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Heads must roll

Recipients of deposits of R14million are generally Lotto winners, and yet incredulously Walter Sisulu University has confirmed that it erroneously deposited this amount into a NSFAS student’s account. Many question arise: how could a mistake of this magnitude go undetected for five months? Surely there are checks and balances every time there is a payment run?

Perhaps the aspect that astounds and disappoints me most of all is the fact that the recipient did not raise the alarm immediately. The student is an accounting student and clearly understands numbers. Even worse than failing to report the incident is the fact that she went on a spending spree. Reports in the media differ – some say she spent R400 000, others say she spent R500 000.

Surely parents, siblings, friends, and fellow students must have started asking questions when the student concerned embarked on a spending spree of note. Any way that you look at it you are a serious shopper if you spend R80 000 per month on yourself.  Surely someone should have had the courage to be a whistle blower.

Ironically news of the NSFAS over-payment only came to light when the news went viral. One cannot help but ask if the student had kept quiet and carried on as usual and not spent a penny whether NSFAS would have picked up their mistake.

The story is deeply distressing because it raises serious questions about ethics, integrity, honesty and morality. Spending a cent more than was the students due is blatant dishonesty – some may call it theft, others, fraud.

The road ahead is treacherous. The bank cannot simply move the money from the student’s account. To so, the student would have to give her consent. The matter may very well land up in court. Recipients of NSFAS loans have to pay back the money- this is a very slow process and can take decades. Paying back the additional R400 000- R500 000 could take a life time to repay.

The matter raises serious questions: Will the student face the full brunt of the law? Will she acquire a criminal record? Will she be expelled from university? Should NSFAS take away her loan?

If we are trying to inculcate honesty, integrity and ethical behaviour in society the answer to each of these questions is undoubtedly a resounding yes.

The saddest part of all is that a young South African has gravely damaged her future prospects. Even if she completes her degree, would you hire her?

It is important to set a precedent. Where individuals involved in the pay-out were tardy, heads should roll. The student should also ‘face the music.’

I was a recipient of a TED bursary more than thirty years ago. There was an administrative error and I received a double payment. I reported the matter immediately. The TED denied any error on their part. I banked the money and did not spend a cent. I persisted with my case that I had been over paid. Eventually the TED found their mistake. I paid back the money that I owed. Could I have got away with this? Possibly. Would I have wanted to? No. A good name is above all things.

It takes all South Africans to work very hard to create a society where people are honest, ethical and have integrity. Poverty or youth should never be accepted as an excuse. Like millions of South Africans today, I was part of the “missing middle.” I was very grateful for my TED bursary which enabled me to get an education. I felt too blessed and privileged to be tempted to make a quick buck.

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