Govt backtracks on schools levy directive

HARARE - Government has backtracked on its directive that school levies be deposited into a Social Security Fund (SSF) — a move that was ostensibly meant to minimise cases of embezzlement at schools.

Prior to the directive, School Development Committees (SDCs) ran their own accounts while the school authorities operated another one on behalf of government.

Last year, the Primary and Secondary Education ministry ordered all schools in the country to implement recommendations of an internal audit requiring them to have one school services account controlled by the school authorities and not two as is the common case at the moment.

The recommendations however, attracted widespread criticism from School Development Committees (SDCs) mainly in Harare and Chitungwiza which went on to petition government over the matter.

They  argued that “those who now want to be charged for signing the SSF account have been the major and main culprits in financial mismanagement and embezzlement and systematically corrupting procurement procedures”.

And now, government has bowed to pressure with the ministry last month issuing a moratorium on implementation of the internal audit recommendation on the need to merge SDC levy accounts and the SSF accounts.

In a letter to heads of primary and secondary schools in Harare, provincial education director Christopher Kateera directed all schools to stop the implementation of the recommendations.

“You are hereby advised to halt the implementation of this recommendation in Harare province with immediate effect until further notice,” Kateera said adding that “the two accounts should therefore remain separate and financial transactions should resort to the previous arrangement particularly in terms of signatories”.

SDCs had argued that parents were key stakeholders who cannot be wished away as government ceded the right to fund schools in 1989 — leaving parents to take that right through gazetted instruments.

The SDCs argued that since then, parents have made tremendous contributions in the development of education countrywide. They argued further that it was improper for officials to be dictatorial as such attitude was detrimental to the administration of education.

“If the ministry continues to demand that levies be deposited into the SSF account, which is governed and controlled through the Audit and Exchequers Act, it means that our education is now parents-funded, in direct contravention of Section 27 subsections (1a and b) and section 75 subsections (1a and b) of the Constitution which gives the government the mandate to fund education in this country,” the SDCs petition reads in part urging authorities to consider the implications of having levies deposited into the SSF.

“The following consequences as a result of this pronouncement should be immediately addressed — what are the implications of depositing all these levies into an account, which is directly controlled by Treasury?

“What is going to be the fate of the hundreds of SDC/SDA staff who were under employment of the SDCs?

“Does the respective Act governing the SSF allow non-State/government officers to sign such bank accounts?” reads part of the petition.

They further pointed out that the ministry’s decision could compromise access and quality of education in the country.

“We need answers and proof that government through consultative processes has considered all facets and legal frameworks namely, the Public Finance Management Act (Chapter 22: 19), Audit and Exchequer Act (Chapter 22:03) before giving this directive.

“Why didn’t the ministry plan for this and conferenced with committees beforehand? The question is, who are (the) signatories to the SSF?”

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