Many revelations pertaining to the misuse of public funds have been made on a number of occasions in the recent past by ‘Sathya Gaweshanaya’. Since the misuse of public funds in the education sector has gotten out of hand and become a menace many opine that this issue should be severely dealt with. Critics feel that prompt action should be taken to eradicate this malpractice. The majority of complaints made by the public regarding this matter are being handled in a trivial manner; the process of inquiring into such matters and the enforcement of law against such activities being absolutely sluggish! In this edition of our expose we probe into the misuse of funds allocated for school development.
Although it’s said that most students receive free education in Sri Lanka one might still wonder or question whether this education is really free in this island. This is because when giving an education to the children in this country parents are heavily burdened having to pay school fees and admission fees, apart from making similar other expenses. Facility fees and service charges of most of the leading schools, charged annually, in Sri Lanka have somewhat exceeded Rs 5000. In addition to that money is being collected from time to time throughout the year as a result of school authorities highlighting various causes. These causes have become an enormous issue.
One classic example of money being collected for such matters comes from Senanayake Central College Madampe. In this school as much as Rs 20 million had been allocated by the Government to build a much needed lavatory system. (the old lavatory system that existed for quite some time was in a dilapidated state hence the students were forced to endure much difficulties). Hence the news of the possibility of using new toilets gave some to the troubled minds of these students.
Procurement procedures not followed
The authorities took the initiative to start this long awaited project, but dealings were done in an arbitrary manner with no proper procurement procedures being followed. Thus the construction of the new lavatory continued with no attention being given to complaints that were made by various parties who were concerned about the standard of the facility which was at a low ebb. Later, following many complaints, the Deputy Principal of the school along with a group of teachers did a site inspection. They came across a multitude of faults pertaining to the relative construction. A report was made after the inspection which highlighted the imperfections.
In the report it has been mentioned that no arrangements have been made to install wash basins. The other shortcomings are the unavailability of cement louvers, windows being fitted not keeping to a plan and two types of bricks being used on the walls with no proper levelling. Some of the defects have been covered using plastering. Earth has been used to form the foundation without compacting. It has also been identified that the mixing ratio of materials is poor. Sand has been mixed with mud for plastering purposes. The timber used for the roof hasn’t been properly desiccated and no timber protection has been used. These shortcomings have contributed to toilets of low quality being made. Soon these new toilets were demolished following an inspection on the advice of relevant engineers and technical Officers in 2016. This was done under the condition of constructing a new toilet facility which has to date not happened.
When the Principal of Senanayake Central College was contacted regarding this issue he stated that the Ministry was informed about the new toilets, but refused to divulge information to the media
The law is yet to be enforced on the culprits for filching public funds running upto Rs 2 million! The Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, having visited the school on 31st July 2016, warned that action would be be taken against the culprits soon. The Old Boy’s Association of the school as well as the parents, students and teachers of the school have informed the President and the respective authorities about this issue from time to time. They had made appeals in this regard yet all efforts proved to be futile. Informed sources of the school say that a high ranking administrative officer is safeguarding these culprits!.
“We have also made complaints to the Presidential Secretariat which has forwarded the respective complaints to the Ministry of Education. Yet no action has been taken so far regarding the new toilet facility. It’s pointless. No matter how much we speak regarding this matter nothing has been done to look into our plight. The school has no toilets to fulfill the needs of the children,” said J.A.W Jayawardena the Secretary of the Old Boy’s Association of the school.
When the Principal of Senanayake Central College was contacted regarding this issue he stated that the Ministry was informed about the new toilets, but refused divulge information to the media. He said that according to the Establishment Code prior permission must be obtained from the Ministry of Education when making statements to the media on any subject.
There is another story of funds being mismanaged and this comes from Yasodara Ladies College Gampaha. In this school the administration of funds has been subject to ridicule! A sum of Rs 350000, which was to be deposited under the school development society fund in aid of the school development, has not been deposited. This money is now in the possession of a person with high authority in the school. The high ranked person, on realizing that the situation was not benefiting him, credited the money immediately to the respective account through the Treasurer of the Development Society. Subsequently the culprits, who are well informed and possess skills of survival, wrote a letter to the Gampaha Zonal Education Director stating that the monies were not credited before and they are being re-deposited because the account is being reconciled!
How culprits operate
‘What must be ridiculed is that these culprits not resolving the matter with regard to the account immediately and waiting till Rs 350,000 had to be deposited to attend to this matter. (They themselves will know from where they found a sum of Rs 3 ½ lakhs for re-depositing!) A copy of the letter sent to the Zonal Director of Education is presented with this article. This will help readers understand how financial administration is handled at the school.
Although there have been allegations where money has been charged by the school administration from students they haven’t been proven. Also ‘Sathya Gaweshanaya’ has previously revealed how money has been charged by schools with regard to school admission, which is in contravention to the Government circulars. Also there had been an incident where twins of a teacher, who were eligible to enter the school, were rejected. This was despite a discussion pertaining to the matter and held with the Provincial Public Accounts Committee in attendance.
According to the report released by the Provincial Director of Internal Audits as well as the circular issued by the Secretary of Education, 20 students who were enrolled (based on aspects of close proximity) were contrary to the Government circular. The committee then decided that injustice had been done to these children who were qualified. They has also pointed out that there had been shortcomings in the exam evaluation process. Now it has been decided to conduct a preliminary inquiry to probe the defaults which were created due to irregularities. The victims are yet to receive justice and the law is yet to be enforced on the wrongdoers. In this regard it is important to make note that Yashodara Balika Vidyalaya Gampaha is a Provincial School while the previously mentioned Madampe Senanayake Central College is a National School.
Ananda College Colombo, also a national school, is administered by the Ministry of Education. A special audit related to the school was conducted in 2017 and the audit query was issued in 2018. Ananda College Colombo, founded by Col. Olcott on 1st November 1886, consisted of a student body of 6537 students by 2017. According to the audit inquiry 282 personnel were serving as academic staff while 78 personnel were serving the school as non-academic staff.
Further, according to the audit inquiry, fixed deposits of the school between the period 1993 to 2013 and amounting to a value exceeding 4 billion by end of January 2017, had been maintained as fixed deposits. This was despite the option of utilizing the monies in the deposit under formal authorization in terms of qualitative development of the school.
According to the final audit carried out at the school and accounts as at the end of 2016 , the value of the school bus was declared at Rs 3,583,196 under fixed assets. At the same time the accumulated depreciation value of the bus also remained the same. Annually the value of the bus was depreciated by 20%. Details of whether or not the bus was still in use were not included. The above data and facts weren’t properly calculated and included in the final accounts.
According to the audit inquiry the school building which shelters the students of grade 10, which is 14 metres in length and 10 metres in width and 140 square feet in extent, was equipped with three air conditioners and occupied by an office of the Old Boys Association. The electricity bills amounted to Rs 7,272,737 up to September 2017. These bills have been paid by the School Development Society. Twenty five different accounts have been maintained under various Associations and Units of the School Development Society. Proper records of receipts and payments have not been maintained. The audit query revealed that some accounts carried minus values and the total loss of all societies summed up to Rs135,642.
The usage of school vehicles as well as the present situation of the hostels were also subjected to the audit. At the time of the investigation 20 fans in the hostel were found to be nonfunctional and a large part of the ceiling had broken down in the bedroom areas which housed children studying in grades 8,9 and 10.
At a time when the Old Boy’s Association of Ananda College wasn’t established as a Recognized Association as per the circular of 21st June 1995, the Secretary of Education had instructed the school’s principal to appoint a representative of an unaccepted Old Student Association in connection with year one admission for the year 2018, which is also questionable.
There is another story of funds being mismanaged and this comes from Yasodara Ladies College Gampaha. In this school the administration of funds has been subject to ridicule!
The Auditor General’s Department has forwarded many queries related to financial administration. These queries are supported by a lengthy audit inquiry. When the Principal of Ananda College was contacted regarding these matters he said that he was unaware of these issues.
These issues are only pertaining to three schools in the island. With regard to these three institutes it is quite evident how the enforcement of the law has been slow. There is an incident where the father of a student, upon questioning financial issues at the General Meeting of the Old Boy’s Association of Bandaranayake Vidyalaya Gampaha, had been verbally assaulted by the school authorities. This was reported in 2016. When we inquired into the matter using the Right to Information Act, the Ministry of Education announced that the respective school principal was warned following an inquiry.
These children, who are currently being educated in these schools, will secure power one day and rule the country. Given the shaky way in which finances are managed at these schools, these children, from a tender age, will start thinking that law and order are ineffective.
Therefore in order to end these corrupt practices the ongoing investigations in schools, where there have been financial irregularities, must be expedited. The administration arms of schools must be regulated and the collecting of money from children unlawfully must be checked.