THE ongoing Government audit of schools across the country has unearthed massive abuse of levies collected from parents and guardians purportedly to fund development of learning infrastructure. From the 1 800 (18 percent) schools audited so far, there are indications of massive doctoring of accounting records by the schools.
Deputy Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavhima confirmed in a story carried by The Herald on Wednesday that the audit had unearthed widespread misappropriation of funds. He singled out school development committees as the biggest culprits in the scam. Professor Mavhima estimated that $1 billion was collected through school levies every year for infrastructure development. Unfortunately, part of this amount found its way into the pockets of private individuals who otherwise should exercise a fiduciary duty over the funds on behalf of parents and guardians.
These preliminary findings have a sense of de- javu. The Office of the Auditor-General headed by the redoubtable Ms Mildred Chiri has over the years exposed equally chilling shenanigans in Government ministries and parastatals and other State-owned enterprises. Her reports have been presented to Parliament. Regrettably, there is hardly ever a serious follow-up. In short, the culprits, or more strictly, the suspects, are never called to account.
The message going out is clearly that public officers can commit serious offences with impunity. They can abuse public funds knowing nothing will happen to them. A culture has been cultivated that corruption can go unpunished in Zimbabwe; that exposure to public finances or other resources means an opportunity to get rich beyond one’s official remuneration.
Professor Mavhima said the misappropriation of money was rampant in both urban and rural schools. For that reason, he said, they would have wanted to audit all the schools around the country. If not, he said, it would help if Government could audit at least 50 percent of the institutions. That would help in identifying and plugging the holes in the accounting systems.
While all these are noble objectives, it is regrettable that those intentions are not always matched by appropriate action to send the correct message. Going by what we have noticed in the past, the way to end corruption is not merely by exposing it. The culprits must be made to feel that crime does not pay. It is known that corruption is among the biggest sins that potential investors have complained about in Zimbabwe. It is mentioned even in the World Bank’s rating of the country as an investment destination, and we are desperate for foreign direct investment as a nation. But we are not sending the right signals to would-be investors that their money would be in safe hands, that we are an accountable people to be trusted with foreign money. That is not the image of a country that wants to do business in this highly competitive global village.
Yet there are ways in which Government can begin to send the correct message. There are calls, pressures even, for Government to trim its consumption and its public service bill which gobbles up to 83 percent of revenues, according to the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa.
These audits give Government an opportunity to get rid of the bad elements in its bureaucracy. Those found guilty have no reason to remain on their jobs, there is absolutely no reason to redeploy them to new stations to continue their nefarious activities, in the process spreading the cancer of corruption. They should simply be taken out of the system.
Parents and guardians make huge sacrifices paying the levies to improve the learning environment for their children. That is because they believe that is one way to open opportunities for their offspring in a highly competitive world. It must be very galling to then learn that their efforts are undermined by greedy individuals, some of them on the Government payroll, who convert the money to personal use.
To add salt to injury, Government then looks the other way. That attitude can only help to recruit more offenders who are assured of impunity. Otherwise how does one explain the latest spurt of examination papers leakages! Government needs to act, to send the correct message.