PE school principal probed in graft claim

Morningside High School

Shock Bhisho report sheds light on raft of alleged financial irregularities

A Port Elizabeth high school principal and the former school governing body head have been implicated in alleged financial irregularities involving more than R1-million.

This follows a Department of Education probe into the financial affairs of Morningside High School in Topaz Road, Linton Grange.

The Eastern Cape Department of Education is now compiling internal charges and may also lay a criminal complaint.

The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) has called for a criminal investigation into the school’s former SGB head.

The EELC, a Cape Town-based law clinic registered with the Cape Law Society, made the request, along with others, in a letter to senior officials at the department after the conclusion of its investigation.

The EELC said it was acting on behalf of Morningside High parents the Rev Xolani Tengo and Noluthando Maqunga.

“Our clients request that there is a precautionary suspension of the principal until all the issues raised in the report have been resolved,” it said in the letter.

Provincial education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said the department had stuck to its own timelines and processes and was now prepared to formulate charges.

He said the decision was not a result of the EELC’s involvement.

“It does not help to push ahead and charge people. Issues in an investigation such as this are sensitive. It does not simply end with the compilation of the report.”

The department’s report – which involved audits and other investigations of Morningside’s 2013 to 2016 financial years – uncovered a raft of alleged financial mismanagement issues and irregularities.

These included incidents of “under-banking” – when the school is alleged to have banked less than its annual revenue – and “over-banking”, when it allegedly banked more than it had received.

The report, which The Herald has seen, also highlighted fruitless and wasteful expenditure, gross misconduct and dereliction of duty, the failure to comply with various sections of the South African Schools Act, unauthorised debit orders from the school’s account and substantial expenditure, including by the tuck shop, which did not have any supporting documentation.

The report implicates Morningside High principal Dr Saraswathi Pather and Timothy Hendricks, the former head of the school’s governing body and tuck shop manager, in the alleged financial irregularities.

It recommended that they both be called to explain the circumstances “which led to this state of affairs”.

The EELC, in its letter to the department, has called for a criminal investigation into Hendricks for the alleged misappropriation of funds, corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering of school funds.

Hendricks said he was aware of the report as he had been asked to assist in the internal investigation. “We all cooperated and they [education officials] said they were going to come back to us.”

“The truth is that we [the SGB] inherited serious challenges when we took over.

“The finances were in a shambles. There was no proper bookkeeper. No audit had been done.

“We had to pay for 10 teachers and there were major procurement challenges.”

Hendricks, who stepped down as SGB head at the end of 2014, said he welcomed the investigation and wanted the case to be finalised. “We cannot shift responsibilities. We should all be called to account,” he said.

“We will point out what the challenges were and we will be transparent. There was no malicious intent. It was all in the best interests of the school,” he said.

Pather said she was not aware the department had concluded the probe and released a report. She declined to comment further.

Pulumani said superintendent-general Themba Kojana had signed off the report and had forwarded the results to the legal and labour relations departments.

“Labour relations is compiling charges as per internal process and will be issuing charges in due course,” he said. “The legal section is considering possible grounds for criminal charges.”

Deputy SGB chairwoman Maqunga said she was pleased that the department was following through on the report.

“I am over the moon. We cannot allow corruption at our schools.

“I am glad the department is attending to this and that the [alleged] culprits will be brought to justice. People have to pay.”

Tengo said he had been fighting for an investigation into financial management at the school since 2013. “I am doing this because the majority of pupils at the school are from disadvantaged communities.”

He said he had been sent from pillar to post over the past four years since he first uncovered the alleged financial irregularities while he was an SGB member.

He said after repeatedly following up with the department, it had sent a team of forensic auditors from its risk management services unit to the school last year.

“We want this matter finalised because the principal is still at the school,” he said.

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