Beds be­fore beauty projects at Venda var­sity

Six to a room on a cam­pus short of stu­dent hos­tels

Sunday Times - - News Education - By PREGA GOVENDER

● Up to six stu­dents share rooms for two at the Univer­sity of Venda be­cause of the short­age of res­i­dences, yet R15-mil­lion had been set aside to build a house of prayer.

A for­mer vice-chan­cel­lor, Peter Mbati, also wanted to spend R70-mil­lion on a staff en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre, R45-mil­lion on a mul­ti­pur­pose hall for grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies and R15-mil­lion on a new ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing, while 10 000 stu­dents needed ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The univer­sity has shelved Mbati’s projects and the money will be used to com­plete sev­eral dor­mi­tory build­ings aban­doned by con­trac­tors.

Among these are a 320-bed hos­tel for women and a 314-bed hos­tel for men.

Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naledi Pan­dor in a let­ter re­ceived by the univer­sity on June 13 ex­pressed con­cern about its pro­cure­ment and man­age­ment of in­fra­struc­ture projects.

The Sun­day Times was in­formed that an al­le­ga­tion that Mbati was con­nected to An­dany Hold­ings, a pri­vate-eq­uity and in­vest­ment hold­ing com­pany plan­ning to build hos­tels on cam­pus, was also raised.

Pan­dor is plan­ning to ap­point an in­de­pen­dent as­ses­sor af­ter se­nior man­agers at the univer­sity in­formed her depart­ment of its fi­nan­cial chal­lenges in Fe­bru­ary .

Mbati left the univer­sity in Jan­uary af­ter his sec­ond five-year term ended.

In a re­cent let­ter, act­ing vice-chan­cel­lor Jan Craf­ford said fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity had been iden­ti­fied for three years run­ning as the top risk faced by the univer­sity.

He blamed the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion on, among other things, pre­vi­ously in­ad­e­quate fi­nan­cial man­age­ment.

“We now man­age cash flow on a mon­thto-month ba­sis, which is new to all of us. We now al­lo­cate money from the dif­fer­ent ded­i­cated grants re­ceived from gov­ern­ment to ap­pro­pri­ate ring-fenced ac­counts. In the past we used to pool all these monies and call them ‘re­serves’,” said Craf­ford.

He said the univer­sity was await­ing the re­sults of an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the “aban­doned” in­fra­struc­ture projects.

Craf­ford said a foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the man­age­ment of in­fra­struc­ture projects un­der­taken in 2016 had re­vealed ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties such as unau­tho­rised de­vi­a­tion from ini­tial bids.

For ex­am­ple, the R1.5-mil­lion bud­geted for a re­cre­ational swim­ming pool bal­looned to R4.9-mil­lion af­ter ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties, chang­ing rooms, pal­isade fenc­ing and paving were added.

As­pire Ar­chi­tects drew up the plans for the house of prayer, the staff en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre and the mul­ti­pur­pose hall.

The Sun­day Times has estab­lished that a project man­age­ment team rep­re­sent­ing the ar­chi­tects and en­gi­neers who worked on the de­sign and draw­ings of these fa­cil­i­ties met the univer­sity re­cently be­cause it had not been paid be­tween R4-mil­lion and R5-mil­lion owed for ser­vices ren­dered.

Mandla Shik­wambana, chair­man of the EFF stu­dent group, said the univer­sity’s man­age­ment had un­der­mined the needs of stu­dents.

Univer­sity spokesman Takalani Dzaga said Pan­dor had writ­ten to the univer­sity about her in­ten­tion to ap­point an in­de­pen­dent as­ses­sor.

“We do not want to com­pro­mise our min­is­ter’s even­tual course of ac­tion by re­spond­ing to your in­quiry at this stage,” he said.

He said the univer­sity had raised with the depart­ment some of the prob­lems with in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment on cam­pus.

Pan­dor’s spoke­man Lunga Ngqen­gelele con­firmed that the for­mer vice-chan­cel­lor was named as a di­rec­tor in doc­u­me­na­tion pro­vided by the pri­vate com­pany in­volved in the pro­posed Univen de­vel­op­ment.

He said that the univer­sity an­tic­i­pated a bud­get short­fall of R60-mil­lion by the end of this year.

Lin­de­lani Cibi, a share­holder and di­rec­tor of An­dany Hold­ings, de­nied that Mbati was in­volved with the com­pany.

He said Mbati was hired by a sep­a­rate en­tity — Stel­lar Stu­dent Fund — to en­cour­age other uni­ver­si­ties with in­vest­ment com­pa­nies to part­ner with Stel­lar to form a con­sor­tium to fund the con­struc­tion of stu­dent hos­tels.

“We hired re­tired vice-chan­cel­lors as em­ploy­ees. They were not share­hold­ers.”

Mbati de­nied be­ing a share­holder or di­rec­tor of An­dany.

He said there had been broad con­sul­ta­tion with staff and stu­dents on the pro­posed house of prayer, staff en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre, mul­ti­pur­pose hall and main ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing.

“These build­ings were planned but never con­structed,” he said.

Mbati said that the com­ple­tion of res­i­dences for men and women as well as the DBSA-funded 1 800-bed res­i­dence would re­sult in al­most dou­bling the stu­dent bed ca­pac­ity.

A half-built build­ing at the Univer­sity of Venda, left, and an artist im­pres­sion of the prayer house.

Pic­ture: Alais­ter Russell

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