By Abigail Mawonde
Some schools in Manicaland Province have been charging parents a “child levy” without the knowledge and blessing of Government while in other provinces children of members of School Development Committees are not paying school fees.
Information gathered by The Herald indicates that half a million pupils have been paying the “child levy’’ in Manicaland. Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora confirmed the situation in an interview on Wednesday.
He said investigations were already underway to establish who instigated the payment of the levy. “During the outreach programme we were able to deal with cases where parents would start off asking the question; what do we do with parents who do not pay their levies or tuition fees?
“And then as you dialogue with them, you arrive at the other scenario where they are more or less like arriving at a dejavu point to say we must go and discuss. We must go and engage with these parents.
“In other words, the solution does not lie outside the circumstance. You cannot say to parents pay your levies and then you yourself in your operations you are opaque. It does not follow,” he said.
“We also found another layer which we were not aware existed where a whole district might levy something called ‘child levy’ and it is only levied to those of my children in the schools and we have been trying to understand and I have asked the secretary (in the ministry) to work on the matter,” said Dr Dokora.
He said 500 000 pupils paid the “child levy” in Manicaland Province alone.
“I think it will probably be two ministries – the one dealing with rural district councils and the other one dealing with urban councils. We found this in Manicaland. This is where this matter came out that more than half a million kids in that province are subjected to what is called a child levy.
“And so we will be following up on that to see whether there is now a fund that the education sector can tap into to improve the conditions of learning and teaching in schools themselves,” he said. On SDCs, Dr Dokora said some had exempted themselves from paying fees for their children.
“There was the fact that ‘those that stand up in front of the parent assembly and offer their services for free’, obviously we commend them for offering that service but some details began to come through that they then themselves don’t pay levies for their own children.
“I think we found this in the Midlands, it was present in Harare, it was also present and in trying to understand what that means, does this mean that it is in lieu of payment for services rendered?
Dr Dokora said the decision by SDCs not to pay fees for their children was indefensible. “Because then what the other parents would then do, they would observe that and then there is a war, ‘so you think we should contribute to your child’s education as you are then allowing your child to learn for free’.”
Dr Dokora said the abuse of funds had become rampant in schools.
“Fourth and final in our findings were the varying examples of what those levies would be used for. We have a school in Harare, Selbourne Routledge, that will tell you we constructed an ECD block which costs $64 000 and it is known that an ECD block in terms of dimensions is quite smaller than the normal standard 63 square metres for the junior school kids.
“At $64 000? I have been in discussion with some private companies that would like to work with us in some joint ventures. I always thought that tiles are an expensive inclusion but I am surprised that tiles are very cheap now and so I was saying to myself as I engaged with these companies, does it mean if I went to this school to see its ECD block, I will find it tiled? Probably not.
“So it’s again when you follow the audit principle I described, you would want to say, have we made the most effective use of every dollar that we invested in that infrastructure for $64 000?” The minister said the other aspect was to look at what had been invested for the teachers in the schools.
“All these levies that are circulating, how much of it has been invested? It is all very well to build an ECD block, it is all very well to build an additional class for Grade Seven but what are we doing for the teachers?
“So for me, it is no longer an issue of saying we have prioritised anything here. We will start with the classrooms and then build teachers’ houses. It does not work like that. The two are of equal importance.
“There is no way in which a homeless teacher will come to work at 07:30 as expected because now they have to hop-skip in three to four different transport modes to come to school.
“In the rural area we have an excellent opportunity to make a huge impact to make the lives of teachers livable and we make no apologies for that. After all it is 34 years down the line.
“Each time we stood up and attempted to talk about the literacy rate in this country, we should have also been saying, look at our teachers, the way we look after them. So, there is a deficit in that area and we addressed it during the outreach to say, we have to correct this. It cannot be postponed,” he said.
Dr Dokora said it was also important for parents to safeguard resources invested in the schools.
“Parents should be able to sit in a fraternal session and discuss these things. How can the audit function track every dollar invested into the system? What are our priorities here? Should we be co-signing this account, should we be co-signing another account? Should we be collapsing this account creating another? And how many accounts should schools actually operate and run? Because that’s another devil there.
“A school with 20 or 15 accounts and then you end up with persons who were in the last SDC executive continuing to sign into the new executive’s tenure, quite clearly, there is something untoward.
“And why is it that when we come to February which is the month for the annual renewals, AGMs, why is the treasurer’s report and audited reports not mandatory? These are things we think parents should express themselves on, make these things mandatory. “Without an audited account, no AGM, quite simple and straightforward and we close a loophole there.
“To say that maybe Government does not have enough auditors to go around, that is just a story. The Auditor-General’s Department can work with our ministry’s internal auditors to spread out and make sure the task is done and we can also stagger the AGMs so that as we design the new instrument we can factor some of these things in,” he said.
Dr Dokora said school heads were expected to make their submissions for the new curriculum by April 8, which will provide the ministry with further material to factor in as they draft the amendments to the new Statutory Instrument.