NSFAS CIO details reasons for his exit

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 08 Sept 2023
Modibedi Oliphant has left his role as CIO of NSFAS.
Modibedi Oliphant has left his role as CIO of NSFAS.

Modibedi Oliphant, former CIO of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), says the decision to leave the entity was brought on by budget and capability constraints.

This week, Cape Times reported that Oliphant tendered his resignation after “he was served a notice letter of suspension” as a result of the IT unit’s performance.

However, the former CIO has denied claims that he was suspended, telling ITWeb his departure is based on the on lack of resources to perform his functions, among other issues.

“My resignation is a result of long-planned discussions, with differences and non-availability of resources that are needed to implement my strategy. I didn’t have people. I was working in an organisation that runs a budget close to R50 billion, but I didn’t even have a single software developer – all my software developers resigned,” says Oliphant.

“The resignation is because of the non-accessibility of resources, both financial and technical. How does one implement this audacious strategy without having people? How do I do the work? Do I leave my strategic hat and become a software developer, or analyst, or a project manager? I can’t do that. It is all these pressurised differences that are propelled by multiple things, including red tape and maybe people not listening to what I was saying.

“I couldn’t take it anymore. Like any other human being, you can hold on up to a certain point and beyond that you’ll just break yourself.”

Oliphant says he joined the organisation as a consultant, after which he officially took over the reins in March 2022, a role he terms as being a “transformational” or “change” CIO.

He adds that during his time in this role, he was not only the CIO but also the chief technology officer and chief risk officer.

“I hope whoever comes after me will pick from where I left and run with it and implement outstanding projects. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done because of the nature of the organisation and the sector they operate in – they operate in a very volatile sector.

“We’ve done our part; we developed a transformational digital strategy. We managed to redesign the structure of the ICT unit and implemented some of the initiatives, obviously with a number of limitations in terms of the speed of implementing the strategy.”

Troubled entity

NSFAS has, over the years, been faced with a number of challenges, including IT system failures and mismanagement within the scheme.

In 2020, higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande announced the appointment of a ministerial committee of inquiry to investigate business processes, including an “inadequate” R100 million IT system.

The scheme has also been at odds with students on issues and allegations relating to its new direct-payment system, including the defunding of students, outstanding appeal responses, non-responsive query system and accommodation accreditation backlogs.

NSFAS beneficiary students have expressed their discontent over the direct payment system, engaging in protest action, as well as filing complaints with the Public Protector and the South African Human Rights Commission.

In August, the NSFAS board decided to place CEO Andile Nongogo on special leave, while investigations into several allegations levelled against him were ongoing. The board further moved to appoint Werksmans Attorneys to investigate allegations against the CEO and review the entity’s procurement systems and processes.

This week, members of Parliament blasted the aid scheme over continuing failures in regards to its new direct-payment system and query system, based on a report.

As for his future plans, Oliphant says he will be taking some time off to breathe and recuperate. “I’ve taken a serious beating over the last three years, trying to become everything for the organisation.”

He believes the NSFAS will probably get someone internally to act as CIO for now, after which they will go out to market in search of someone who will fill the role.