The recent incident of a young woman who received millions of rand from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is an unfortunate occurrence mainly because it’s a question of one innocent soul falling victim to the rot in the administration of our public institutions. Her utilising the funds deposited into her account is wrong and indefensible; however, we should not be side-tracked from putting the blame for this debacle where it belongs: the officials working for the service provider charged with the responsibility to distribute the funds.
The rot in the administration of our public institutions is so rife that it has reached intolerable levels and is finding space to exist even in institutions meant to assist the poor, such as NSFAS. Our state institutions are choked by high levels of corruption to the point of rendering them ineffective. This status quo has led to a failure in service delivery by some institutions and that hurts our people.
Once hailed as a burgeoning democracy, we are now a nation embroiled in one scandal after another involving administrators of our state-owned enterprises, including their political overseers. This malady must come to a stop for the sake of our country.
While I accept and understand that NFSAS is not responsible for administration and distribution of resources available to the needy students at the level of academic institutions, proper checks and balances into how such distribution is carried out need to be maintained. The fact that NSFAS has auctioned responsibility of administration and distribution of available resources is an indictment on the state and its institutions.
With those limited resources, administrators at NSFAS found it prudent to procure another company to discharge their responsibility and then pay that company out of the same limited coffers.
It should be noted that I understand that NSFAS is not a solution to the drive and call for free education; the role it plays is however very important in funding higher education. We need to appreciate the intervention NSFAS is delivering to society, we also note that taxpayers continue to make their contribution and for this reason our people deserve to be serviced better through institutions that are free of corruption.
The manner in which our administration has lost the confidence has reached such high levels that with allegations of maladministration mushrooming daily, the ability of the state to effectively ward off these claims in a convincing manner has diminished.
It remains my desire to hear from the corridors of power on the current issue of NSFAS, more so that it affects young people. It is common knowledge that NSFAS beneficiaries are young people; it would be expected that a congress movement of young people would express itself on the recent scandal. It is worrying that after so many days since the incident these structures remain silent, as if what has happened is normal.
Is this silence by a number of state institutions and other civil society organisations an act of endorsement of corruption or fatigue?
I have also noted that some universities might have developed a tendency of redirecting NSFAS funds to other services, thereby leaving students frustrated and with no help. We have received reports of university officials soliciting sex from students in exchange for NSFAS funding, a practice the state has not really dealt with. This is the extent to which our state institutions have been corrupted and very little is being done by those in a position of responsibility.
In light of the R14-million received by one person, we need to start thinking about whether there are many unreported cases of similar errors. How many have benefited either erroneously of through corruption of this magnitude with no one getting arrested?
We must all defend vulnerable people in all spheres of governance and any other institution of the state. The transfer of millions to an innocent student is such a worrisome situation, more so that she has since been demonised and made to look like a criminal. This young student is an innocent victim of high levels of institutionalised maladministration.
It can’t be correct that such an amount is transferred to one student undetected by quality assurance supervisors. If such errors are committed, does it mean that our administration is so weak that large sums of money can just be transferred erroneously without repercussions or detection? We need to start investing in building capacity within our institutions. This situation should serve as a learning and wake-up call to us all.
I call on government to quickly distance itself from such corrupt acts, denounce every act of dishonesty committed by state officials and order the administration and distribution of funds back to NSFAS. Other institutions that have outsourced functions to third parties should also stop such practices immediately. We cannot continue to watch our institutions commit such levels of corruption and remain silent. It is time that we strengthen our administration by all means; this will start with the appointment of capable and qualified personnel to positions of responsibility within the state. We must refuse to look away from allegations of corruption. It cannot continue to be business as usual. DM
Rhulani Thembi Siweya is the founder of Africa Unmasked and an NEC member of the ANCYL. She writes in her personal capacity.
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle