“Dear Ms Naicker. I hear that you are on leave today. I have not approved any leave. As indicated to you this morning your office is making us disfunctional (sic). You are not attending to your priorities”.
And thus begun a process, as alleged by Josephine Naicker, an axed chief financial officer (CFO) at the University of Zululand (Unizulu), of intimidation, victimisation and alleged grounds for constructive dismissal when she allegedly refused to carry out instructions pertaining to irregular payments by Unizulu vice-chancellor Prof Xoliswa Mtose.
Naicker says she was headhunted from the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) internal audit unit and, after just five months, was suspended for what she believes was Mtose’s frustration with her for refusing to approve payments for expenditure that were either unbudgeted for or not following due procurement procedures.
Naicker’s court application – in which she is seeking an order from the high court in Durban to release two reports she believes will exonerate her by showing that she was fired for enforcing financial management principles and eliminating irregular expenditure at Unizulu – has blown the lid on an alleged web of deceit; lies; irregular expenditure; violation of procurement policies and collapse of corporate governance at Unizulu.
In her confirmatory affidavit deposed to the high court, Naicker details how she was suspended and subsequently fired without a duly constituted disciplinary hearing for refusing to approve a R26 million payment for the purchase of “upmarket houses in an exclusive estate” in Mtunzini for the exclusive use of the vice-chancellor and her executive management team.
University council chairperson Vuyani Gamede claims that, as the amount was just over R20 million, they were not required to inform the minister as per Unizulu statutes and the Higher Education Act.
“People who were fired are trying to politicise this matter; we bought those houses to retain and attract highly qualified university executives to work in a rural area.”
Gamede’s version of events, however, was rejected out of hand by former finance director Cindy Nsibande, currently on suspension for charges dating back to 2013. She claims former deputy vice chancellor Neil Garrod and Mtose deliberately created a financial guidance vacuum at Unizulu to be able to allegedly make dodgy decisions.
“I even sold my property in Pretoria to be able to fight these people because they financially suffocate those they have suspended so they are not able to speak out. My first disagreement with Mtose was when she wanted a company that was appointed without going on tender to be paid for offering basic computer training. Computer training offered by the Unizulu computer science department is a compulsory course to all first-year students,” Nsibande has said.
“Public works was in the process of transferring 10 houses to the asset register of the university. We had a budget for renovating those houses, but no budget in our 2013-2018 strategic plan for the R27 million purchase. I think this is when I was suspended for opposing irregular expenditure,” said Nsibande.
The court papers suggest Naicker took issue with then deputy vice-chancellor Prof Neil Garrod’s instruction that she transfer R7 million in December 2015 and about R20 million in January 2016 for the purchase of the houses Mtose had signed for, allegedly without express council resolution.
Naicker is supported in court documents on allegations of financial impropriety by a former finance director, another former CFO, a former Richards Bay campus director and a former deputy vice-chancellor. They all question whether Mtose’s decisions were taken in Unizulu’s interests.
Naicker’s dismissal letter, which she claims was never preceded by a disciplinary hearing, reads in part: “You are employed in the most senior position responsible for the finances of the institution. It is clear that you have not and cannot perform these tasks.
“We place on record that it has also been established that you are involved in a number of businesses which you have failed to disclose to the University when you were interviewed … and that you have failed to disclose same in terms of the University Disclosure Policy,” the letter continues.
A number of emails were exchanged between Mtose and Naicker within a week of Naicker assuming office as CFO at Unizulu suggest she was expected to approve a number of payments that allegedly did not adhere to Unizulu supply chain management policies. There were also alleged examples of a number of questionable single-source supplier quotations.
Naicker told The Citizen this was what prompted her to write an explosive letter to the council in which she flagged a number of transactions that took place before her arrival at Unizulu and after she was appointed.
In response, Mtose wrote a terse email in which she requested Naicker to send her “a list of corrupt activities” that she could “discuss with the chairperson of council when he is available to do so”.
The Citizen called and wrote a number of emails to both Mtose and the university spokesperson without any response.