NSFAF board out in three weeks’ time - Kandjii-Murangi

Higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi said the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) outgoing board would leave in three weeks' time.

Kandjii-Murangi's confirmation comes months after The Villager reported that her and public enterprises minister Leone Jooste sought advice from attorney general Sacky Shanghala on letting the board and the NSFAF chief executive officer go.

Shanghala had said they could fire the Patty Karuaihe-Martin led board with immediate effect. 

In his emails seen by The Villagers then, Shanghala told the ministers that he had sought advice from Prime Minister Saara Kuungogelwa-Amadhila who told him that the new board would deal with the chief executive officer Hilya Nghiwete. 

Media reports last week indicated that Karuaihe-Martin and another board member had resigned and that Cabinet had already identified members of the new board expected to start in January.

Murangi, who at first referred this publication to the board to answer for itself, said there would not be any need for an exit strategy for anybody whose days were numbered.

“I have pronounced myself many times. I do not know what you want me to say. We even went to the extent of even now presenting the new board to take up in January as per law," she said. 

The chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Mike Kavekotora, who has vehemently called for the immediate dismissal of the board, differed with Kandjii-Murangi.

The minister dismissed Kavekotora when he said an additional budget of N$801.1 million to the higher education ministry that would benefit NSFAF in its current form was unacceptable because it was “in a mess”.

She said NSFAF had not disadvantaged any student and any such conclusions would be misleading. 

Kavekotora said the minister misfired and is not in touch with reality at NSFAF. 

“I am concerned because, if the minister is not aware of what is happening with NSFAF then one has to be concerned because that is a custodian minister. 

"She is the one who has to protect the resources of the state that are being allocated to the ministry. But she seems to be saying that everything is fine. She is out of touch with reality,” he said. 

This past week, the entity’s board failed to attend a meeting with Kavekotora’s committee for a public hearing.

When the snubbing of the hearing spilt into the media, The Villager received a document in which the management was calming down the staff. 

“Good morning family members, friends and comrades. I just want to update you and take you out of doubts on what is happening at NSFAF, all monies disbursed by finance is not missing,” reads the document

On account of the missing funds, it also says, “Government since 1997 up to 2012 subsidised NSFAF with a total of N$ 1.7 billion. Auditor general could not find record since 1997. 

"If an auditor does not find records in their language, they cannot express an opinion or cannot confirm if money was used for the intended purpose, i.e. given to students. 

Although I was not in the ministry nor I was the Permanent Secretary I need to answer on their behalf hence the focus is now on me as the new accounting officer for NSFAF.”

The document further explains that NSFAF did a high-level reconciliation where they listed all the money given by the finance ministry since 1997 and matched against all payments made from NSFAF bank accounts and presented it as “no money is missing”. 

“The next stage now is to look for records since 1997, meaning we need to go to universities to ask for the list of all students paid and given a second assurance that the money paid to universities went indeed to students and this is the list of students who benefited. 

"This is the stage where we are, and this exercise will take about three-six months, but we hope when parliament open, we will be able to present the Status report,” says the document. 

It also says, “NSFAF did not boycott the Public Accounts Hearing meeting, we had meetings with auditor general, our auditor PWC and we have informed the Public Accounts committee secretariat that we are not ready hence a request for postponement. Unfortunately, our request was never brought to the attention of Mr Kavekotora on time for reasons only known to those who received our letter.”

The Villager could not verify whether NSFAF CEO Hilya Nghiwete indeed penned this document.

Kavekotora was adamant that NSFAF boycotted the meeting.

“They did not meet with us. The meeting was postponed for the fact that they did not show up. It’s not a matter of I understand, but they did write a letter to us but the letter was written on the 29th of November, and we were supposed to have a hearing on the 30th. The letter was not even on my table,” he said. 

Kavekotora said NSFAF's shying away from meeting with them for a hearing is simple misbehaving which will not be entertained. 

“The only reason we did not subpoena them for a hearing next week (today) is simply that of the fact that our colleagues are not available. But as soon as they become available we are going to subpoena. We do not have a choice,” he said.