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Cartel loots millions from free education

BUSINESS
By | September 28th 2009

By Sam Otieno and Beauttah Omanga

Sh1.3 billion meant for textbooks under the Free Primary Education (FPE) programme has been wasted, donors say.

Books bought with the money were stolen, lost or thrown away.

Following the huge loss, key donors have withheld financial support, thereby threatening free learning.

FPE was introduced in 2003 and praised worldwide.

A report commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (DfID) indicts primary school heads under whose watch 5.8 million books went missing or were tossed away. The losses cover a period of six years (2003 to 2008) with an average cost of Sh226 per book.

A total of Sh45 billion has been sent to schools since the ambitious programme kicked off. Each child is allocated Sh1,020 per year, Sh650 for learning materials and Sh370 for operations materials.

The latest scandal paints a gloomy picture as key donors such as DfID have suspended aid that matched each shilling spent by the Government on FPE.

Pupils at a public school in Nairobi. Poor management of school funds has cast many head teachers in bad light. Photo: File/Standard

Data collected by consultants hired by DfID in 18,014 schools countrywide shows that primary schools have bought 52 million books since the inception of FPE. It also revealed that many schools might have paid a much higher average price for their text books than is assumed in the calculation of losses.

Urgent probe

The report calls for an urgent investigation into the losses at school level.

An umbrella association of booksellers has blamed the massive loss of books on the Ministry of Education’s lack of guidelines on where to purchase books.

Chairman of the Kenya Book Sellers Association (KBSA) John Mbugua said it is possible for head teachers to collude with briefcase booksellers to defraud the Government when there are no clear guidelines on where to buy books.

"There are cases where books are never bought and the head teacher can easily indicate that the books were stolen or lost," said Mr Mbugua.

He said there exists massive conflict of interest where senior ministry officials own bookshops and force head teachers to purchase books there. At times, he said, some of the book stores are not fully stocked. They depend on cheques from schools to buy books before delivering them to schools.

"You can come across cases where cheques worth Sh300,000 were issued yet only books worth Sh200,000 are supplied," said Mbugua. The balance of Sh100,000 is then shared between the head teacher and the bookseller.

"Most head teachers also claim that many books were lost during post-election violence," he said.

The Government, he said, should come up with circulars to instruct schools that books should be bought from members of KBSA.

"Our members have agreed in principle to sign a code of conduct and ensure that schools pay for books supplied and before every delivery," said Mbugua.

He said there are a number of booksellers who only operate when the FPE money is being disbursed and then close shop to wait for the next disbursement.

Highest loss

Based on data reported from District Education Officers (DEOs), Mwingi District recorded the highest loss of 57 per cent of its total textbook stock.

In the district, with 194 primary schools, a total of 266,029 textbooks were lost out of the 470,583 textbooks bought representing a 57 percent loss. A total of 4, 836 schools in Rift Valley Province recorded a loss of 1.7 million books worth Sh395 million.

In Eastern Province, 4,557 schools lost 1.1 million books worth Sh252 followed by Nyanza with 3,316 schools lost 831,546 books worth Sh188 million out of the 8.9 million books lost.

Central with 1, 744 schools province bought a total of 7 million books of which 676,519 were lost or stolen worth Sh153 million.

In Coast, a total of Sh97 million worth of books were lost while in North Eastern Sh13 million worth of books were lost.

Nairobi recorded a loss of Sh51 million from 198 schools that bought 3 million books out which 226,164 were lost.

The DEO Taita at that time refused to submit the data required.

DfID is currently funding a value for money audit, which will validate findings of the national textbooks database.

The current enrolment of primary school children stands at 8.1 million.

Top ministry of Education officials are alleged to operate "briefcase bookshops" write themselves hefty cheques or force teachers to purchase from selected bookshops.

Pupil to book ratio

The Government will not purchase textbooks this financial year after the ministry announced that most schools had achieved the desired pupil to book ratio of 1:1. Education PS Prof Karega Mutahi said only 4,000 schools were yet to achieve the desired pupil to book ratio.

When we contacted Education minister Prof Sam Ongeri on the report, he said he is yet to receive it.

There have been cases where head teachers go as far as staging burglaries or hire arsonists to torch school property to destroy records of books lost.

Ongeri distanced himself from the book project, saying his officers have not brought the report before him.

"I am yet to receive the report but I will be able to comment comprehensively after reading the entire document," Ongeri told The Standard.

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