Rampant corruption and misuse of funds by unscrupulous headmasters, bursars and some members of School Development Associations (SDAs) has reached alarming proportions, further compromising the quality of education for those who cannot afford pricey private schools.
A number of schools have lost large sums of money through fraudulent activities by their employees who take advantage of porous administrative systems.
In most of the cases, it is taking long for the fraudulent activities to be unearthed due to a number of reasons.
To start with, there is a severe shortage of auditors in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, which has allowed the vice to go unabated.
The ministry’s audit team is severely understaffed and cannot patrol the country’s schools at least once a year as is the accounting requirement.
More so, the freezing of posts by government has not done the ministry any favours.
For example, some schools are going to the extent of engaging unqualified staff like laboratory technicians to work in accounts offices due to the staff shortages.
A survey by the Financial Gazette revealed a spike in cases of fraud in schools.
The harsh economic climate, technological advancements and administrative laxities seem to be fueling the malpractices.
The latest audit report by the auditor-general, Mildred Chiri, confirms that corruption and fraud have become the order of the day in many government ministries, including that of Primary and Secondary Education.
The report shows a clear disregard for accounting procedures where ministries were found to be flouting procurement regulations by breaking tender procedures whereby goods were paid for before delivery while others were issued payment without authentic supporting documents like quotations and invoices.
Findings from a survey by the Financial Gazette indicates that most common acts of fraud in schools involve inflating invoices and quotations, having separate receipt books, under receipting and under banking.
The Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) believes it is difficult to weed out corruption in the education sector because some accountants and headmasters/headmistresses are getting protection from Ministry of Education officials in return for kick-backs.
“It is now a known fact that some district and provincial education officials are protecting corrupt headmasters/headmistresses and SDAs that swindled schools for a fee. There are certain schools that have become cash-cows for the officials. Despite there being evidence that money is being stolen, investigations are done cosmetically so that no detail of fraud or chicanery is found,” said PTUZ national coordinator, Ladislous Zunde.
The media has been awash with reports of schools having been prejudiced of thousands of dollars.
In one of the cases before the courts, a bursar at a primary school in Epworth allegedly connived with the school’s former headmistress and her deputy to steal more than US$80 000 from the school.
In yet another incident, a bursar at a primary school in Westlea defrauded the school of nearly US$30 000 which she converted to personal use.
A bursar and his assistant also swindled one high school in the city centre of nearly US$100 000 in another incident.
These gross acts of misconduct are not only restricted to Harare and its hinterland but have almost become a nationwide phenomenon.
For example, a bursar at a primary school in Plumtree stands accused of embezzling close to US$5 000 within a period of three months.
Another bursar at a primary school in Karoi allegedly helped himself with the school’s US$39 000.
While headmasters/headmistresses are supposed to be the custodians of school properties, some have been found on the wrong side of the law together with some parents in SDA committees.
Most of them seem to be giving in to temptation to help themselves to public funds in the face of the tough economic conditions.
In one of the cases, a headmaster in Glen Norah together with his SDA chairperson allegedly connived to defraud the school of over US$2 000.
A report, Framing Corruption in Education — Global Trends, released by Transparency International states that corruption undercuts the investment made by society in the education of its future citizens.
It said the societal investment fails when some are allowed to succeed without merit, swelling the ranks of incompetent leaders and professionals, while others with intellectual capacity cannot realise their potential to learn not because they cannot master the curriculum but because they cannot obtain their fundamental rights or will not play by the corrupt rules.