Students lose out after training body ‘ripped off’

Thieves used a phantom company to make off with about R750 000 from the health and welfare sectoral and education training authority (Seta) after promising to provide adult basic education to more than 600 students, documents in amaBhungane’s possession reveal.

According to a monitoring and evaluation report, which was leaked by a Seta employee, the “Community Action Programme” is one of several organisations that received funding from the Seta without procedures being followed. As a result, millions of rands went missing and thousands of students missed out on skills training.

In its 2010 annual report, the Seta recorded expenditure of R200-million the previous year. It also said it had trained more than 11 000 students.
According to the document, 611 students registered with the “programme” for adult education in 2007. However, when the inspector visited the alleged training site there were no students and the “offices” were empty.

Funding of R1.2-million was initially approved for the “Community Action Programme” in 2007, and the Seta paid it R750 000.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said that the application was approved despite a recommendation that it should be rejected because the programme was not accredited “and didn’t meet other requirements”.

“To this day I still don’t understand how that organisation received funds. It was never traced and the money was written off,” said the source.

“And this applies to many other organisations taking the Seta for a ride.”

Struggling
Another source, who asked not to be named, alleged that the Seta is struggling with corruption, low staff morale and squabbles among senior managers.

“The rot starts from inside: people aligned to managers are protected and given promotions and bonuses without any justification.”

The source said those who tried to raise grievances were intimidated and ultimately pushed out of the organisation.

Another whistle-blower, Amy Bagwandeen, who worked as an accountant for the Seta for six months, wrote to its board and the ministry of higher education complaining about fraud, irregular expenditure, the use of blacklisted companies, the promotion of unqualified staff members without following procedure and the abuse of forensic investigations to purge certain staffers.

“I discovered many irregularities but whenever I raised issues with the former chief executive and senior managers I was harassed and intimidated,” she told amaBhungane this week.

The Seta’s chief executive, Yvonne Mbane, appointed in September last year, confirmed that she was aware of the allegations. In an effort to clean up the organisation, she said the board had commissioned Gobodo Forensic and Investigative Accounting to investigate “allegations raised with the minister of higher education and training [Blade Nzimande] and, subsequently, the Hawks”.

Criticism
Gobodo’s report was finalised and released to her office in January this year. However, it has not been made public—a move that some staff members have criticised.

Said one: “We were called to a staff meeting and told that we must co-operate with the investigations and be honest. So why is the chief executive refusing to let us to see the report?”

Mbane countered that the board had decided to have the report reviewed under controlled conditions to protect the identity of informants.

However, after the union, Nehawu, mounted a challenge at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, a compromise was reached that the union would view the report by no later than May 13.

The alleged corruption includes claims that the Seta approved certain organisations for funding without following the required procedures, including site validation.

The leaked documents and email correspondence indicate that Thembekile Training Consulting was awarded R3-million to implement adult literacy training for 1 160 students, even though it did not have the capacity to do this. Inspectors noted that some of the alleged training venues were empty and some facilitators were unqualified.

“It emerged after the investigation that the organisation had never met the requirements,” said the source.

Payments continued
Despite a recommendation that the organisation should not receive further funding, payments continued.

Stanley Matjeke, Thembekile’s former project manager, denied this: “As far as I know we met all the criteria and were accredited. We have documents supporting our position.”

Matjeke said that, after Thembekile received a list of students from the Seta, he “discovered that some learners had the wrong impression about [the programme] and wanted something practical.

They quit the training ... Some learners were completely illiterate. We communicated with the Seta about the challenges and we agreed to alter the programme and look for students who could benefit.”

Mbane confirmed receiving Bagwandeen’s letter but said that as chief executive she “had no obligation to report to her as she had ­complained directly to the minister”.

Another employee—an executive manager of corporate services, who resigned with immediate effect—wrote a 10-page letter to the board outlining his concerns about the way the Seta was being run and how he was undermined as decisions that fell within his authority were taken by other managers.

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email amabhungane@mg.co.za


The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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