.A residence for 640 students was started in 2014 and R156-million was spent before disagreements with the engineering company in charge meant the project was halted.
After four years the student centre is not complete. In 2015, the university started working on engineering laboratories at a cost of R76-million, but after a disagreement with a land grader, building stopped and the conflict went to an external mediator, the Association of Adjudicators. The university lost and had to pay R5.5-million. The labs have not been built.
University spokesperson Bheki Hlophe said the 2014 residence was “almost completed.  We are expecting the students to move in next semester.”
He said the university was complying with the independent investigation ordered by Pandor. Hlophe, when asked why the only report available was from 2015, said the 2016 annual report would be “out soon”.
“We are expecting council to respond to these issues [ in the forensic report] by the end of June.”

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