NSFAS admits to parliament it awarded tenders to VBS bank to disburse student allowances

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The DA has pointed out the complaints of many students at TVET colleges about when and how they get their allowances can’t now be seen as a coincidence.

On Wednesday the portfolio committee on higher education heard from National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) administrator Dr Randall Carolissen that their scheme had awarded a tender to the now defunct VBS Mutual Bank to disburse allowances to students at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

In October it will be a year since the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) released its “VBS: The Great Bank Heist” report by advocate Terry Motau detailing how a network of the bank’s executives colluded with directors, auditors, politicians and those close to them to steal R1.9 billion of depositors’ money.

The lion’s share came from illegal deposits made by some of the country’s poorest municipalities, 14 of which lost R1.6 billion in a looting spree.

DA MP Baxolile ‘Bax’ Nodada said in a statement on Wednesday that further news that NSFAS was now even involved was “an outrageous revelation” in that NSFAS had remained “tight-lipped throughout the entire VBS scandal, never once being transparent over the fact that a tender probably worth millions of rands was awarded to this corrupt entity”.

“For many years the DA has been inundated with complaints from students at TVET colleges with regards to the fact that they often receive allowances very late. Many students have gone hungry, been evicted from their accommodation or have had to resort to loan sharks because their allowances often never arrived. It is a deplorable fact that money meant to fund the education of deserving and poor students was awarded to VBS in the form of a tender that did not even meet PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] requirements.

“NSFAS claims that they awarded the tender to VBS in 2017, and that the contract was subsequently terminated following revelations of the VBS heist. When the DA asked the NSFAS administrator whether anyone had been held accountable, they did not answer, and stated that the minister at the time was made aware of the tender.”

A forensic investigation was now under way to probe who was responsible for the decision to award the tender to VBS.

“It is completely unacceptable that an entity mandated to provide education opportunities to the poorest members of our society has possibly lost millions to VBS. Worse still, NSFAS also revealed to the committee that they currently do not have the necessary infrastructure to disburse allowances to TVET students, and institutions have been left to disburse the funds themselves. This has often resulted in the money being used for other items, rather than allowances.

“It is now clear that the corruption surrounding the VBS scandal transcends local government and extends to a national level.”

Nodada said there were still far more questions than answers regarding the information revealed today and the DA would post further parliamentary questions, including:

  • How much the VBS  contract was worth?
  • Which TVET colleges were affected by the VBS contract?
  • Whether the contract was awarded before or after National Treasury warned municipalities to remove their money from the bank.
  • Who signed off on the contract?
  • Had any of the money been recouped?
  • Whether anyone had been held accountable for the investment and the losses.

“The DA is of the view that this is a matter of national and public importance and that NSFAS must be completely transparent in its responses.

“Countless people lost their hard-earned life savings when the politically connected raided VBS’s coffers for their own personal gains, while many others have possibly been robbed of an opportunity to access an education.”

(Edited by Charles Cilliers)

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