Leave fares a perennial problem

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday December 17th, 2013

 THE mismanagement of teachers’ annual leave entitlements seems to be an ongoing problem for a good number of the country’s public servants. 

It happens at the end of every academic year. 

The Department of Education, which oversees the disbursement of funds, needs to improve its system. 

Clearly, there are flaws in the system that enable abuse. We are already into the second week of December and there are teachers who have not had their leave fares organised in a manner that will see them return to their home provinces to spend Christmas as they are entitled to. 

It does not seem fair that some teachers are able to benefit from the state and others are having the money for their air fares mismanaged. 

The procedure for the distribution of funds is handled by the provincial education offices and it is the methods used by the officers at this point that are now in question. 

As reported last week tea­chers in the National Capital District and Northern province have expressed dissatisfaction at not having their leave entitlements processed properly and on time. 

They point to what they say has been questionable and in some instances corrupt practices by those in their provincial education offices to bilk a percentage of the funding allocated for teachers.  If there is some truth to these allegations then the department must do all it can to intervene. 

Papua New Guinea Tea­chers Association Southern region secretary Ray Raymond says the NCD and Northern offices should fo­llow the example of the Western Highlands and pay leave fares directly into the accounts of teachers. 

That, he says would shorten the process and put the responsibility of managing the money in the hands of the teachers. It sounds so simple and straight forward yet in the biggest metropolitan centre in the country the powers that be have chosen to channel funding through an intermediary, in this case travel agents. 

There may be merits to having an arrangement like this in place. Having such a large volume of teachers in one locale (Port Moresby) calls for a time saving and cost-effective approach but it would only work if the ticketing is done in a transparent manner. Ray says the system used by the NCD education office is “robbing” teachers of their full due. 

According to one teacher, who has had firsthand experience, travel agents are being paid the money by the provincial education office but are not efficient enough in processing tickets. 

That has caused a log jam and when teachers enquire about their travel arrangements they are either told to wait or if they demand their money, they are given their reimbursement with a percentage taken off. 

The teachers have every right to the money in its entirety and for the travel agent to withhold a portion is unfair. If they have been contracted by the department then they must claim from the state and not from the teacher’s entitlement. 

The teacher claimed up to seven per cent of the leave fare was taken as a cut. If a teacher is given K5,000 in leave fares, presumably he or she could stand to lose K350. Multiply that figure by 500 and someone is making a mint (K175,000) at the expense of one of the hardest working and least appreciated group of public servants in the country. 

Education Minister James Marape may need to step in and direct the education secretary to take action on errant officers or if the problem is administrative then surely the Western Highlands model is a better way to go. Every year the same complaints are raised. 

It seems death and taxes are not the only certainties in life, botched leave fares can be added to that exclusive group. After all teachers  do deserve a break, especially a Christmas one.