TANZANIA – The Higher Education Students’ Loans Board (HESLB) has become the latest public institution to feel the weight of the fifth phase government’s ongoing crackdown against grand corruption in the country.

This follows the sacking of the board’s chief executive and suspension of three other senior officials over a suspected 3.2bn/- funds embezzlement scam. 

The Minister for Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training, Prof Joyce Ndalichako, yesterday announced the summary dismissal of HESLB director general George Nyattega over the scam that was uncovered in a special 2013 audit.

The senior board officials who have been suspended are Yusufu Kisare (HESLB director of finance and administration), Juma Chagonja (director of loans repayment and recovery) and Onesmo Laizer (director of loans allocation and disbursement).

Minister Ndalichako said the scam involved the unexplained disappearance of 3.2bn/- that was apparently allocated to ‘ghost’ students.

The amount involved was enough to have covered accommodation and meal costs plus tuition fees for more than 500 students at a cost of 3 million/- each annually over three years.

She explained that the loss was discovered through the special 2013 audit conducted by the Treasury’s Internal Auditor General on the board’s management of funds allocated to cover disbursement of loans to students of high-learning institutions across the country.

HESLB, which receives billions of shillings from the Treasury each year for the purpose, has had its image dented in recent years by recurrent complaints of delays in disbursing the loans to deserving students, with some of them missing out altogether for what is described as a lack of sufficient funds

This academic year, the board was allocated 155.2bn/-, but many students still protested and demonstrated over perceived unfairness in the disbursement process. 

Prof Ndalichako said the ministry had also directed the Internal Auditor General to conduct another special audit on the board’s funds management covering the period from 2013 to date, including verification of documents presented by the board.

Other officials will be appointed to fill the vacancies to allow the investigation against the suspended officials to proceed smoothly, with appropriate measures to be taken depending on the results of the investigation, the minister added.

Citing the audit report, she explained that disbursements totaling 301, 541,050/- were made to 23 students at two different higher learning institutions for three years consecutively, while another 169 students in two other institutions received 1.3bn/- in total over two years.

Some 343 unregistered students in the same institutions were issued with loans totaling 342,468,500/-, while 55 students who dropped out were paid 136,232,800/-

A total of 159,664,500/- was paid out to 306 students over and above the maximum amounts payable to each student as stipulated in the board’s loans allocation and disbursement guidelines.

According to the report as quoted by the minister, a total of 590,667,773/- was paid to 77 students who were pursuing studies abroad, of which 467,620,654/- was allocated to the universities abroad and 123,047,199/- was paid to local universities.

It was however noted that a total of 207,052,650/- which was disbursed to six higher learning institutions but not collected by the earmarked students was not returned to the board as per memorandum of understanding, while 143 students were paid a total of 173,641,700/- for years in which they were not registered, which was contrary to procedure.

“Delaying tactics have often been applied to the issuance of loans to students, and it has been common for the board to provide them with funds only after they complain to the ministry …sometimes it is not due to lack of funds but rather negligence on the part of the board’s executives,” Prof Ndalichako said.

She cited the University of Dodoma and St Joseph University (Songea and Arusha campuses), whose students were only provided with loans in January and February this year although the universities have been reopened since November last year.

Prof Ndalichako said the board had remained silent on the queries raised by the audit report until January this year when it was ordered by the ministry to respond.

“The response they submitted early this month claimed that the (audit) report was not up to standard and focused only on ‘operational audit’ which is normally done by the board’s own internal auditors,” the minister said.

In November last year, HESLB announced that it had no more funds to disburse to more than 2,000 student applicants for the 2015/2016 academic year.

The HESLB director of information, education and communication, Cosmas Mwaisoba, told The Guardian at the time that it had disbursed loans to 48,460 students out of 50,830 applicants, but could “do nothing” about those who had missed out.

However, students from different universities across the country blamed the loans board of being “too selective” in disbursement and giving little consideration to continuing students.

February 17, 2016; http://www.ippmedia.com/frontend/index.php?l=88998