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Address extra levies; the 'quiet corruption’ in public schools

OPINION
By Mohamud M. Abdi | August 3rd 2021

A candidate waits to be served at S.A Kolanya Girls Secondary School, Busia,  August 02, 2021.  [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

This week is important for the education sector. It is the beginning of the calendar year for all the learners in our schools. Secondly, President Uhuru Kenyatta has co-hosted the Global Education Summit with the UK Prime Minister in London where commitments to funding access to quality education were made.

The commitments to free and compulsory quality basic education are well-articulated under Article 53 of the Constitution, the Basic Education Act and other regulations. In the same token, achieving inclusive and quality education is considered a vehicle to sustainable development under Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The objective of these laws is to ensure that no child is denied the right to basic education. To realise these ends, the law established organs with clear mandates and functions and clear guidelines to enable sound governance of the basic education institutions.

However, despite all these frameworks, the realisation of these important goals and objectives can be adversely affected by poor governance in some of our schools.

Legality and rationality

As learners return to school, most parents are facing the headache of raising funds for fees and extra charges levied in some of the high schools. With reported cases of some schools levying extra charges of between Sh5,000 and Sh35,000, there are concerns of not only the legality and rationality of such charges but also the sound management of the funds. 

Demanding accountable management of these extra levies is challenging since the government rarely audit these monies. This creates an opportunity for misappropriation of the money.

Parents and students at Kimji Devji Shah bookshop, Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The World Bank Report on African Development (2010) describes quiet corruption as malpractice and abuse of office by government officers at the frontline in the provision of services like education and healthcare. These malpractices are in form of deliberate bending or disregarding rules, guidelines and procedures with the aim of accruing personal benefits. Quiet corruption is ubiquitous and associated with long-term effects. Such practices attract less public attention.

General acceptance

Charging of these extra levies is often ‘justified’ in the minds of most administrators since they are levied to ‘better’ the lives of the learners. This general acceptance gives the school management the motivation to continuously introduce new charges and insist on their payment.

In most cases, the extra levies are not approved by the Education Cabinet Secretary as required by the law. They are charged under various vote heads such as PA activities; development fees, teacher motivation and old creditors payments, among others.

In some schools, the fees are sanctioned by the parent associations (PA). However, with weak or inadequate procedural safeguards on mechanisms to be used by the PA before levying such fees, the school managements often abuse the process. This raises questions over openness and accountability of not only the process of approval but also the prudent utilisation of the funds.

Such extra levies have put heavy financial pressure on the poor households who have to forgo other needs to educate their children especially during the pandemic period. The World Bank Report on the impacts of Covid-19 in funding of education (May 2020), revealed that households in lower-income and lower-middle-income countries contribute up to 27 per cent of education funding and this has been affected by depressed income during the pandemic.

The bank recommended provision of adequate funding to schools to avoid burden to families. It also recommended fees waivers, cash transfers programmes and school stipends.

The extra fees affect the children's continuous enjoyment and access to basic education. Learners from poor families are forced to stay away from learning for weeks.

With the weak and inadequate monitoring and auditing of such levies, most of the funds are prone to misappropriation. This will adversely affect the provision of quality education.

The extra fees affect the children's continuous enjoyment and access to basic education. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

The antidote to this systemic corruption lies in strengthening procedures for disclosure of all information on financial management to all stakeholders.

Parents, as important stakeholders, should actively participate in the governance of the school and demand transparency and accountability.

Blatant breach

The Education Ministry and the Teachers Service Commission should go beyond issuance of directives and strengthen structures to monitor and address the governance of the high schools, especially the extra-county and county schools. The two bodies should be swift and bold to deal with the blatant breach of regulations and guidelines by school managements.

Unlike the Board of Management (BOM), whose work is guided by the law, this is not the case for PA. This loophole is often exploited by school heads who argue that such extra levies are a product of PA meetings. Hence, there is need to provide guidelines on how PAs conducts their business to avoid arbitrary decisions.

All stakeholders in the education sector should take the matter of extra levies very seriously so as to prevent the long term and overarching effects of denying children’s right to access to quality basic education.

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