Walter Sisulu University B Tech student Sibongile Mani appeared in court on Thursday for her theft trial.
- The State charged that between 1 June 2017, when R14 million landed in Sibongile Mani’s account, until 13 August 2017, when NSFAS found out about the error, she had spent R820 000.
- Separate investigations by the Office of the Public Protector, Intelimali and Department of Higher Education and Training could not find anyone responsible for the R14 million bungle.
- Intelimali said it suffered losses after repaying Walter Sisulu University the money spent by Mani and hired auditors Ernst & Young for R500 000 to launch an investigation that did not hold anyone to account.
A former senior official at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) said he could not confirm corrupt activity led to Walter Sisulu University student Sibongile Mani erroneously getting R14 million instead of a R1 400 monthly food allowance on 1 June 2017.
Adam Williams, a former senior legal department manager at NSFAS, added unless there was a corruption element, the case against Mani would be a civil litigation and not a criminal matter.
Williams was responding during cross-examination in Mani’s theft trial in the East London Regional Court on Thursday.
A case of theft was opened by Intelimali, a Cape Town-based company responsible for distributing the NSFAS funds to students on behalf of the university.
Mani is accused of failing to report the error and embarking on a spending spree, using R820 000 in 73 days.
The State charged that between June 1 2017, when the money landed in her account, until August 13 2017, when NSFAS found out about the error, she had spent an average of R11 000 per day.
Mani was arrested in May 2018 by the Serious Commercial Crime Unit of the Hawks.
Intelimali director Roy Jackson previously told the court three institutions – the Office of the Public Protector, Intelimali and Department of Higher Education and Training – instituted investigations into the R14 million saga.
He said all the institutions came to one conclusion – that there was no one to blame for the erroneous transfer.
Jackson added he thought the multimillion-rand payment might have been due to a systems error caused by a “ridiculous or absurd” technical glitch, or a hacker.
When he was asked why he decided to open a criminal case against Mani, Jackson told the court it was because Intelimali suffered financially because of her failure to report the error immediately.
He said not only did Intelimali transfer R820 000 used by Mani, to the university, it also hired auditors Ernst & Young for R500 000 to launch an investigation that did not hold anyone to account.
On Thursday, Williams was cross-examined by Mani’s lawyer, Asanda Pakade.
Holding the loan agreement form signed by Mani and NSFAS, Pakade said: “This document is what created a relationship between the accused and NSFAS.
“Now, if a relationship is created by a contract like in this instance, any breach of that particular contract, am I correct to say that the process that would follow and unfold will be a civil litigation?”
“Yes, you are correct, unless there is a fraud or some misinformation was given at the application phase and then that could then probably go the criminal way.”
Pakade asked if he agreed with him that there was no element of corruption in Mani’s case.
Stuttering, Williams responded: “I can’t, I can’t say. I don’t think I can make a call on that.”
He told the court he worked for NSFAS for six years before he left the scheme at the end of October 2020.
The trial continues on Friday.