The National, Tuesday June 2nd, 2015
What do we know of the school management and boards in PNG?
We know something about school management and school boards and provincial education boards in PNG schools.
- Functional school boards don’t exist in some schools;
- schools boards (where it exists), it does so only in name;
- school boards exist but don’t meet at all, if they meet it is often away from school;
- schools boards work against the school management;
- school boards and school management work together only to collude and defraud the state;
- school boards deliberately destroy records of transactions to conceal financial mismanagement;
- school boards and school management members personalise items purchased from schools funds;
- members of school board and school management keep silent over criminal conduct of their members;
- provincial education boards are inactive; and;
- Provincial education boards are highly politicised.
Where good governance or oversight is absent, gross financial abuses go unchecked and undeterred.
Much of the TFF funds fall through due mostly to poor governance at the school level which consequently affect delivering quality teaching and learning to students.
Students stand to lose on receiving quality education.
Teachers lack the teaching resources necessary to deliver quality teaching.
The nation stand to lose on the huge investment made in TFF policy as the necessary management and governance processes are either absent or if they are present inactive.
Whenever school boards fail to meet because there is conflict between old and new members or even lack of quorum gives the head teacher the automatic freedom to channel the school TFF funds to areas of his or her best judgement (choice).
Where head teachers have no oversight from boards the TFF funds and any other funds get diverted away from enhancing quality teaching and learning.
Most of these areas of expenditure often include purchase of capital equipment and purchase of motor vehicles is the most popular among them.
It is critically important that every school that is entitled to receive TFF funds must not only be required but seen to have a functional school board in place to provide oversight to the overall financial management of the school.
Such an oversight will ensure that the limited funds disbursed from TFF funds is properly budgeted and expended to achieve quality education.
Where school boards are dysfunctional or non-existent the TFF funds should be withheld even if the school authority threatened to close the school.
School authorities have no right to close a school because the TFF funds take time to be remitted.
It will be an interesting study to check those schools who threaten to close their school (if they didn’t get TFF funds sooner) to see how and where they spend their last TFF monies.
In the absence of oversight bodies and the general trend of abuses of TFF funds, we can safely assume that not all the TFF funds are used to enhance quality education.
Conversely, we can safely assume that TFF funds are diverted to build personal wealth of those individuals who have the authority to decide where to spend such monies.
School authorities with the full knowledge of the dysfunctional school boards collude to siphon off TFF funds.
The threat to close their school is a tactic to fast track disbursement of TFF funds.
The turnaround time between the moment when TFF funds are credited into their bank accounts and the time when the TFF funds are fully drawn will be an interesting indicator to show their efficiency level.
These sentiments are my personal observations but only through in-depth research and analysis of the TFF funds expenditure could shed some light into the extent of use and abuse of the TFF funds.
There are many schools with proper school management and school boards in place and each is functioning and performing their respective roles to manage resources and provide oversight over public funds.
For these well-meaning and functioning schools we say “thank you” because out of these schools will come well-educated children achieving quality education as the TFF funds is intended to give access to such students who would not normally gain access to educational opportunities if it weren’t for the TFF policy.
The O’Neill Government’s free education policy, commonly known as tuition fee free (TFF) policy, has for the very first time in the history of our education system poured literally large sums of money (over K600 million budgeted) into the individual school’s bank account.
This is the first time the school management has seen large sums of money available just before the school term starts.
This is the first time many schools have been lured by TFF monies to highly inflate their enrolment figures thereby creating “ghost students” to be in existence in schools to enhance their chances of getting more money than what they really deserve.
The TFF funds paid in lieu of “ghost students” are dispensable case available to those school officials and board members who connive and collude to defraud the state.
These “surplus” funds paid for “ghost students” are public funds available for drawing by ill-intentioned officials for private use.
The need to have an oversight body like the school board is honourable.
It is a legal requirement that such an oversight body must be in place in every school.
It is intended to provide oversight function over administration of public funds so that public funds are used for public good. In the absence of a functional school board, oversight over public funds is denied and leaves open for abuse and misuse.
We know abuses and misuses of TFF funds at school level are only a mirror image of the abuse and misuse of the same or greater magnitude at the national front.
Those who know of the abuse and misuse of TFF funds are silent as if there is nothing wrong.
For as long as abuses and misuses are tolerated, the TFF funds will only trickle down to the last drop to have a miniscule impact on
PNG’s endeavour to achieve UBE goals.
A concerted effort is required from everyone concerned with education (eg: teachers, head teachers, PNGTA, school board members and leaders at all levels) to take a position and speak up against the TFF fraudsters or suffer silently as a nation with poor education indicators on global comparisons.
School managements and school boards must be held accountable for their actions or inactions.
Those who abuse their positions and membership should be criminally charged and prosecuted to show that crime pays.
That being said, a head teacher or a member of the school board get their cues to abuse and misuse public funds from those individuals higher up the hierarchy.
Whilst there is national outcry by school management and school boards for not receiving their TFF allocation in time for each school term, there is deafening silence to bring those who abuse and misuse TFF funds.
By condoning abusers and misusers of TFF funds or any other public funds, the nation is taking five steps forward to improve UBE but in the same breath take five steps backward thereby making nil progress to further improve on the country’s education indicators.
Is that what we want to achieve from this flagship policy (TFF policy) for education?
Are we doing enough to deter abuse and misuse of TFF funds through the necessary checks and balances in the management and administration of the funds?
A leak in the reservoir must be plugged for the TFF funds to be used where it is supposed to be spent.
The choice is up to the political and bureaucratic leaders of the day at the different layers of authorities to address the school management and school boards or governances issues.
If the leak is not plugged then the reservoir is watering the garden at the back of the house and the tenant is paying the water bill without realising that illegal connections have been made to his water supply.
Neighbourhood watch and surveillance is required to identify illegal water connections to minimise wastage and unjustified water bill.
- Dr Musawe Sinebare was the former Secretary for Education. He has held pro vice chancellor and vice chancellor positions at University of Goroka, deputy provincial administrator (programme management) at the Eastern Highlands Provincial Administration and deputy director (research) at the National Research Institute. He was a technical advisor to the National Strategic Plan Task Force, for the Institutional Development and Service Delivery pillar. He has written several books including the recent one on PNG Vision 2050. The views, opinions, suggestions and imputations made here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions named or implied or this paper.