Principals cash in on corruption

Gareth Wilson and Olebogeng Molatlhwa

SCHOOLS are becoming rich pickings for unscrupulous principals and school governing bodies. Principals – supposedly the guardians of the schooling system – have been found to be the primary beneficiaries of school corruption and fund embezzlement.

"Principals are the main wrongdoers who often divert funds intended for the school into their own pockets," Corruption Watch said in a 27-page report released yesterday.

"Contracts are given out to family or friends of the principal or school governing body members."

The watchdog agency, which received 2262 reports of corruption last year, found that schools accounted for 38% of the complaints.

Financial mismanagement ranked highest (44%) on the list of the types of corruption recorded at schools, while theft of goods and funds (24%) as well as corruption in procurement processes (16%) ranked second and third respectively.

The highest number of complaints of government school corruption emanated from the Eastern Cape (20%), Gauteng (19%) and the Free State (18%), the report said.

It highlights two schools in the Eastern Cape, one of them in Port Elizabeth, where corruption was uncovered. The schools were not named as investigations are still under way.

One case involved the school feeding programme at a primary school in the city.

"Just prior to the school holidays in September, the principal of this school together with the chairman of the school governing body, [allegedly] awarded a R23000 feeding scheme tender to a mutual friend of theirs – who was not equipped to deliver child feeding in any way," the report said.

"Pupils were fed for one week before the 'supplier', who is now R23000 richer, quit."

In the other Eastern Cape school, the principal was allegedly using school money for personal needs.

"The signatories signed cheques for the principal to build her house. Yet, there are no chairs and desks, and pupils are forced to use bricks as chairs. The pupils are also not given food every day because the principal only buys a 12.5kg bag of mealie meal and one container of soup for 600 pupils," the agency said.

Teachers also came in for some harsh criticism.

They were found to draw salaries when they were "repeatedly absent from work without explanation" and "sometimes engaged in full-time remunerative work outside of the school without permission from relevant authorities".

SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke, whose union represents 240000 teachers and principals, said: "Sadtu will study the report and respond because the tendency by research [bodies] to always label teachers without understanding the complexity of teaching is unacceptable and unhelpful."

Another report by Corruption Watch in October revealed that some teachers were charging R350 or asking for sexual favours from students to give them good grades for university entry.

Experts said the reported claims were the tip of the iceberg.

According to the latest report, the Eastern Cape was the third-worst province for overall corruption. The watchdog agency found Gauteng to be the most corrupt province with 38% of the overall complaints and Northern Cape (1%) the least corrupt.

Free State was the second most corrupt province, with 14% of the complaints, while the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal were joint third with 13% each of the total.

The most common form of reported corruption was misuse of state resources (43%), misconduct in procurement processes (16%), bribery (13%) and jobs for pals (8%).

According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index – which measures levels of public sector corruption in a number of countries – South Africa was the 10th most corrupt of 48 African countries and the 72nd of 177 countries globally.

Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said: "Corruption in South Africa is a fetter on economic growth and unless dealt with effectively it could have devastating long-term consequences on the government's ability to deliver basic services and grow confidence in the country's institutions."

Institute of Security Studies Governance, Crime and Justice Division specialist Dr Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo said the report proved the government needed to ensure accountability among its employees to restore the faith of citizens.

"This is the portion of corruption that has been reported. We know that there is more we have not heard about.

"Evidence across the board suggests government corruption is on the increase and a key issue that needs to be addressed is accountability.

"We know that high-level government officials are involved, but the perception is that the political elite are protected. This needs to be addressed and measures put in place to curb this belief," he said.