The top management of the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) were complicit in the abuse of the institution by the former vice-chancellor for his personal gain, which included buying luxury vehicles, multimillion-rand refurbishments to his home and paying for his private bodyguards.
These were the findings of a forensic report following allegations of mismanagement at the university.
Former Unisa vice-chancellor Professor Barney Pityana, who was appointed by the higher education minister, Naledi Pandor, as an independent assessor, has also concluded his own investigation and will hand his assessment to Pandor.
His report focused on the state of governance at the university and the source and nature of problems facing the institution, including those relating to financial mismanagement, supply chain management and human resources.
Six senior executives, who included former vice-chancellor Professor Ratale Kgaphola, the chief financial officer, an executive director, the operations manager, the human resources manager and the dean of students, were suspended in 2016 following allegations of financial mismanagement, which led to the MUT instituting a forensic investigation.
Kgaphola resigned in 2016 before the release of the forensic report to the council. He did not participate in the investigation.
The report by Ubuntu Business Advisory and Consulting revealed that Kgaphola hired bodyguards, at a cost of R4 693 809.78, over a six-year period, without a contract and without any evidence of a threat to the vice-chancellor or his family.
Kgaphola also used the university’s company car for his personal use, including to ferry his children to and from school, even though this was against MUT’s policy, which states that its cars can only be used on authorised university business.
The report revealed that, since his appointment in July 2009 as an administrator to December 2015, Kgaphola used MUT pool vehicles. He was appointed vice-chancellor in August 2010.
The cars he used included an Audi A4, which was replaced by an Audi A6, but it was involved in an accident in June 2015 and written off. It was then replaced by a Mercedes Benz CLA, which cost R475 000.
“No other MUT official made use of either of these vehicles,” according to the report. “There were no log books pertaining to the VC’s [vice-chancellor’s] vehicles. The vehicles were driven by the VC’s drivers.”
According to university policy, people not employed by the MUT are not permitted to drive its cars.
The cars were in the possession of his drivers all the time, despite university policy stating that pool cars must be kept on MUT property at all times unless an employee has made prior arrangements.
The council and executive management were aware that Kgaphola was using the university’s cars for his personal use, according to the report.
It also revealed that the council approved the purchase of a vice-chancellor’s house at a cost of R3 350 000 and paid the municipal bills. Kgaphola’s salary advice reflected a taxable income of R40 000 for residential accommodation but it was deducted as non-taxable income.
In 2012, the council approved R1 266 537.12 for furniture and refurbishing the vice-chancellor’s house.
Kgaphola deviated from the procurement process and appointed an interior design company. The total amount spent on refurbishment and furniture from 2012 to 2015 was R1 454 526.48, in line with the quote provided by the interior designers. The difference of R187 989.36 was not approved by the council.
The Ubuntu report also details the irregular appointment of five senior executives, for which no proper recruitment processes were followed.
One executive was interviewed and subsequently appointed by Kgaphola after being referred to him by a former council member. The vacancy for her appointment was not advertised and Kgaphola conducted an interview himself instead of appointing an interview panel.
He approved a request to appoint another senior executive following a request by the deputy vice-chancellor for resources and planning, Professor Stephen Khehla Ndlovu.
Ndlovu made the offer to the senior executive without interviewing him or negotiating a salary. He offered the executive an annual package of R1 152 202. Ndlovu admitted that the executive was an acquaintance, a relationship he did not disclose to the university. The appointment letter was signed by Kgaphola.
The report also showed that the university did not comply with the procurement and expenditure policy regarding the lease of external residences. It revealed that Kgaphola signed lease agreements for more than three years, contravening the procurement and expenditure policy, which states that contracts are subject to a three-year cycle. Four external residences had leases ranging from four to five years.
The university also allowed students to be housed in three external residences whose leases had expired.
Pityana is expected to make recommendations to Pandor on what action needs to be taken to institute proper governance and management at the university.
His appointment came after the chairperson of the council, Morailane Morailane, wrote in October last year to Hlengiwe Mkhize, the higher education and training minister at the time, requesting her to appoint an independent assessor.
In 2016, Blade Nzimande, then the higher education minister, offered the council the services of an independent assessor after the six senior executives were placed on special leave. He was opposed to the council conducting its own investigation.
Morailane wrote that, after appearing in front of the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education in September, when he was asked why the council had not taken up Nzimande’s offer, it was decided to act on his recommendation.
“Council said that the principal purpose of this assessment should be to try to identify any governance failures and its own complicity leading to the management failures contained in the forensic report received after the suspension of the six senior executives … so that there is no repeat of such failures,” he wrote.
The Ubuntu report states that Kgaphola was not interviewed because all attempts to contact him by phone and email were fruitless.
Pandor’s spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said that Pityana had concluded his work and Pandor was awaiting his report.
VC’s poor track record
This is the third time in 19 years that the department of higher education has had to intervene in the affairs of the Mangosuthu University of Technology. Vice-chancellors have been at the centre of all the issues.
In 1999, the former minister of education, Kader Asmal, appointed Jaap Durand as an independent assessor following a dispute between a staff union and the university.
Durand recommended that vice-chancellor Professor Aaron Ndlovu be fired but the council overruled that decision and lifted his suspension.
In 2008, Naledi Pandor, who was then the minister of the department of education (before there was a department of higher education) appointed Vincent Maphai as an independent assessor after the council forced Ndlovu to take leave.
Ndlovu was later suspended on charges of financial mismanagement following Maphai’s report on governance, management and employee relations. He was accused of unilaterally taking administrative and academic decisions.
Following Maphai’s recommendation that the university be put under administration, Pandor appointed Professor Jonathan Jansen as an administrator.
He was later replaced by Ratale Kgaphola as an administrator, before Kgaphola was appointed vice-chancellor in 2010. — Bongekile Macupe