Committee on Higher Education calls for improved management at NSFAS
The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology has called for close collaboration between the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS); the Office of the Auditor-General (AG); the Department of Education, Science and Technology; and the National Treasury to improve the scheme’s performance, writes Mava Lukani.
The committee received a briefing recently from the AG on NSFAS’s audit outcomes, as well as a briefing from NSFAS on its annual report for the 2019/20 financial year. The delegation was led by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande.
The committee heard that NSFAS received a qualified audit opinion with findings for the 2019/20 financial year because of poor quality financial statements that lacked credible evidence reporting and had not been prepared according to the Public Finance Management Act.
The AG also highlighted that the NSFAS had failed to consult the Minister in revising the criteria and conditions for loans and bursaries in 2018/19 and 2019/20. This resulted in NSFAS carrying irregular expenditure of R50 billion.
The Chairperson of the committee, Mr Philly Mapulane, said the 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years are the worst years in NSFAS’s administration, in which it received a qualified audit opinion and lots of material findings. “Year after year from that period the situation worsened. This is the period in which the entity was under an administrator who was supposed to turn it around, but worsened it,” he said.
The failure to gazette the new funding criteria, Mr Mapulane said presents an opportunity to write a strong motivation to the National Treasury to resolve the matter. On non-compliance with legislation and policy on the determination of benefits for the advisors to the former NSFAS administrator, which is not captured in the audit report, Mr Mapulane requested NSFAS to furnish the committee with information related to this irregular expenditure.
The committee welcomed the new NSFAS Board Chairperson, Mr Ernest Khosa and the new CEO, Mr Andile Nongogo, and assured them of its support. It urged them to improve the situation at NSFAS so that it is able to meet its mandate of serving students.
After the new CEO briefed the committee on plans to implement the AG’s recommendations, the committee asked NSFAS to return soon to include timeframes in the presentation. The committee told the new NSFAS board and CEO that they have inherited a mess created by their predecessors, for which they will not be held accountable. However, they will have to present an excellent report at the end of the 2020/21 financial year.