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HomeEducationUnisa VC in hot water over R72m laptop scheme

Unisa VC in hot water over R72m laptop scheme

Unisa’s vice-chancellor, Prof Puleng LenkaBula, has been called out for failing to seek council approval before the institution made advance payments of R72.6m to staff to buy laptops.

Law firm Bowmans submitted a 75-page draft report, dated February 23, to Unisa’s council on its forensic investigation into allegations concerning advance payments to employees for laptops.

The payments were made between mid-June 2021 and February this year, but by February, Unisa had received invoices for only 686 laptops, totalling R15.2m, from 22% of staff.

“This indicates that a majority of the employees are yet to purchase laptops despite receiving the cash advances more than four months ago,” the draft report says.

The university initiated a procurement process in November 2019 and the management committee recommended to its finance, estates and investment committee (FIECoC) that laptops be leased from a company for three to five years at a cost of R402m.

During FIECoC’s meeting a year later, in November 2020, the management again presented a submission to it proposing that the purchase of laptops for staff should be done through a lease arrangement, but this was not approved by FIECoC.

It resolved that a new submission from management should be for the outright purchase of devices.

According to the report, an official from human resources motivated to the management committee in a letter in April 2021 that the payment of computer allowances “would be a speedy way to alleviate employee frustration, in respect of tools of trade to enable them to work”.

But the report said that it was established that the payment of cash allowances to employees for the purposes of procuring laptops “could be tantamount to the splitting of order/requisitions, which would be a contravention of Unisa supply chain management policy which prohibits the splitting of requisitions to avoid prescribed tender processes”.

The management committee’s approval “is limited to R50m and any deviation valued above R50m must be referred to council for approval”.

According to the report, LenkaBula reiterated in an email dated June 1 2021, that “a provision for staff procuring their own laptops was already catered for in the policies of Unisa”.

“However, the laptops to be procured in this initiative would be owned by the university and thus constituted a deviation from the supply chain management policy,” says the lawyers’ report.

Cash advances of up to R27,000 were paid to all qualifying staff and they had to produce invoices to Unisa after buying the device as proof of purchase.

Between June 14 2021 and February 18 2022, the university paid out a total of R72.6m.

“These payments exceeded the delegation of the management committee to approve what was essentially a deviation, and hence the matter should have been referred to council for consideration and approval,” the report reads.

The report states: “Prof LenkaBula refused to afford us an opportunity to interview her  and hence, we were unable to obtain an explanation from her as to why council approval was not sought for the staff to purchase their own laptops.”

The report recommends that the institution consider taking corrective action against LenkaBula for failing to seek council approval.

Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said he was not aware of the report. “If council is undertaking such investigations, the queries must therefore be referred to council.”

The chair of Unisa’s council, James Maboa, confirmed that the investigation was commissioned by a committee of the council.

“We are looking into it,” he said.

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