Student aid scheme CEO offered R1.7m to quit

Steven Zwane was allegedly made an offer of R1.7m, to be accepted within 48 hours, to exit his job as the CEO of the national student financial aid scheme Nsfas.

But when he failed to sign on the dotted line, Zwane was slapped with a letter of suspension from the body on Monday, August 27.

The leadership uncertainty comes as Nsfas opens next year's funding applications on Monday.

READ: Nsfas applications for 2019 open on Monday

City Press has learnt that Nsfas administrator Randall Carolissen was in his role for only four days when he offered Zwane the exit package on August 22. The signing deadline for Zwane, who had completed just under a year of his five-year contract, was August 24.

In terms of the separation agreement drafted by Carolissen, which City Press has seen Zwane would be paid:

• R1 476 997, the equivalent of six months' salary; and

• R249 915 as balance for 22 leave days.

He would also be assisted with any costs linked to early termination of his accommodation lease agreements in Cape Town, where Nsfas head offices are situated.

Suspension

The deal fell through when Zwane did not sign on August 24. Three days later he received a notice to place him on "precautionary suspension pending investigation and thereafter, the outcome of any disciplinary action, if such action is taken".

Zwane refused to comment on the offer he was made.

Carolissen said he could not comment on the grounds for Zwane's suspension as it was "still under investigation".

In the suspension letter, Carolissen said that Nsfas would conduct an investigation into Zwane's performance and conduct and "the extent to which you may have failed to discharge your duties and obligations".

He further said that the scheme had not been able to close its funding cycle for 2017/18, since some students had not received their allowances and some institutions their fees. Zwane further faced allegations of maladministration, manipulation of procurement processes and misleading the board. Trade union Nehawu had also made several allegations against him that required further investigation.

Zwane has previously faced similar allegations that Nsfas, in a July interview with City Press, called untrue. These included allegations from Nehawu that Zwane had made irregular appointments of managers who were his subordinates at his previous employer Absa and that he gave a tender to his former Absa boss to consult for Nsfas payments. There are also claims that Standard Bank and the scandal-ridden VBS Mutual Bank were awarded a Nsfas tender roll.

READ: Students' R30bn aid in shambles

'Political tug-of-war'

A source familiar with the Nsfas operations said Zwane was "a casualty in a political tug-of-war and his refusal to maintain the order at Nsfas meant he was a stumbling block to the institution and those who benefited financially from the demise of the R30bn student scheme".

This comes after Zwane implemented the student-centred model, which means the scheme sends money directly to students instead of universities and colleges disbursing funds.

Zwane, according to the source, will fight his suspension and the charges.

The source said Zwane was taken by surprise when Nsfas and the department of higher education and training announced that 2019 applications would open tomorrow. This was "the very presentation he made to Parliament on August 16" which was then "put to a halt by the ministry". These are now the same plans being implemented by Carolissen.

Carolissen denied that he would tomorrow implement the plans presented by Zwane, saying he and his team had "been hard at work in the past eight days and we have a completely new plan which will be announced close to the launch".

He refused to comment on whether he agreed with the Nsfas student-centred model, saying all systems were under assessment. "My job is to fix what is wrong. I don't know when the problems started – whether it was before or during his term – but I am here to fix."