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Intellimali apologises to NSFAS for R14.1m student payment blunder

Sibongile Mani was sentenced to five years in prison following charges of theft after she overspent National Student Financial Aid Scheme funds. More than R14m was deposited into her account in 2017, instead of the R1,400 she was entitled to.
PAY DAY Sibongile Mani was sentenced to five years in prison following charges of theft after she overspent National Student Financial Aid Scheme funds. More than R14m was deposited into her account in 2017, instead of the R1,400 she was entitled to.
Image: MICHAEL PINYANA

Independent service provider Intellimali has finally apologised to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) more than six years after the company erroneously credited R14.1m to a student’s account. 

The Cape Town-based company, which gave Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student Sibongile Mani access to R14.1m instead of a R1,400 food allowance in June 2017, was asked by NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo to clear its name. 

Mani was convicted of theft and sentenced to five years in prison in March last year after she spent R818,000 on alcohol, cigarettes, electrical appliances, bedding and toys. She was given leave to appeal against her sentence.

Intellimali, which was responsible for disbursements of funds to students at WSU, was part of a delegation from FirstRand that made a presentation to NSFAS in May in response to a bid for a multimillion-rand student allowance payment contract. 

The new contract for the direct payment of allowances to students, which was introduced in July, was awarded to Coinvest Africa, eZaga, Norraco Corporation and Tenet Technology. 

Last Wednesday, students from Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape marched to parliament in Cape Town demanding the system be scrapped. 

Nongogo, who was an observer at the presentation, asked Michael Ansell, the CEO of Intellimali, whether the weaknesses “that led to the student being paid R14m have been addressed”. 

“Why is it that Intellimali never bothered to clear NSFAS name in as far as indicating that it is it [Intellimali] that made the mistake and not NSFAS?”

If for some reason we did owe NSFAS an apology, I do apologise. It’s not something I was aware of. So if for some reason the feeling in the house is we should have said sorry to NSFAS or done more, I do apologise.
Michael Ansell, CEO of Intellimali

Ansell said: “If for some reason we did owe NSFAS an apology, I do apologise. It’s not something I was aware of. So if for some reason the feeling in the house is we should have said sorry to NSFAS or done more, I do apologise.” 

Commenting on the R14m saga, he said “an event like that is a seismic hit for a company like ours. 

“We have had to look very hard and carefully at our business. All our data is in multiple data security environments that are not owned by us. They are owned by listed third companies so we have taken a great deal of care to make sure all the data is stored and managed very professionally.”

Ansell said they had “increased the amount of internal flags and checks to ensure these sort of things get noticed and get picked up”.

“In the investigation we were instructed to have a forensic audit to clear our own name and that was really our focus.” 

He said Ernst & Young conducted a forensic audit and “found no wrongdoing at Intellimali”. 

“Then the department of higher education were not happy. They instructed their own forensic department and did the same investigation . They came to the same outcome, ‘no wrongdoing at Intellimali’.” 

He said Intellimali “had never at any point, as I recall, ever said the wrongdoing was at NSFAS. We never said that.”

At this point Nongogo interjected saying that “whenever the story gets reported to the media it is NSFAS who paid the student”.

“I am asking why Intellimali never said, 'no, no, it was us'.” 

Responding to this, Ansell said: “The advice we got from our public relations team was to say less. We took the advice and did not engage the media. We don’t actually have perhaps the professional skills to engage a rampant media.” 

He said it cost them R818,000 which they put back into the system “so that the students would get their food”. 

“It cost us a further R800,000 to have the audits done and there was also the reputational pain.” 

Ansell told TimesLIVE the context of his apology was “an attempt to repair a relationship with NSFAS which had been strained since 2017”. 

“Intellimali underwent two external forensic investigations and a detailed process with the public protector and on all counts was found to have committed no operational error nor were any of the staff at Intellimali guilty of misconduct.” 

He said their systems were secure and there have been no incidents in the past six years. 

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported at the weekend that governance experts described Nongogo’s presence at the presentations by bidders as “totally improper”. 

Nongogo was given a leave of absence by the NSFAS board last week after allegations about his work at the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Sseta) while he was the CEO.

Tshegofatso Ntumba, the director of Coinvest Africa, was also a director of a company that won a R29m contract at the Sseta while Nongogo was the CEO. 

Ntumba’s company, Star Sign and Print, won the bid to supply promotional T-shirts, caps, lanyards, USB sticks and other items. 

Among the goods it provided were 20,000 exam pads at a unit cost of R214. These retail for about R21 according to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa). 

TimesLIVE

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