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 Star (Kenya) - - Big Read / Education - PA­TRICK VIDIJA @vidi­jap­atrick

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.

GOOD IN­TEN­TIONS

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.

/ REUTERS

Stu­dents at­tend a class ses­sion at the Se­na­tor Obama Pri­mary School in Nyan­goma vil­lage, Ko­gelo, Si­aya county, on June 23 last year.

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