NSFAF: AG misrepresented facts …..uproar over N$148 million accountability

Obrein Simasiku

The Auditor General (AG) misrepresented facts, says the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF), in retaliation to reports that about N$148 million in student funding at various tertiary institutions is unaccounted for.

“We have it on record during our engagements with AG before the finalisation of the report in which we objected to some things, and we tried to put our inputs in it. However it seems the AG had his own version using his discretion based on powers vested in him. We are not disputing the report or what is contained [therein], but our facts were either misrepresented or facts omitted, and this should be on record,” says Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Kennedy Kanduma, countering the claims that millions cannot be accounted for.

“The money is accounted for and nothing is lost or stolen. People should not think we are a bunch of idiot or incompetent, we are qualified and doing our work diligently,” he adds.
His refutations follows a report in New Era’s Tuesday’s edition, quoting the audit report to the effect that NSFAF could not trace or verify payments of about N$147 919 395. Other issues included the payment of two CEOs, the writing off of mobile devices valued at N$9.7 million without the board’s approval; reduction of an initial N$180 million student laptops to N$59 million and double payment to 14 students to the tune of N$70 000 in the amount of N$5000 each.

Kandume thus takes a swipe at the publication saying, “the journalist is very insensitive, sensationalist and unethical, reporting without verifying facts.”

The Acting CEO provides snippets of management comment, signifying their stance that they indeed made some positive contributions and agreed to implement the AG’s recommendation. Unfortunately such are not included the final report to indicate the fund’s position

The audit report was presented to Cabinet last week, indicating that the auditors could not ascertain the completeness and accuracy of the payments made to local tertiary institutions, as the funding expenses are not supported by valid documentation, with invoices served in excel sheets. “In this regard, we had informed the auditors that we have been receiving invoices like that from various tertiary institutions in excel, these would help us tally the data on the sheets invoice with that in our system. When that issue was raised, we agreed and decided we would change to receiving the invoices in a pdf format, as well as an excel spreadsheet, just to conform to the standards of the AG. Therefore, that is how we understood the concern, and not the issue of unaccountability and tracing of money. We are accountable of the funds, nothing is lost,” clarified Kandume while apportioning blame at the AG.”

Regarding the manual write off of devices, Kandume says the N$9.7 million arose after the a National Covid-19 Response Committee, as sanctioned by the Higher Education, Technology and Innovation Ministry, had done an assessment and thus resolved on a 50% subsidy. “The devices were 28000 for N$690 then students had to get them for N$345, a subsidised price. So there is no reckless trading,” he counters.

In the same, NSFAF was corned by AG for the reduction of N$180 million, meant to purchase student laptops but was slashed to N$59 million in no certain terms. The institution pushed this at the National Covid Committee, saying an assessment was done. It was established that the majority of senior students had access to laptops. It was then decided that only 10500 laptops will be purchased and distributed, which Kandume says, resulted in the actual amount being reduced.

Regarding double payments he acknowledges the error due to systems, saying they were using student numbers as identifications but in that specific instance, the 14 students from UNAM and NUST happened to have similar student numbers. “We thought student numbers were unique, we didn’t know they could match from different institutions. That was rectified and now we are using national identification documents. The money is to be recouped, as we will deduct it from the tuition allocation of the students, lucky they are all still enrolled. The new system, if further equipped with payment limit [will] make sure none such double payments ever reoccur,” assures Kandume.

NSFAF further takes issue with the New Era report that N$5.3 billion could not be ascertained due to unclear separation of matured and unmatured loans as well as nominal. To this the fund without denying but still claiming sensational reporting says, “these are the issues we clarified, but we don’t know why they were ratified. We said to the AG that the loan book was work in progress. We have completed [the]capturing of raw data into electronic format. Basically, now the fund is busy cleaning up the captured records, calculating interest and separating matured and non-matured loans, as well as the provision of debtors to attain a clean and reasonable book.”

Kandume further cries that, “all things that were flagged in the report, most of them have been adhered to and we are continuing to do so, even things that we feel have not right, we just complying with the AG recommendations.”

The issue of two CEO, he says, so far there is only one substantive head, which is still the disgruntled Hilya Nghiwete, who is still fighting her reinstatement case in the Labour Court. “I am just acting getting an allowance, therefore it is wrong to say we have two CEOs getting paid, only one is receiving a salary.”

By Observer