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Unisa leaders accused of corruption, abuse of power

Vice-principals fail to take action after receiving investigation reports

A document by a firm that is conducting an audit of Unisa for the 2021 financial year has revealed  shocking allegations of corruption and maladministration at the embattled institution.

The revelations by auditing company Ernst & Young, which are contained in a letter dated June 23 to vice-chancellor Prof Puleng LenkaBula, add to findings in a damning ministerial task team (MTT) report commissioned by higher education minister Blade Nzimande.

Nzimande, who met Unisa’s council this week to discuss their response to the findings and recommendations of the August 30 report, is expected to respond within days.

Unisa is the largest open distance-learning institution in Africa, with more than 400,000 students from 130 countries.

The Ernst & Young letter stated that a meeting of the Unisa council’s audit and enterprise risk committee on June 8 noted that additional risks influencing the 2021 audit were not limited to matters noted in the MTT report.

It said the additional risks included:

• allegations of abuse of power and conflicts of interest that have not been investigated; 

• failure  to address the fraud noted in various reports, some of which were issued more than a year ago; 

• a significant lack of consequence management where investigation reports recommending action were issued to vice-principals (VPs), but no action has been taken by the VPs more than a year after the reports were given to them; 

• allegations of circumvention of the supply chain management process;

• evidence from reports indicating potential tampering with bids provided to the tender evaluation committee; and

• allegations of unauthorised payroll payments and overpayments for goods and services.

The letter, which was signed by Niel de Leeuw, a partner at Ernst & Young, said: “It should be noted that some of the matters listed above relate to periods preceding the current year audit and date as far back as December 2020.

“We are concerned that executive management and those charged with governance are implicated in the additional risks and these have caused an increase in the risk associated with the Unisa audit overall.” 

Ernst & Young said as a result of having to perform additional procedures, the audit was expected to be issued on September 30 instead of June 30.

The auditors “noted with concern the risks and allegations in the MTT report and we expect further actions to be taken in respect of the recommended investigations in due course”.

“The MTT report raises new allegations and risks that seem to be pervasive and affect the highest levels of management and that require additional audit attention.”

The MTT report recommended that Nzimande appoint an administrator for up to two years, and that LenkaBula, should account to the administrator.

Meanwhile, LenkaBula’s woes are set to continue after the registrar, Prof Steward Mothata, lodged a complaint against her alleging, intimidation and dishonesty.

Mothata’s grievance, which was sent to the council on February 9, focused mainly on a “misleading” public statement she LenkaBula issued in January about the renovations to her official residence,  Cloghereen.

According to the 37-page report by Unisa’s facilities management department, during Mothata’s term as  acting vice-principal for operations and facilities, LenkaBula requested refurbishments that almost doubled the R1m renovation budget.

But in a statement in January LenkaBula denied that she was involved in the operational processes on the Cloghereen renovations.

“At no stage did the vice-chancellor demand or request any overseas items. She was in fact not involved in procurement processes or the project,” LenkaBula’s statement reads.

“She also expressed displeasure about the high costs entailed in the quotations of the interior and household items and instructed Mothata to intervene and ensure that all quotations should be stopped and reviewed.”

According to her statement, she would not tolerate “any superfluous spending in her name”.

But Mothata stated in his complaint, “Professor LenkaBula was an active participant and had full knowledge of the renovations. Any suggestion that she was not aware and/or was misled constitutes gross dishonesty. She was, in fact, directly involved in choosing the items and these included various special requests such as the replacement of the tiles.”

He said that “it was her special requests that caused the escalation of costs and it was me who raised these concerns with her”.

Mothata submitted an addendum to his grievance on June 17 to  the  social and ethics committee of the council.

Neither Unisa’s spokesperson Martin Ramotshela nor LenkaBula responded to   questions concerning Mothata’s complaint and his seven-page addendum to his formal grievance which the Sunday Times also provided to them.

Council chair James Maboa declined to comment on Nzimande’s visit and referred queries to the higher education department.

“Professor Mothata’s complaint is an internal matter and we don’t want to comment on it. The letter by Ernst & Young was not discussed at council.”

Maboa said the council will be releasing a statement in due course on matters involving Unisa.

Nzimande’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, said a process will be followed “leading up to a public announcement by the minister”.

 In a tweet, Nzimande said that shortly after hearing the views of council, he will  “without any further delay” announce his response to the findings of the MTT.

–Sunday Times

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