Probe this out­rage

The Star Late Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

PAR­LIA­MENT, and by ex­ten­sion South Africans, are still in the dark about how R14 mil­lion was loaded onto the meal card of Wal­ter Sisulu Uni­ver­sity (WSU) stu­dent Si­bongile Mani. This is de­spite a brief­ing that was sup­posed to un­ravel the mys­tery. No­body needs a re­minder that fi­nan­cial con­straints are a peren­nial cri­sis that rob many young South Africans of the dream to at­tain that life-chang­ing ter­tiary qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

The an­nual R10 bil­lion the gov­ern­ment al­lo­cates to the Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) re­mains the last hope for strug­gling fam­i­lies to put their chil­dren through ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion and change their cir­cum­stances.

Sadly, the fig­ure still falls far too short to meet the de­mand from thou­sands of des­per­ate ap­pli­cants seek­ing fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for the pro­hib­i­tive fees.

It is against this back­ground that any neg­li­gence or mis­use of this vi­tal na­tional purse should, at the very least, end with heads rolling and, at worst, the cul­prits locked up. We were en­cour­aged this week when the WSU, pay­ment com­pany In­tel­li­malli and NSFAS were or­dered to ex­plain to Par­lia­ment’s higher ed­u­ca­tion port­fo­lio com­mit­tee how the R14m mis­take slipped through. In his sub­mis­sion, WSU vice-chan­cel­lor Rob Midgely de­scribed the over-pay­ment as “ex­tra­or­di­nary”.

NSFAS of­fi­cials sim­i­larly dis­tanced them­selves from the er­ror, while In­tel­li­malli chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael Ansell also ab­solved his com­pany of any blame when he said there was no “er­ror or neg­li­gence” on their part. The sum to­tal of their sub­mis­sions to Par­lia­ment was they are all blame­less, while the mys­tery pay­ment re­mains un­solved de­spite Mani blow­ing R800 000 of the R14m on throw­ing par­ties and shop­ping. A ques­tion that begs for an an­swer in this na­tional out­rage is: who, then, should take re­spon­si­bil­ity?

We de­mand a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion to dis­man­tle the wor­ry­ing no­tion that pass­ing the buck is suf­fi­cient to make this “fraud” go away. In our view, the rot goes much deeper than the sug­gested dis­hon­esty of Mani, who il­le­gally par­tied away the fu­tures of pos­si­bly hun­dreds of pos­si­ble ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Hard ques­tions must be put to the bank about why it did not re­port a clearly sus­pi­cious trans­ac­tion.

Fi­nally, all the ser­vice providers who helped Mani cash the R800 000 must not be spared. They must face the full wrath of the law. This mat­ter can­not, and must not, sim­ply be dis­missed as a mis­take. It is im­per­a­tive the gov­ern­ment demon­strates it val­ues ed­u­ca­tion by get­ting to the bot­tom of this scam.

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