The Director-General (DG) of the Department of Higher Education and Training, Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde has been placed under precautionary suspension by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande disclaimer audit opinion by the Auditor-General of South Africa.
When an auditor issues a disclaimer of opinion report, it means that they are distancing themselves from providing any opinion at all related to the financial statements.
Nzimande said precautionary suspension is placed following forensic investigations into the National Skills fund.
In May, Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) as well as the National Chairperson of the IFP Youth Brigade Mkhuleko Hlengwa, Together with Scopa committee members held a meeting was in the form of hearing to learn the state of affairs of the National Skills Fund (NSF).
According to the minutes of the meeting, the Committee was concerned that in the most recent audit by Auditor General South Africa (AGSA), the Auditor General was said she was unable to express an opinion as to the financial state of the NSF given that many of its invoices were not deemed to be sufficient proof of the expenditure of public funds.
In attendance was the NSF CEO Mvuyisi Macikama, Nzimande and Qonde.
The point of the meeting was to discuss the deteriorating audit outcomes over the past three years and, according to the minutes, the committee “did not find the responses to be satisfactory” and wanted to know who the Minister would hold to account and what he would do and it called for a forensic investigation into the NSF.
Nzimande said he has been concerned about the deteriorating state of affairs at the NSF for some time now, as evidenced by the progressively worse audit outcomes over the last few years.
“If one only looks at the AG findings in its 2019/20 audit opinion, it is significantly different to the qualified audit opinion of the previous year in that AGSA is saying is that the NSF has failed in its duty to keep records evidencing its skills development expenditure,” said Nzimande.
He added that his main concern is that the auditor general said she cannot express an opinion on the financial statements of the NSF, and therefore not able to give an audit assurance that the NSF skills development expenditure was regular.
“More seriously, AGSA is saying that it cannot say that the money was spent for what it was allocated. This is a very serious finding which he takes seriously,” said the minister.
Qonde is one of the longest-serving DGs in government as he has been in charge of the department after the split of the department of education into two; basic education and higher education, more than 10 years ago.
Nzimande said the DG’s suspension is in terms of the Public Service Act and the SMS handbook, in the wake of a disclaimer audit opinion by the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA).
He said Dr Phil Mjwara was appointed following Qonde’s precautionary suspension and will serve as acting DG until the conclusion of the investigations and any process that may ensue thereafter.