THE National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) has embarked on a challenging mission to recover government grants given to thousands of Basotho for their university and tertiary education since 1978.
The department has warned that legal action will be taken against defaulters, some of who might be blacklisted by credit bureaus.
The NMDS, the government department responsible for educational bursaries, every year doles out millions of maloti to thousands of Basotho studying at local universities and colleges and at institutions in South Africa.
But very few of them have bothered to pay back, even in part, and simply disappear into thin air once they graduate.
Even if anyone knows where they are, the biggest impediment has however been the mess at the NMDS.
The NMDS has for years hobbled on without a functional system to recover taxpayers’ money loaned to students.
That’s why it has been hard to recover any meaningful amounts because the records are shambolic.
Yet the bursary scheme is meant to be a revolving fund that should continue to benefit Basotho students every year.
Thus many people panicked when Finance Minister Timothy Thahane announced the government intended to cut down the number of student loan recipients.
He had earlier warned the government could not continue funding students when former beneficiaries were failing to repay their loans.
That’s why we will watch with keen interest how the NMDS will attempt to recover the millions of maloti from defaulting graduates.
It is clear that the recovery measures will not be easily implementable lest the NMDS get its house in order first.
And the task is quite onerous for a department that had become synonymous with the twin evils of incompetence and corruption.
Tracing the defaulters from as far back as 1978 — when the NMDS started sponsoring students — will be arduous.
It’s only encouraging that the government has at last shown the will to stop the mess and recover taxpayers’ money.
We can only wish the NMDS good luck.
And the department needs loads of it for it will find it hard to trace many of the defaulters.
If their files have not been lost, some of them have died.
If they are not unemployed, they are working in South Africa.
This would not be the case if the NMDS was all these years run like a critical department that it is.
The defaulting rate would not be as high as it is too if the government was creating jobs for the thousands of Basotho who graduate from universities and colleges every year.
Very few of the graduates are absorbed into the civil service and the private sector is not big enough to employ a meaningful number of them every year.
So how does the government expect to recover loans from the many jobless graduates we have in this country?
Many of those who can’t get jobs here simply cross the border to sate South Africa’s hunger for human resources.
Those who remain engage in little self-run projects and nothing can stop them from telling the NMDS they can’t repay their loans because they are not employed.
The other problem is that the NMDS also uses taxpayers’ money to fund degrees and courses that will not in the near future benefit our country.
Priority should be given to students studying degrees relevant to our economy.
It could help a lot if the government were to have another look at who really deserves sponsorship especially in these trying times.
Those who want to study robotics, for example, which is not relevant to our needs at the moment, can do that using their own money.
We need economic and business minds, teachers, agriculturists, healthcare workers and mineral experts among many other critical requirements.
But even if students in those fields are sponsored by the government, they will need jobs that pay competitive salaries.
We need not say more.