AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
‘Very good developments’ at National Skills Fund after R5bn went missing
The troubled fund – meant to focus on the education and training of learners – returned to Parliament to account for issues such as governance, management and a forensic report.
During a parliamentary committee meeting about the National Skills Fund (NSF) on Wednesday, DA MP Chantel King said a lot of development had taken place at the fund, which she described as “very good”.
Representatives of the fund and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) briefed Parliament’s oversight committee on higher education on the implementation of an audit action plan and recommendations from a ministerial task team on the NSF.
The fund – which is primarily focused on the training and education of learners – made headlines in 2022 when reports emerged that R5-billion was missing from it. Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande confirmed that just under “R5-billion could not be properly accounted for over two financial years”. This prompted a forensic investigation into the NSF’s financial affairs.
Read more in Daily Maverick: The National Skills Fund, the missing R5bn and Blade Nzimande’s request for confidentiality
On Wednesday, issues came up again during a scheduled virtual session.
According to David Mabusela, the fund’s acting CEO, a committee was established to look into the recommendations of the ministerial task team, which was put in place to get to the bottom of the fund’s governance and administrative problems.
Officials who were implicated in a forensic report – which was not submitted to Parliament after Nzimande said it contained the names of implicated persons, which could lead to possible litigation against the department – have faced disciplinary measures.
Mabusela added that five NSF officials implicated in the forensic report were placed on precautionary suspension and later served with charge sheets. Implicated officials have responded to the charge sheets, some using their own legal services support.
The Nexus forensic firm, which is carrying out the forensic investigation, has conducted inspections, and disciplinary sessions will start before the end of March 2023, confirmed Mabusela.
In addition to the work done by the department, the DHET’s director-general, Nkosinathi Sishi, has had meetings with the Special Investigating Unit, with the last meeting on 14 February, where the scope of engagement on the NSF was discussed. There were also meetings with the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – the first one took place on 8 December 2022.
During the briefing, the committee heard the fund would implement action plans based on audit findings from the Auditor-General in the NSF 2020/2021 Annual Report and Financial Statements. At the time, the NSF was spotlighted for having a 60% vacancy rate among senior management and a slow recruitment process.
In 2021/22, the NSF filled 35 of 69 posts. Senior management posts that have been filled or are in the process of being filled include:
- A chief financial officer was appointed and started on 1 November 2022;
- A director of fund management was appointed and started on 1 October 2022;
- A director of information communication and technology was appointed and started on 3 January 2023;
- A director of financial planning and reporting had interviews scheduled before the end of March 2023; and
- Advertisements have been sent out for directors of financial administration, organisational strategy and work-integrated learning.
Sishi said “interviews are scheduled” for a chief executive officer.
He said he was “touched” by King’s comments and that he knew the committee would hold the NSF accountable for its actions, whether they were good or bad.
In his State of the Nation Address in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the skills fund will “provide R800-million to develop skills in the digital and technology sector through an innovative model that links payment for training to employment outcomes”.
The forensic report has not yet been made public. DM