WSU student accidentally paid R14 million

LORINDA MARRIAN

Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student Sibongile Mani was accidently paid R14 million into her student account. The student was meant to receive a monthly allowance of R1 400 from the National Student Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and was instead given millions more.

It has been reported that Mani has spent R818 000 of the total amount, living a lavish lifestyle which included frequent trips to night clubs and expensive shopping sprees. The scandal broke when someone found a receipt belonging to Mani which had a remaining balance of R13 659 249.53, and posted it on social media.

It is not yet clear as to how the money ended up in the student’s account. Michael Ansell, CEO of Intellimali, the company that pays out student grant and support money, says that they are currently investigating the case, as the amount was checked and confirmed to be R1 400 before it was deposited. The company has taken full administrative responsibility for the error and states that neither NSFAS nor the university will be held responsible. NSFAS spokesperson Siphe Matomela said that they are not sure if the R14 million came from the university’s funds or NSFAS. Intellimali has since withdrawn the remaining amount and closed the account for investigation. Ansell also added that no student’s financial aid would be affected and that they have already implemented necessary controls to avoid an incident like this again.

WSU spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo said that Mani will be liable for the amount of money that she has already spent, and added that the university has opened a fraud case, as financial aid cards like the Intellicard issued by Intellimali, can only be used at specific stores for food and books. Mani has made no official statement on the matter so far, however Twitter and Facebook account’s using her name and photo have stated that, not only was the university aware of the money deposited, but they also told her that she could spend the money. However, neither of these accounts have been verified.

Prof Birgit Kuschke, from the Department of Private Law under the Faculty of law at UP and an admitted attorney of the High Court speaking to Perdeby said that the student can be held liable to pay back the money on three different civil claims. Firstly, the student can be held liable based on an unjustified enrichment claim which states that since it was an undue payment, she will have to pay back the money that she was enriched with or what the university was impoverished with, whichever is the lesser. Secondly, the liability to pay damages for the losses could be based on delict as the student clearly knew that the money could not belong to her and therefore should not have spent the money without enquiring from the university where it came from and why it was transferred to her in the first place. She added that no reasonable student would assume that this is just her “lucky day” and that she can just keep and spend this unexpected windfall. Thirdly, the liability could be based on a breach of contract as her contract with the university clearly outlined how much she should have been paid and what exactly she could spend that money on. As Mani did not report the incorrect amount and as she used the money on expenses and for purposes not stipulated in the contract, she may have potentially breached her contract with the university in a number of ways. Prof Kuschke further added that a criminal conviction could be pursued if the student intentionally misappropriated the funds, and a claim be made under the Proceeds of Crimes Act to reclaim payment. Irrespective of the nature of the claim for repayment, if the student does not have the money to pay back the amount, recouping the losses over time by for example attaching her assets could take a long time.

 

Photo: Walter Sisulu University website

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