THE PLIGHT OF FREE PRIMARY EDUCATION
Thirteen years down the line, lack of accountability and policy regulations undermine the success of a programme that has otherwise almost doubled enrollment since its inception in 2003
The Free Primary School programme’s main objective was to increase access to formal education and cushion poor households from the high costs of school fees. But it seems it has ended up doing the opposite.
Though much has been achieved so far, an audit by the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission shows that 13 years down the line, there are many loopholes undermining the FPE programme’s success.
The audit indicates that Sh103 million has not been accounted for. Moreover, there are no policy regulations to prevent embezzlement of funds, and unwillingness by the state to punish the individuals found culpable.
What’s more, despite the EACC investigating allegations of misappropriation and embezzlement, the Education ministry, CS and the whole government machinery have ignored the recommendations, further exposing the programme to risk of misuse.
Upon the introduction of the FPE programme, enrollment in public pri- mary schools rose exponentially from 5.9 million learners in January 2003 to 9.4 million in 2010, a 59 per cent Gross Enrollment Rate.
The audit reveals that by 2010, Sh63.4 billion had been spent on instructional materials and general purpose expenses on current expenditure in 19,833 public primary schools.
The programme was introduced in 2003 following the enactment of the Children’s Act 2001. The act spells out the rights of children and recognises that education is a human right that every child must enjoy.
It further puts the responsibility of realising that right on the government and the parents.
Free Primary Education was a response to the World Conference on Education for all, held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990, and the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, in 2000.
The government, having accepted and signed the recommendations of the two international meetings, considered the attainment of Universal Primary Education (UPE) as a development strategy, since a literate population is key to the overall development of the country.
Since then, the government committed to disburse a capitation grant of Sh1,020 per child per year to every public primary school.
The funds were disbursed into two accounts: a school instructional materials account (Simba) for buying teaching and learning materials, and the General Purpose Account (GPA), that caters for repairs, maintenance, water sanitation and conservancy, among other current expenditure.
MISAPPROPRIATION OF FUNDS
The EACC investigation covered the Education ministry headquarters in Nairobi, and education and TSC offices in Bungoma, Embu, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kilifi, Kirinyaga, Mombasa, Nakuru, Nairobi and Nyamira counties.
Forty-two primary schools were also investigated, and the EACC established that over Sh103 million had been embezzled.
According to the audit report, the EACC received 523 reports related to the Basic Education ministry and 33 reports touching on the Higher Education ministry.
From the reports, 61 files were opened, two cases concluded by courts, 28 cases were pending in courts, 22 undergoing evidence analysis, while 11 cases were pending under investigations.
In the same period, the anti-graft agency received 643 reports implicating primary schools. Misuse of funds, fraudulent overpayment for goods and services, irregular awarding of tenders and conflict of interests were among the key issues the audit established.
Others included falsification of enrollment records, bribery, fraudulent acquisition and disposal of public property and violating of disbursement procedures.
The EACC established that there are weaknesses and opportunities for corrupt practices in the system and recommended ways to seal the loopholes.
The Sh1,020 capitation for ev- ery child enrolled in public primary schools was set at the inception but has not been reviewed.
According to the Kenya Publishers Association, the amount is not enough to carter for purchase of text books under the Simba account, further undermining attempts to achieve the desired ratio of pupil to textbook as one to one.
The EACC established that the amount is now inadequate, as prices of goods and services have been rising for years, making it difficult for schools to pay at the old prices.
The team thus wants the ministry to consider reviewing the amount allocated per child in line with the prevailing economic circumstances.
Further, the team notes instances where the means of reporting abuse of funds are ineffective, making it difficult to ensure appropriate action is taken. Such abuse includes underpayments, overpayments, missed-out schools and delayed disbursement.
The team quotes an instance where a district education officer issued verbal instructions to commercial banks to reimburse irregularly disbursed funds to the ministry, without written communication. The EACC observes that this is a weakness that makes it difficult for the officers to be held personally responsible for the instructions issued.
Though the ministry has set up an elaborate system for disbursing funds, investigations revealed that the FPE disbursement systems were developed internally by the information systems management team leader.
He is the only officer who has all the source codes and who understands how the system operates.
“Though other officers were trained on the basic operations of the system, they cannot initiate system configuration changes. This causes overreliance on a single officer, which would cause operational problems in case the officer is dismissed,” the report stated.
The team further established that though data from schools such as school names, enrollment numbers, bank account details and other details
BETWEEN 2003 AND 2010, ENROLLMENT IN PUBLIC PRIMARY SCHOOLS ROSE FROM 5.9 MILLION LEARNERS IN TO 9.4 MILLION, A 59 PER CENT GROSS ENROLLMENT RATE.
are captured and updated in the systems, most of the staff have not been trained on the operation system, which has led to several errors and omissions in the database. This has led to over-disbursement, delayed disbursement and disbursement to the wrong accounts.
It was also established that disbursement circulars are sent to schools through the DEO every time funds are disbursed to schools.
This caused delays or failures by schools to get circulars, the report stated.
The EACC recommended that the ministry adopt a system of sending e-mail circulars and other important documents and information directly to schools.
However, the worrying indicator was that most schools do not have computers and most head teachers are not trained on their use.
“Funds are also disbursed to schools based on the number of enrolled pupils submitted to the ministry.
The EACC wants enrollment numbers used to be indicated in the bank statement for ease of comparison or reconciliation,” the report read.
Usually, the information is not always indicated in the bank statements issued by some banks, making it difficult for head teachers to reconcile the numbers used to disburse funds and the number of students enrolled.
This has led to over disbursement of the funds in some schools as not teachers had cooked the figures.
At the school level, there were no consolidated registers of pupils. Each class teacher maintains an attendance register from which totals of all the pupils in the school are derived.
The team noted that the enrollment information provided by head teachers and maintained by DEOs for purposes of updating enrollment data was missing in most schools.
“It is difficult to verify the source of enrollment data submitted to the ministry,” the team says in the absence of the records.
This in itself is a loophole that may lead to over or under-disbursement of the funds.
In some instances, the team found out that the money meant for FPE was being used to pay sitting allowances to SMC and SISMC members, even though they are expected to serve on voluntary basis.
The committee members were entitled to transport allowances, while some schools used the funds to finance foreign trips for teachers or lent them as loans to parents.
It has further remained unclear why the EACC itself would investigate such a programme and delay to submit the findings for over seven months and cite technicalities.
Education PS Belio Kipsang and Basic Education director general Leah Rotich were unavailable when sought for comment on whether a task force to look into the recommendations had been formed.
The ministry officially received the report in May last year.
AN EACC AUDIT FOUND MISUSE OF FUNDS, OVERPAYMENT FOR GOODS AND SERVICES, IRREGULAR AWARDING OF TENDERS AND FALSIFICATION OF ENROLLMENT RECORDS.
Students attend a class session at the Senator Obama Primary School in Nyangoma village, Kogelo, Siaya county, on June 23 last year.