Poor mismanagement and the abuse of funds is what has really brought down the University of Eswatini, once a prestigious institution in the region and the pride of emaSwati. Today, judging from how management conducts itself, all that matters is that the staff gets paid lucrative salaries while its core function as a learning institution no longer matters.
Management at the cash-strapped University of Eswatini has come under fire for running down the country’s highest institution of learning, which was once considered the pride and joy of eSwatini.
Despite the poor subvention the university receives from government annually, management at the crumbling institution have been accused of living large at the expense of the entity they lead which is now a pale shadow of its former self.
Mismanagement has been alleged, but the institutions Registrar, Dr Salebona Simelane denies any allegations of mismanagement or wrong doing.
One exhorbitant expense that has been identified and stands out, amongst others, is the university’s huge wage bill, which as of March last year was perched at over E500 million, which is higher than the subvention of E446million.
A document on the university finances, which has been handed to the university’s Chairperson of Council, Prince Mkhumbi, council members, Minister for Education and Training, Lady Howard-Mabuza, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Njabulo Thwala and the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Sizakele Dlamini reveals that the institution spends far beyond its means.
In the financial year ended in March 31, 2022, the university’s financial statements show that over the years it had an accumulated losses of about E1.228 billion (E1 227 865 348).
In that year alone, the university incurred a loss of over E119 million and in the previous year ended March 2021 it had incurred a loss of over E189 million.
The university continues to incur deficits because it spends beyond its income, such that total costs of E713 969 275 exceeded total revenue and operating income of E592 925 145 by E121 044 130 (20.4%).
“Therefore, it will struggle to settle obligations, as and when they fall due for payment,” reads the document.
It adds: “The operating costs, particularly staff costs, are too high and unsustainable. The income of the university does not cover (breakeven) the operating costs and only a meagre amount of income that is directed to operational costs.”
The university’s wage bill is far higher than the annual subvention it gets from government and an impeccable source said this is an indication that the management places priority over the institutions’ tour of duty.
“How on earth do you begin to spend money that you don’t have? It has become obvious the university administration has placed as a priority their stomachs over their mandate. The education of emaSwati is now a side issue,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The revelations about the university’s expenditure pattern, no longer shocking though, comes as the House of Assembly has been, like the kicks of the proverbial dying horse, pestering government to set up an investigation into the operations of the university.
It should be recalled that in May last year, Auditor General, Timothy Matsebula released a special report showing astonishingly high expenditure at the institution of higher learning.
However, the House of Assembly remained silent. Preceding the release of the AG’s report was series of student protests that more than often disrupted classes.
However, this did not wake parliament from its deep slumber. It was only shaken up by the two months long fully-paid strike action by academic and non-academic staff demanding improved wages recently.
It appears the House of Assembly will be dissolved in the next few months ahead of the national elections slated for September without its demand for an investigation into Uneswa having been carried out.
As a higher institution of learning, with all the expertise in finance at its disposal, the university also lost about E6 million it invested with Ecsponent, pyramid scheme that presented itself as an investment company.
Ecsponent sunk with millions of Emalangeni in investments by emaSwati. Some emaSwati who invested with the company have taken the legal route in their bid to recover their money.
However, all indications seem to suggest that there is no hope the money will ever be recovered as Ecsponent no longer exists.
The university had devised a strategy not to fully disclose its operating expenses. For example, the document reveals, operating expenses of over E75 million were not disclosed or “detailed in the financial statements, as such they remain unknown.”
The university had only detailed operating expenses of over E36 million.
Reads the document as it paints a grim picture on the future of the university: “Current liabilities amounting to E1 152 030 785 exceeded current assets which amounted to E121 579 433 by E1 030 451 352.
“This indicates an extremely poor liquidity ratio which is getting progressively worse when comparing with the previous years.”
The Ministry of Finance has taken steps to salvage the situation by writing off a debt of E1.3 billion the university had with the Eswatini Revenue Services. The implications of the write off to the university is not known.
Registrar of the university, Dr Simelane could only confirm that a resolution on the problem it had with ERS has been found.
However, the university’s list of woes does not end there. It also owes its employees a total of over E203 million.
This comprises accrued leave pay of E107 854 256, UNESWA pension fund E61 404 922, gratuities debt of E33 654 504 and allowances debt of E13 800.
On allegations of mismanagement, Dr Simelane said: “Allegations of mismanagement have come thick and fast…
“The University as a public institution is statutorily required to have its financial statements audited and this happens without fail.
“These Audited Financial Statements are submitted to the following: Ministry of Education and Training for onward transmission to Parliament, Director of Public Enterprise Unit, Auditor General and Principal Secretary Ministry of Finance. These Government entities sign for receipt of the Audited Financial Statements.”
He added: “Incidentally the Ministry of Education & Training would withhold the university subvention if the Audited Financial Statements have not been submitted.
“The University ably accounts for all funds received from government and those internally generated. The Auditors issue unmodified audit opinion (clean bill of health).
“After every audit, they nonetheless draw particular attention to matters of concern such as the inadequate funding of the university which threatens the appropriateness of the going concern assumption.”
Dr Simelane said additionally, the university has an internal audit office which complements the work of management and the external auditors
“Finally, let it be known that the university has never failed to submit its Audited Financial Statements as well as the Quarterly PEU Reports.
“Admittedly there have been instances of late submission but in such cases the university is proactive in informing the relevant offices about such,” he said, adding: “…we are not aware of the alleged mismanagement of resources at the university.”
The AG is on record expressing his displeasure at the way management of funds at the university is handled.
This he did in his special report last year. It can be revealed that the AG is still not happy and he has demanded answers from the Ministry of Education. This should have been done by beginning of this month.
It has been established that, among the queries the AG is the violation of the Public Enterprises (Control and Monitoring) Act of 1989 that involves the payment of utility allowances to executives above those set by the law; payment of higher salaries to executives in violation of the law and inclusion of the chairperson of council in the payment roll which means he is on full time salary and composition of the university council.
The chairperson was reportedly on a monthly salary of E100 000. It has been explained that this was done following a resolution by council.
The AG has been consistent that the university council members are far more than those stipulated in the Public Enterprise Act.
Management have always insisted that appointment of council members is in line with provision of the University Act of 1982.