Govt acts on 'banana' varsity

Severe governance upheavals at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) have prompted the intervention of Minister of Education Naledi Pandor. But some members of the DUT council fear the minister could dilute or even halt a forensic audit into alleged financial irregularities, and possible fraud, involving more than R150-million.

This week Pandor appointed Chabani Manganyi, former University of Pretoria vice-principal, as an independent assessor to look into DUT’s governance conflicts. This move followed her visit to the university last month, when she met the council.
She then asked her department’s merger unit to investigate.

The Mail & Guardian has seen the unit’s report, which was submitted to Pandor this month. It notes that DUT has been plagued by management problems and “allegations of high levels of fraud and corruption” since it came into being in 2002 through the merger of ML Sultan Technikon and Technikon Natal.

The report found that the council is deeply divided and dysfunctional and should be dissolved. It also found that the university’s senior management—the vice-chancellor and his executive team—is extremely weak, partly because of council “interference in operational matters”.

Council chairperson Ellen Tshabalala said the conflicts had to be understood in terms of a forensic audit that the council instigated in February. As a council member, vice-chancellor Bonganjalo Goba was part of the audit decision, she said.

“The pandemonium began when the auditors removed some university computers in March to check financial data,” said Tshabalala. “When staff saw that this was serious, they objected and tried to discredit the auditors, questioning the process used by council to appoint them. The vice-chancellor has shown he’s not interested in the audit.”

Tshabalala said staff who did not want the audit had then approached Pandor. “Some council members and management staff have an agenda of seeking to protect management. The minister is playing into the hands of those who don’t want the audit—that is my clear understanding and that of many councillors.”

Responding to M&G questions, this week Goba “reiterated” his and management’s “commitment and full support for the forensic audit”. However, management was “unable to respond to matters contained in the auditors’ preliminary report until a final report is received”.

The M&G has a copy of notes that council members took when the auditors presented preliminary findings to them on June 8. These list as areas under investigation:

  • More than 24 000 invoices submitted by 546 suppliers, without reference to purchase orders, with a value of R130-million;
  • Close to 600 invoices, totalling R1,2-million, whose dates are earlier than those of the corresponding purchase orders;
  • 147 cheques, with an overall value of R19-million, without reference to invoices;
  • 96 part-time employees paid more than one salary claim a month;
  • 196 employees with more than one employee number; and
  • 10 DUT employees with directorships in suppliers of services to the university worth close to R1-million.
Council member Chami Shezi, also student representative council president, and another member who asked to remain anonymous, said management’s opposition to the audit was borne out by its refusal to pay the auditors. “This has been a banana institution,” said Shezi. “Anyone has been able to do what they like financially.”

But Goba said management was “committed to paying the auditors, provided specific information pertaining to the work plan is received in order to comply with good accounting principles”. He welcomed Pandor’s appointment of an assessor.

Pandor said fears that her intervention could suit those who wanted the audit discontinued should be allayed by her appointment of an objective assessor. “We don’t question the need for an audit,” she said.

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".   Read more from David Macfarlane

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