NSFAS is a nepotist fiefdom – staff

Bugged offices, staff suspended for a year without being charged, positions created for select people and senior executives made redundant are some of the allegations levelled against Randall Carollissen, the administrator of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). 

But Carolissen has denied these allegations, which were made before the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education.

Gilbert Muvavarirwa, the general manager of the scheme’s information and communications technology strategy, alleged that while he was working late one night, about five men walked into his office carrying gadgets and informing him that they needed to debug his office. 

He said he later heard from another employee that other offices and the human resources boardroom were bugged. “People were talking outside of their offices because they were scared that their offices were bugged,” said Muvavarirwa.

Carolissen denied this, saying that he was debugging offices because information was being leaked. 

Marlene Bosset, who has been suspended from work, said she had been asked to fly to Bloemfontein to interview someone for a job who was a friend of Carolissen’s wife, but she had refused. 

“It was a bit shady for me, and I said ‘no, I am not going to be part of that interview’.”

She said Carolissen had also told her about another person he knew who he said was a perfect candidate for a job at NSFAS. 

“I interviewed the person … On her CV, she listed the administrator’s wife as a line manager at her previous job; the administrator’s wife was also her reference at the time,” Bosset said.

Current and former NSFAS employees have recently appeared before the portfolio committee to speak about their experience working under Carolissen, who was appointed in 2018 to turn the embattled scheme around. 

Last month the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union brought the allegations before the portfolio committee and called for Carolissen’s removal. 

Kagisho Mamabolo, the scheme’s spokesperson, told the committee that he had been reprimanded by Carolissen after his subordinate had shared her concerns and complaints with Carolissen’s wife. 

“Her concern was written and put in an envelope and given to Dr Carolissen’s wife, and Dr Carolissen delivered it to me,” said Mamabolo.

He added that he told Carolissen about the non-performance of another subordinate in his department. But Carolissen said the employee had “challenges” and that he would speak to the employee’s father about her performance. 

The people that Mamabolo referred to are two of 10 allegedly irregular appointments made by Carolissen. One of them is a friend of Carolissen’s wife and the other is a daughter of the administrator’s friend. The committee heard that Carolissen’s friends, people he grew up with or were known to his wife, were appointed without following recruitment processes. 

Carolissen disputed that his wife was used as a conduit. He said the person Mamabolo referred to had delivered the envelope to him at his house and not to his wife. He said he had told the person that he did not appreciate this and had given the envelope to Mamabolo without having opened it. 

“I resent the fact that my wife is being implicated or being fingered as a conduit to pass information to me. I cannot allow her to be dragged into a process which she had no control over or no knowledge,” said Carolissen. 

Former human resources executive Vuyokazi Dwane told the committee that the period under Carolissen is characterised by nepotism and favouritism and where jobs being advertised are referred to as “so and so’s job”.

Dwane claims that in 2018 Carolissen asked her to send job adverts to his office so he could distribute them to his network. 

Dwane also spoke of an incident where a post was advertised twice because a specific individual had not applied for it the first time. 

She said one of Carolissen’s advisers asked the talent sourcing specialist at NSFAS why a particular individual had not applied for the job. Dwane said that process was eventually cancelled. 

Philemon Mapulane, the chairperson of the portfolio committee, and other committee members said they were concerned to hear such allegations against Carolissen because he was brought into the scheme to turn it around.

“The picture that you are painting is horrible; it is a terrible picture that we are listening to here,” said Mapulane. 

“I am horrified by this situation because we are talking about an organisation that is under an administration, which must be taken out of the terrible state that it was under and for us to receive these kinds of testimonies is very concerning. It tells us that the situation is far worse than what it used to be.” 

The committee concluded that Carolissen would be called to answer to the allegations

Carolissen said he welcomed any inquiry as he wanted to clear his name and maintain his reputation.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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