/ 29 November 2012

VUT vice-chancellor suspended over corruption allegations

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande.

The university’s administrator Patrick FitzGerald announced Moutlana's suspension on Thursday morning. VUT’s deputy vice-chancellor for academic and research, Alwyn Louw, is now acting as vice-chancellor.

The Mail & Guardian has seen the letter FitzGerald sent to staff and students in the morning, in which he announced Moutlana "will take a period of special leave from November 29 2012 to enable the institution to conclude an investigation".

FitzGerald told the university community that Moutlana's "special leave" is "necessary to create a fair and open process pursuant to the inquiry relating to the appointment of consultants [that] assisted in developing a new strategy for VUT".

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande appointed FitzGerald, a Wits University professor, to take over duties of council in late July. Nzimande disbanded VUT's council after Muzi Sikhakhane, an assessor he appointed in February to investigate the university, implicated the council in his findings of financial mismanagement.

VUT has 21 000 students. Its main campus and seat of governance is in Vanderbijlpark, while its three satellite campuses are in Secunda, Ekurhuleni and Upington.

Members of the disbanded council on Thursday told the M&G Moutlana’s suspension vindicates them because it is based on their findings of alleged corruption against her.

They allege the assessor overlooked the findings, and thereby cleared Moutlana of wrongdoing. Nzimande’s spokesperson, Vuyelwa Qinga, could not be reached for comment.

Council members contested the disbandment and have been planning to go to court to have the assessor’s report overturned. "The news of Moutlana’s suspension vindicates us as [the disbanded] council," member Sasabona Manganye told the M&G.

Report's findings 
A task team, comprising three council members, investigated irregularities in the awarding of two tenders, and concluded that Moutlana was "unethical and dishonest in her activity" regarding a tender that the university awarded in 2010.

Their report, dated January 12 and seen by the M&G, purported to prove that Moutlana sourced and obtained tender specifications from a company that eventually won the contract of developing a new strategy for the university.

Over-expenditure of almost R831 000 was incurred in a project that was initially billed at R486 000. The company ended up raking in over R1.3-million.

"We believe findings of our investigation led to the suspension. There might be other issues [uncovered by the administrator], but we believe our findings are central to the suspension," said Manganye.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union, which has also been campaigning for Moutlana's suspension, said the suspension is long overdue.

"There is a strong view that the university council was dissolved for the wrong reasons now that the administrator, who ironically replaced the council that first unmasked the corruption, has himself resolved to do what the council wanted to do before it was dissolved," the union said.

Moutlana could not be reached for comment, while the university did not respond to the M&G’s questions at the time of publishing.