Probe this outrage
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.