Professor Barney Pityana has been appointed as the independent assessor of Vaal University of Technology (VUT).
Pityana, a seasoned academic, was appointed by Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor on last Friday. The minister also appointed Professor Rocky Ralebipi-Simela to work with Pityana.
This comes after City Press published an exposé about the university’s vice-chancellor, Gordon Ndodomzi Zide, being embroiled in controversy over the appointment of a female director in his office.
Read: VUT head investigated over appointment of unqualified female director
The university’s staff also embarked on a strike last week over salary increases, which brought the university to a standstill and resulted in the postponement of mid-year exams.
There was also an online movement, #SaveVUT, which issued a statement calling for council members to resign, amid allegations that it did not quorate owing to resignations and that it had taken illegal decisions that could constitute fraud and fruitless expenditure.
Pandor’s spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said on Tuesday afternoon that Pityana’s appointment was not only a response to several requests made to the minister by various stakeholders, including council members, but was also to ensure that the ministry got to the bottom of the challenges facing the university.
City Press has seen a letter dated Friday last week, in which Pandor wrote to VUT council chairperson Tebogo Hlapolose and copied Zide and university registrar Dan Mokoena, advising them about her decision.
In the letter, she said “in light of the circumstances that have risen at VUT that undermine the effective functioning of the university, I have decided to intervene by appointing an independent assessor in terms of section 44(1) of the Higher Education Act (Act 101 of 1997, as amended)”.
“The overall purpose of the investigation is to advise the minister on the source and nature of problems facing the institution, including those relating to governance, management, financial management and procurement practices, human resource matters, administration matters, and any other matters that may arise,” Pandor said.
She said the other purpose of Pityana’s appointment was to advise her on measures required to restore good governance and management at VUT.
The terms of reference for the investigation include:
. Conducting a detailed analysis of and providing a report on the various allegations and counter allegations that have been made by stakeholders at the university between last year and this year;
. Conducting a detailed analysis of and providing a report on the situation of the university governance and executive management structures, in particular their functioning and efficacy, as well as relationships between the various structures and portfolios;
. Conducting a detailed analysis of and providing a report on the current situation of the university governance and management including policies and procedures pertaining to financial management, supply chain management, human resources, information technology, student governance and life, infrastructure and policies and procedures of the institution;
. Conducting a through investigation of the financial policy and procedures of the institution, with a specific focus on the internal audit processes, procurement and tender procedures, and any specific allegations of financial irregularity that may be brought to the attention of Pityana;
. Verifying the findings of the forensic investigations conducted since 2013 and the action taken; and
. Investigating and reporting on any matters that, in the opinion of Pityana, may impact on the effective functioning of the university, from the analysis of problems relating to governance and management.
Pityana has been tasked to make recommendations on:
. Restoration of good governance, specifically in relation to the executive management headed by Zide and the council;
. Any other areas of action required to ensure the effective functioning of the university; and
. Any other recommendation that requires the attention of Pandor and the department and what action, if any, ought to be taken.
Pandor gave Pityana 90 days to complete his work and submit a written report to her.
“In terms of section 47(1), the report must contain findings of the investigation together with the reasons upon which the findings are based and recommendations of appropriate measures and why such measures are needed,” Pandor said in the letter.
Pandor also said she had noted Hlapolose’s letter dated April 18, in which the latter requested her to approve a council recovery plan.
Pandor said she had perused the plan and decided not to approve it because she deemed it “insufficient to address the serious governance and management challenges that have arisen at the university”.
She urged council to follow her directive, which she wrote in a letter on April 17 and to await Pityana’s report, which will contain “clear findings of the investigation and recommendations of appropriate measures to be taken by both council and management”.
Pandor said she trusts that the council and management, as well as the broader VUT community, will provide Pityana and Ralebipi-Simela with the necessary support and cooperation to conduct their work.
VUT spokesperson Mike Khuboni said Mokoena did put the matter on the agenda for Tuesday’s executive management council meeting.
“Unfortunately, owing to the length of issues to be discussed and the length of the agenda items, the meeting adjourned and we could not discuss this particular item for the executive management/university to express its position going forward on the matter. The vice-chancellor and the registrar had to rush to another meeting. This matter stands for discussion at the next council meeting, scheduled to take place shortly,” Khuboni said.
He said the strike by employees was called off by the workers themselves and the situation was back to normal.
“The most emphasised demand by workers was that of a salary increase of 10% for employment levels 16 to 12 and 8% for levels 11 to five. Furthermore, the employees called for the university to build its own residences rather than spending money on service providers. [There are also] many other issues that they have raised,” he said.
Khuboni said the “disturbance was minimal and the tests and lectures that were supposed to take place on the days that the protest happened were postponed by the faculty deans”.
Fortunately, he said, VUT employees are not violent and no property was damaged. The university is not taking any action against protesters.