UCT whistle-blowing hotline update

01 July 2024 | Royston Pillay, Registrar

Dear colleagues and students

In line with the commitment to offer a transparent, accountable and responsive whistle-blowing hotline service, the University of Cape Town (UCT) is committed to providing a summary of whistle-blowing activities every year.

Fraud and corruption in South Africa remain a real challenge that society faces. Both extend across society and impact higher education institutions. Recent prominent reported fraud cases have captured the public’s attention. The UCT fraud and corruption prevention policy and response plan was approved by Council in 2022. The policy describes available channels by which stakeholders should fulfil their obligation to report suspicions or knowledge of unethical, unlawful, dishonest or improper activities within the university.

In addition, the 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 make a full declaration of his or her financial interests and fiduciary roles; as well as those of their immediate family members. Equally, the policy applies to all staff of the university (where the university as employer makes deductions for Unemployment Insurance Fund contributions) and all joint staff of UCT/Western Cape Provincial Government and UCT/National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) on university or provincial/NHLS payrolls. The policy also applies to researchers undertaking research at UCT and/or under a UCT contract, grant, or other award. Honorary staff, including honorary research staff, members of, or assessors in, disciplinary tribunals are covered by the policy and are expected to make annual declarations.

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.

The UCT whistle-blowing hotline received a total of 33 unique reports in 2023. Below is a summary of some of the cases received in the past year.

Case 1

Complaint: A caller raised an irregularity in terms of admission to UCT for study purposes.

Outcome: It was established that the applicant was not initially considered on the basis of Recognition of Prior learning (RPL). The faculty does have the option to consider admissions for the academic programme concerned on an RPL basis. Administratively, the selection committee did not initially have sight of the application motivation and when it became aware that this was an RPL case the application was re-considered. This is allowed in terms of academic admissions.

Case 2

Complaint: A caller requested the university to investigate an alleged fraud matter relating to a PhD student’s misrepresentations.

Outcome: UCT investigated the matter and dealt with the complaint using internal policies. Other matters outside the authority of the university could not be followed up.

Case 3

Complaint: A caller requested the university to investigate potential unethical behaviour by staff.

Outcome: This complaint included allegations of unauthorised usage of the UCT sports club for private functions. No evidence was found that any of the named individuals hosted private functions. What the investigation established was that there was a post-match function in line with the events approval process.

Case 4

Complaint: A caller requested the university to investigate mismanagement of bursary funds by some students who had neglected to pay rent and owed a landlord substantial amounts.

Outcome: After review of documents provided, it was clear that the matter of rental payments was a private non-UCT arrangement between a student and a landlord, and therefore UCT was not able to intervene further. The landlord was within his/her rights to take the matter up through the external channels to recover monies owed in terms of the rental agreement with the students.

Case 5

Complaint: A caller requested the university to investigate potential fraud relating to the use of an illegal identity document.

Outcome: The investigation confirms that the staff member concerned does have a valid South African identity document. The identity document credentials were confirmed with the relevant external South African authorities.

Case 6

Complaint: A caller questioned a potential conflict of interest that was not declared by a staff member.

Outcome: It was confirmed that the staff member concerned had not withheld relevant information from his/her line management. It was confirmed that the staff member’s access to student marks information did not compromise the integrity of that information given the departmental controls that were in place.

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.

More information about the operation of the hotline is available from Mr Shai Makgoba, Director: Risk Compliance and Relationship Management. Departments and faculties may request a presentation on the hotline by contacting Mr Makgoba on 021 650 2754 or via email.


Royston Pillay

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