Council chairman blames poor structures, indiscipline
MASERU — The chairperson of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Council says the country’s highest institution of learning is in a big mess because of poor governance structures and indiscipline among management, lecturers and students.
NUL has over the years been hurtling from crisis to crisis, highlighted by student protests and the university’s failure to produce audited accounts in the last two years.
Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane (pictured below) — in his first newspaper interview since he and the NUL Council he heads were appointed in December — says the university’s vice-chancellor Professor Adelani Ogunrinade had failed to stop the rot.
Ogunrinade was, as exclusively revealed by the Sunday Express last week, fired on Monday over a raft of allegations including financial embezzlement.
Monyamane has, however, refused to confirm Ogunrinade’s dismissal.
He says NUL — established in 1975 — is failing to meet the “professional needs of this country” because of the crisis at the college.
Monyamane says his council will have to take extraordinary measures to repair the institution’s damaged reputation and pull its plummeting standards to international levels.
The council is the university’s highest decision-making body.
Monyamane admits NUL’s 11th council is up against a “system and environment that has been poisoned”.
Part of the current problems, he says, is the legacy created by inconsistent governance structures.
This, Monyamane says, has entrenched a culture of lack of transparency, responsibility and accountability.
That culture has been allowed to go on for too long, he says.
He says, for instance, the university has not produced audited accounts for the past two years which means it has not accounted for the millions that NUL received from the government in the form of subvention funds.
“The 2007-08 audit report is only a draft,” Monyamane says.
“There is nothing for the 2008-2009 financial year.
“They have not produced audits for the 2009-2010 year.”
It is sad that such critical issues have not been addressed, Monyamane laments.
“Under Ogunrinade the university has failed to produce basic things like monthly management accounts,” he says.
“It has no audit committee. The audits, by the way, are the responsibility of the vice-chancellor as the chief accounting officer.
“There are no clear financial and human resources polices.
“There are no guidelines and procedures.”
He adds: “The university is governed by statutes and ordinances that create a conflict of interest because they are blurred.
“There are no clear job specifications and descriptions.”
This has been caused by the fact that the ordinances and statutes are not aligned with the Tertiary Institutions Act of 2004 and other laws of the land, Monyamane says.
He says the mess at the Roma campus has continued unabated because the university does not have a clear financial policy to guide expenditure and allocations.
“Right now there is no set limit as to how much (money) the management can approve,” he reveals.
Yet there are other serious problems that have been spawned by the lack of a clear financial policy.
Resources have not been properly allocated according to the university’s priorities, Monyamane says.
NUL has been using 85 percent of its annual grant from the government on salaries and staff emoluments.
This has starved other key areas like research, teaching facilities and infrastructure.
NUL has also failed to introduce new academic programmes relevant to the challenges facing the country.
The university, Monyamane reveals, has also been giving housing and car loans to staff at a 10 percent interest rate without government approval.
“NUL is not a financial institution,” he says.
“It cannot use taxpayers’ money for staff loans but the VC has allowed it to continue happening.”
He adds: “(Ogunrinade) has allowed workers to carry over their leave days in breach of the law.
“The university has now been forced to pay some workers for up to 500 leave days that were allowed to accumulate until the end of their contracts.
“Now, if we are to pay all workers their accumulated leave days we would need about M39 million.
“Had the management been prudent we would not be facing the risk of losing such a huge amount.
“That is money we should be using for core issues.”
There are other inherent problems that have made accountability and transparency rare commodities at NUL.
According to Monyamane, the vice-chancellor has had too much power by chairing the investment, academic, procurement and finance and development committees.
The vice-chancellor is also the university’s chief accounting officer.
Monyamane says this is a serious anomaly that has been the root cause of much of the transactions that have left the university’s financial records in tatters.
“When you hold all those crucial positions there are no checks and balances to ensure transparency and accountability,” he says.
“The VC can do virtually anything.”
With transparency and accountability virtually non-existent, donors and other organisations have deserted the university, leaving its research projects in limbo.
NUL has also failed to attract and retain professors.
These fundamental problems have scared away donors that were otherwise willing to support the university with research grants, according to Monyamane.
“The reputation has been damaged,” he says.
“Donors don’t want to put their money in institutions that lack transparency.
“They don’t want to fund organisations that can’t account for the money.
“This is exactly what has been happening under the VC.”
The government too, he says, finds itself in a difficult position because it has an obligation to fund NUL even if the university does not account for the money.
Last year the Kellogg Foundation pulled the plug on a US$800 000 grant to NUL following damaging allegations that Ogunrinade had unprocedurally paid himself a US$100 000 honorarium which he claimed was for his role in managing the project.
The Kellogg Foundation is a United States organisation that funds capacity building projects.
There were also allegations that basic corporate ethics had been flouted when the vice-chancellor approved hefty allowances for college employees who were part of the project.
Ogunrinade is also alleged to have paid himself a whopping M20 000 for “officially opening” a workshop funded by Irish Aid to train NUL student leaders.
Monyamane says, under Ogunrinade, standards at NUL have plunged and the quality of graduates has inevitably suffered.
He says the council has “become extremely worried about the quality of our graduates”.
“I see these things in the industry,” Monyamane says.
“I see the inadequacies that these people have in meeting the urgent needs of the industry and the country as a whole.
“Our output does not support the economy.
“Most of those people (graduates) only think of joining the government.”
Monyamane says his council is aware that some lecturers “never teach but spend most of their time running private businesses”.
They have abandoned the students, he says.
There is a shortage of academic staff and professors at NUL.
“The university can’t retain qualified academic staff,” Monyamane says.
“It also can’t attract professors.
“This is precisely what Ogunrinade was hired to deal with but still nothing has improved.”
The chaos at NUL had been worsened by employees who are preoccupied with playing political games and toppling the leadership rather than doing their work, Monyamane claims.
“We have an academic staff union and a non-academic staff union. Then we have an administrative staff union,” he says.
“Now the question is: who is the administrative staff unionising against?”
This unionism, he says, has made it extremely difficult for the university to discipline truant employees.
Monyamane says in most cases when a worker is called to a disciplinary hearing he or she brings a lawyer and “turn the hearing into a court”.
“The law says a worker is allowed to bring a colleague but what has been happening is that most opt to bring workmates that are from another department and they are lawyers,” he says.
“This has turned the hearings into court sessions.
“And because of that we now have workers who have been getting salaries for years without working.
“The reason is that the process would have been sabotaged.
“That situation frustrates the disciplinary procedures that are clearly laid out in accordance with the labour laws of this country.”
The university is polarised as well because there are no clear structures to deal with grievances and resolve disputes.
“This culture of politicising everything,” Monyamane says, “has spilled into government which is the major employer of most of the NUL graduates.
“These people are coming from NUL with the same political mindset and they have no time to focus on delivering services to the people.”
Monyamane says while employees concentrate on fighting political battles the university has lost its focus.
NUL’s curriculum has also not moved with the changing times because “people have little time to focus on the core business of teaching and creating a conducive learning environment”.
The result is a country that has inadequate human resource capacity, Monyamane says.
NUL students themselves don’t seem interested in their education, he adds.
“You have students who are busy drinking beer,” Monyamane says.
“When students drink beer they can’t concentrate on their studies and they subject themselves to risk.”
NUL’s inadequacies are already apparent in the industry that it seeks to provide with skills, he says.
“We have no people who are trained in negotiation and dispute resolution, for example,” Monyamane says.
“For years we have depended on experts from outside or locals that are not trained in that field.
“Look at the negotiations in the Southern African Customs Union.
“The South Africans dominate the negotiations not only because of the (economic) muscle that they have but also because they are trained to negotiate.
“We don’t have such people who are equipped to negotiate at that high level.”
Monyamane is also worried about NUL’s failure to meet the human resources requirements of the health sector, something he is passionate about since he is a medical doctor.
“We have a university but there are not enough doctors, nurses and paramedics,” he says.
“There are no physiotherapists in the country.
“We have a university but we can’t train our own speech and occupational therapists.
“Our doctor-patient ratio is probably the worst in southern Africa.
“Our nurse-patient ratio is particularly bad.
“We have been relying on doctors from outside for years.”
Monyamane says since its appointment his council has been engaging stakeholders to find lasting solutions to NUL’s problems.
The council has met students, staff, support organisations, government ministries, churches, alumni, the diaspora and the Roma community.
These stakeholders all agree that things have gone haywire and there must be change, Monyamane says.
“But they don’t know how it can be changed,” he adds.
Monyamane believes the change must start with a healing process and getting stakeholders working together.
“There is so much anger,” he says.
“The students are angry and so are the administration, academic and management staff.
“The non-academic staff think they are being sidelined.”
But he says his council is about to take these problems head-on.
“We want to improve the communication structure, management, transparency, accountability, governance and responsibility,” Monyamane says.
“We want to strengthen the disciplinary processes so that they are fair and just.
“We have also formed specific committees within the council to deal with the problems of management, financial accountability, risk management and audit.
“The induction of the council was done by the audit firm to train the councillors and the student representative council on good corporate governance.
“That training will also be extended to management, all employees and students.
“The students have been included in the training because they too have mismanaged their own allocation from the subvention account.
“The SRC as a body corporate did not run its affairs in a transparent, ethical, responsible and accountable manner, leading to unrest that destabilised the institution.”
Monyamane says they will impose these measures on the NUL’s management because the council plays an overseer role and has to ensure all tasks are performed in accordance with the university’s vision and the strategic plans.
“Good corporate governance and ethical behaviour should be the key values for all students, staff and the council itself as well,” he says.
“Only then can we be able to shape the perceptions of the stakeholders.
“Only then can we be seen as a good corporate citizen.”