Higher Education and Training Director-General, Gwebinkundla Qonde, has been placed on precautionary suspension, pending a forensic investigation into the National Skills Fund (NSF).
"The suspension of the DG is in terms of the Public Service Act and the Senior Management Service handbook [for the public service], in the wake of a disclaimer audit opinion by the Auditor-General (AG) of South Africa," Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, said in a statement.
During a virtual briefing in May, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) told Nzimande that the NSF has been consistently receiving qualified audit outcomes from the AG since the 2015-2019 financial years, and a disclaimer for the 2019/20 financial year.
The committee noted that NSF has a bad history of audit outcomes and the fact that the outcome was worse for 2019/20. The committee told the Minister that the 2019/20 outcome has indicated that the situation is deteriorating at the NSF.
Nzimande told the committee that there is a process of reviewing he has initiated, which includes, among other things, governance and other critical structures of the NSF.
The Minister said he has appointed a three-person committee to perform the task which is underway, and that all the contracts that are above R1 million are going to be authorised by him, as the fund is being reviewed.
Following the precautionary suspension of Qonde, Nzimande has appointed Department of Science and Innovation, Director General Dr Phil Mjwara, to act as the Director-General of Higher Education and Training, until the conclusion of the investigations and any process that may ensue thereafter.
Mjwara is appointed with immediate effect from 23 July 2021.
Nzimande has wished Mjwara well in his new responsibility, and urged all employees and stakeholders of the department to fully cooperate with the acting DG.