Sticky fingers land school heads in trouble

Scores of Government school heads allegedly defrauded their institutions of thousands of dollars in fuel, subsistence and cellphone airtime allowances, and have now been ordered to return the money or face dismissal.

The Sunday Mail understands the heads took between US$1 000 and US$5 000 each over periods of up to one year.

Heads of State-run schools are entitled to monthly allowances drawn from development levies and approved by the Primary and Secondary Education Ministry.

The culprits allegedly took advantage of this arrangement to claim outrageously high sums, with some getting fuel and airtime allowances of at least US$200 weekly.

A 70-strong contingent of auditors discovered this last month, prompting education chiefs to demand immediate restitution, cut trips and cap airtime allowances at US$20 per month.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora told The Sunday Mail that Government was working on tighter financial management in its schools.

“We are going to put a stop to all this abuse of parents’ money.

“Apart from the vehicles (purchased by development committees) that you see around, no infrastructure has been put in place despite the fact that millions of dollars in levies are circulating in schools.

“By now, we should have enough classrooms for our children, but funds are leaking through the abuse of allowances. That is unacceptable.”

A ministry official who preferred anonymity revealed that a school head in Chitungwiza was last week ordered to refund more than US$1 000 he had unduly claimed.

The official said auditors were combing through all Government schools and will consolidate their findings in March 2017.

“The auditors have been hard at work since January and will conclude their work in March. However, their preliminary findings regarding the abuse of allowances have been disconcerting, to say the least.

“The ministry has decided to order the school heads found on the wrong side of the line to return the money they took or they will be dismissed.

“It is surprising, for instance, that a school head with a landline in his/her office should want a lot of airtime. For what?”

Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango said, “We receive a lot of tip-offs and our auditors are on the ground.

“We are expecting them back at the end of March.

“Only then will I be able to comment on what they would have found out.”

Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association secretary-general Mr John Mlilo said some cases of alleged abuse could be a result of poor accounting practices.

He said, “We need to ensure that our teachers are trained to be good administrators instead of rushing to arrest them.

“Some of them lack basic accounting skills and need staff development and refresher courses.

“In my view, that would be a better approach.”

According to a 2015 audit report, more than US$1,2 billion in development levies circulates in Government and mission schools yearly.

The report said a chunk of this money was at the time being abused by heads, school development committee members and bursars.

It was also established that some school authorities were duplicating receipt books as cover to lay their hands on SDC funds, while others were flouting tender regulations, inflating invoices and quotations, and under-receipting or banking.

Levies are primarily for school development and hiring additional staff when the need arises.

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