What can R14.1 million teach us all?

The recent overpayment to student Sibongile Mani of R14.1 million instead of R1 400 for her monthly food and book allowance provides an opportunity for us to ask ourselves some very pertinent questions about ethics, honesty and sense of responsibility.

It has been telling to note the various actions and reactions of the different actors in this melodrama.

Before I continue, I wish to emphasise that it is not my intention to point fingers or apportion blame. That is not for me to determine. It is for those who are tasked with the responsibility of determining all the relevant facts in order to arrive at a verdict that is just and fair to all concerned. I merely wish to pose a number of questions on the basis of what has been reported to provide food for thought as to what we are allowing to happen in our nation’s social fabric.

In the unlikely event that you are not familiar with the story, as I understand things, second year accountancy student Sibongile Mani receives monthly payments of R1 400 from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The payments are made on behalf of the NSFAS by a company called Intellicard, which deposits the money into students’ Intellicard accounts. The account is for food and books and, for obvious reasons, is supposed to only be valid at certain designated vendors.

Instead of alerting Intellicard to the overpayment and arranging for the money to be returned, Mani, who claims she did do so, nevertheless embarked on a two-and-a-half month spending spree of R818 000 at an average rate of R11 000 a day. During this time she treated herself and her friends to expensive clothing, high-end cell phones, expensive alcoholic beverages at R700 a pop (no pun intended) and lavish parties, besides some cross country excursions to high profile events. Now that the overpayment has been discovered, her world has come crashing down and she is experiencing tears and trauma.

This episode raises certain questions that the different role players need to answer. Let’s get to some of these questions …

Questions about Mani:

1. Why did she not do the obvious and simply point out the error and return the money?
2. Did she think that the error would never be discovered and/or reported?
3. Did she think that she would be allowed to keep the money if the error were discovered?
4. Did she think there would be no consequences to her spending money that was not hers?
5. If Mani did in fact alert the authorities to the overpayment, why did she then continue spending the money?

Questions about Walter Sisulu University, which she attends:

6. She is apparently a second year accountancy student. What does this say about the lectures she has (or has not) been attending?
7. Do the university’s accountancy courses never once mention in a whole year (her first year) anything about the ACCOUNT part of accountancy – that accounting for money involves accountability, honesty, ethics and a sense of responsibility?
8. If the university doesn’t think it’s their responsibility to teach their accountancy students these lessons, whose responsibility do they think it is?
9. If the university doesn’t teach their accountancy students such basic values related to accountancy, are their courses indeed up to standard for the practice of accountancy?

Questions about Intellcard:

10. How could such a basic error (overpayment) be allowed to happen?
11. How come a company in the business of making high volume payments has no checks and balances to ensure that just such an error doesn’t happen?
12. How come the error remained undetected for five months?
13. How come the error only came to light after rival students exposed what was happening and not as a result of any action by Intellicard?

For the vendors who sold Mani the luxury goods:

14. How were they, or her, able to effect the payment for goods that were completely inappropriate for a student living off a NSFAS grant?

Questions about Mani’s grandmother:

15. Mani’s very distraught grandmother, who raised her, is concerned that she spent the money on wasteful things. She says she should rather have built her a house with the money. Why would she suggest that?
16. Does her grandmother believe that using the money for something that would benefit her (the grandmother) justifies the unauthorised use of the money?
17. Does her grandmother perhaps not realise that this kind of thinking may have unwittingly contributed to her granddaughter’s actions?

Then there are other questions:

18. Did Mani feel justified in doing what she did because of the example set by many corrupt politicians?
19. What damage, then, are our corrupt politicians wreaking on the country if they are sending such messages to our youth?
20. Can the relevant authorities afford to overlook this as an error of youth and allow the student to walk away without taking responsibility for her actions?
21. If this matter is overlooked, what precedent would that set for other students being funded by NSFAS money?

Some final questions for you:

22. What can you do in your own circle of influence to prevent similar things happening?
23. Are you going to shrug your shoulders, continue paying your security company’s monthly instalments, maintain your electric fence and alarm system in good order and carry on with your own affairs?
24. Or will you realise that it’s time to make your voice known in the name of right and wrong by setting a good example with your own words and actions, teaching your children to do the same and holding people who report to you to account for their actions when they do not act with honesty and integrity?

It’s important for us to see that what happened is merely part of the symptoms of a much larger problem – as a nation, we have lost our sense of right and wrong.

You and I owe it to our country to do what we can to stop the rot!

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, @HRFuturemag, and assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery.

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