Registrar Royston Pillay provides an update on some of the cases reported and concluded in 2021:
In line with the commitment to offer a transparent, accountable and responsive whistle-blowing hotline, the University of Cape Town (UCT) is committed to providing a summary of whistle-blowing activities every year.
At a national level, there is no doubt that 2021 brought the issue of whistle-blowing into the spotlight. Prominent reported fraud cases captured the public’s attention. Fraud and corruption in South Africa are a real challenge that society faces. Both extend across society and impact higher education institutions.
An update to the UCT fraud and corruption prevention policy is currently in process and will be put to Council for consideration during 2022.
The university policy on conflict of interest at UCT and on disclosures of interests to be made by members of the university provides that every member of Council and of a Council committee must, on appointment, make a full declaration of his or her financial interests and fiduciary roles and those of his or her immediate family members.
These disclosures must be updated annually, or as soon as material changes apply since the time that a staff member has made a declaration. A staff member may not conduct business directly or indirectly with the university unless the conditions laid down in the Higher Education Act, Act 101 of 1997 as amended, have been met.
It is important to note that only Council may sanction contracts between UCT and an entity in which a Council member or a staff member has a direct or indirect interest. Where staff or their immediate family have rendered services without Council control, the university will take the appropriate remedial measures as necessary.
The UCT whistle-blowing hotline received a total of 23 unique reports in 2021. Below is a summary of some of the cases received in the past year.
Complaint: A caller raised a concern about a UCT employee being employed when they were of retirement age. The caller also raised issues of poor work performance.
Outcome: It was explained that PASS staff retirements at UCT are governed by the university’s retirement policy. In terms of this policy, normal retirement is at the end of the year in which a member turns 65 (rather than by the end of their birth month). As far as staff work performance is concerned, this should be managed through the line management system. Any Human Resources (HR) concerns are to be raised through the HR structures with the department concerned.
Complaint: Allegations of illegal activities relating to a staff member were raised by a caller.
Outcome: The university completed an investigation relating to this matter and the investigation did not confirm what was alleged. The university indicated in its report to the hotline that a further investigation will be initiated if any new evidence was to become available. No new evidence was provided but the university remains committed to considering any new details that may be provided.
Complaint: A caller requested the university to investigate potential vagrant activity related to one of the university buildings.
Outcome: A check was undertaken at the building in question, during daytime hours as well as after hours. There was no sign of any irregular activity at the building in question. The university also performed further random checks following the report, and again found no evidence of irregular activity as alleged.
Complaint: Due to the nature of the information provided in which the whistle-blower’s anonymity could not be maintained, Whistle Blowers (Pty) discussed the matter with the whistle-blower, who indicated their willingness to deal directly with university investigators.
Outcome: Upon the service provider contacting the whistle-blower, the whistle-blower stated that they wished to cancel the report and no longer intended to pursue the matter. The university accepted the whistle-blower’s wish, and the matter was not pursued further.
Complaint: A caller alleged an irregular appointment where a vacancy was not advertised.
Outcome: This matter was investigated, and it was confirmed that the appointment was short-term, T1 for five months, and in terms of UCT policy it was not advertised. The short-term contract ran its course whereafter it was ended as scheduled.
Complaint: A former university student complained about the perceived unfair academic exclusion over a decade ago.
Outcome: Owing to the period in question relating to the academic exclusion, it was not possible to ascertain all the facts of the matter. The faculty nonetheless committed to fully explaining the process involved when a student is academically excluded.
Complaint: A caller alleged that a questionable sick note was issued to a staff member by a medical practitioner.
Outcome: This allegation was investigated, and the outcome confirmed that the staff member concerned was not a recipient of a questionable sick note. It was established that the sick note was valid.
A whistle-blowing hotline helps concerned employees and students, as well as third parties associated with the university to report fraudulent, corrupt, and unethical practices at the university. There has, however, been several cases where the information provided was not sufficient for the investigators to conclude the investigation. Numerous follow-ups were made through the hotline for additional information to be provided. In cases where additional information is required but not provided, the university is constrained and therefore often unable to conclude the investigation.
Over the course of 2022, the university will be raising awareness about the whistle-blowing hotline, drafting a comprehensive whistle-blowing policy, and engaging with key stakeholders about the importance of providing adequate information to allow for a meaningful investigation.
More information about the operation of the hotline is available from Shai Makgoba, the director of risk compliance and relationship management at UCT. Departments and faculty groups can request a presentation on the hotline by contacting him on 021 650 2754 or via email.
5 May 2022