Worst ever school fraud

Following a report of corruption in The Zimbabwean in June, Ministry of Education investigations have led to the prosecution of three staff members.

Primary school children have been robbed of funds that could have improved their learning conditions.
Primary school children have been robbed of funds that could have improved their learning conditions.

The headmaster, bursar and former treasurer of Tapfuma Primary School appeared in the Magistrate’s Court on Friday for an initial hearing on charges of defrauding pupils of more than $29 000.

The scandal has shocked parents and many have called on the Ministry of Education to bring the suspects to account.

A damning audit was compiled by the ministry’s internal auditor, A. Mushaike, regarding the misappropriation of funds. It recommended that the culprits, acting headmaster Artwell Jena, former treasurer Shadreck Mari and bursar Theresa Masango, be prosecuted.

Article spurs action

Another ministry document, dated September 8, 2011 says: “There were serious incidents published by The Zimbabwean Newspaper of June 23, 2011 on the allegations of loss of school property, mismanagement of school funds, using the school head’s office as a brothel, missing school assets, theft and purchasing of school textbooks without sourcing the required number of quotations, among other irregularities.

The ministry’s district office reacted swiftly by asking the school authorities to respond to the allegations. The District and Provincial Offices teamed up and began an investigation on June 29. This marked the beginning of the unfolding of what the document described as: “the worst fraud case involving a school in the country’s history”.

Part of the audit report, which admitted some verification constraints due to the disappearance of important information, reads: “The SDA executive elected in May suspected mismanagement or misappropriation of school funds by the outgoing executive, following the presentation of a financial report for 2010.

The outgoing executive also failed to provide a financial report for the period January 1, 2011 to May 31, 2011. The SDA main cash book, a box file containing some payment vouchers for year 2010 and all payment vouchers for 2011 are alleged to have disappeared on the morning of June 29, 2011 in unclear and suspicious circumstances. Apparently this was the very day the outgoing and incoming SDA executives were due to conduct the hand-over”.

Personal cash withdrawals

The report says that during the period, the school bursar receipted a total income of $49 800, with which the headmaster concurred.

During the same period the SDA incurred expenditure of $45 631. 31 – derived from unbanked cash $12 875. 00 and $32 756.31 withdrawn from the bank.

The auditor found that Jena, Masango and Mari misrepresented the actual expenditure figures on payment vouchers by inflating the amounts and converting the difference for personal use.

Expenses for cleaning materials, stationery, transport for timber and desks, sports, gardening, salaries, repair and maintenance, computer repairs and Early Child Development Wing Retrenchments actually cost $6 935, but the accused fraudulently inflated the figure to $36 259.

The auditor said the trio took advantage of weak internal controls in the SDA’s office. There was no Control Registrar to account for the cash that exchanged hands. “Although Jena should be individually held accountable for misappropriating $730 which he purports to have spent on the garden projects over the period under review, the three accused must be jointly held accountable for the misappropriation of the $29 324, since the audit investigations could not ascertain the exact amount that was misappropriated by each of the individuals,” he said.

Gross mismanagement

The audit report also recommended that the District Education Officer should take appropriate disciplinary action against the head for gross mismanagement in: prejudicing parents of new pupils by asking them to pay registration fees which were not approved by the Provincial Education Director, failure to account for the money which was approved and collected for a one-off payment towards the construction of an Early Child Development Block, failure to follow tender procedures in the purchase of text books and the carrying out of school projects, bringing the Ministry’s name into disrepute by drinking beer in the school office and other gross irregularities.

According to the report, dishonesty on the part of the accused impacted negatively on the school as guards and workers were not paid their wages, which resulted in them taking the SDA to the Labour court. Ministry buildings were defaced by unauthorized repairs such as the construction of a school Dura-wall, a kitchen serving window screen which was poorly welded and the construction of soak-aways for pupils’ toilets. ECD pupils were deprived of a classroom block which was never constructed from the collected one-off payment.

Following revelations of the misappropriation, many parents lost trust in the school and stopped paying school fees and levies. The ECD pupils did not get their infrastructure where they should have enjoyed learning in a conducive environment, teachers were disgruntled and parents were out of pocket because of made-up fees.

The audit investigation team was made up of M. P. Nyahwa (A/D/ Provincial Education Director), A. Makwindi (A/ District Education Officer), J. C. Mangwiro (A/Education Officer Buildings), C. Chiparaushe (Education Inspector Science), P. C. Chambeni (Education Inspector Humanities), J. Dhliwayo (A/Education Inspector Primary) and J Makoni (Human Resources Officer Discipline).

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