The ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell says thousands of dollars are missing from the free School Books programme but did not point an accusing finger at any member of the former Congress government of Tillman Thomas.
Speaking at a post-Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday, Education Minister Anthony Boatswain said that the programme was not successfully run and blamed School Principals and other civil servants for the loss of thousands of dollars.
He said that the one-year old NNP administration will be making adjustments to the programme that was considered to be one of the most successful initiatives of the former regime.
Boatswain disclosed that based on an audit conducted by the Department of Audit, it emerged that there were serious financial irregularities in the operation of the programme.
He said that between 2008 and 2011, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration of then Prime Minister Thomas spent close to $13.6 million on the school book programme but it was affected by many shortcomings.
“The funds that were supposed to be collected from the students in the various schools and turned into the Treasury, in 90% of the cases studied, those funds were never turned into the Treasury,” he said.
According to Minister Boatswain as it stands now in excess of $100,000 is still outstanding to the Treasury from the programme.
He said the audit report also revealed that financial rules were not adhered to and although receipt books were given to every school for proper accounting purposes, in most instances those books were discarded resulting in no proper accounting of the funds collected.
The minister did not identify the schools and principals that were culpable.
However, he said the Audit Department suggested that the Police and Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) be called in to investigate the matter but government opted against this approach as the Mitchell administration felt that the parties involved did not mean to commit such “fraud.”
He added that upon further investigation of the free schoolbook programme, it was discovered that there were serious wastage and an abuse of the scheme.
The senior government minister pointed out that at the level of the Ministry of Education and at various schools, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of books were ordered and never used and are just there collecting dust.
“In one instance a series of books were ordered (4500 copies costing roughly $360,000) and never used because it happened to be the wrong book,” he said.
According to the Education Minister, this happened because the parties involved in making the purchases were not working as a unit since everyone was doing their own thing.
“So the School Principal must be ordering books unknowing to the Curriculum Department (in the Ministry of Education) and in many instances the schools were ordering books in excess of their requirements because a Publisher might go to that school and in contravention of the procedures, the Principal might strike a bargain with that Publisher and order books, such books not being the prescribed text on the curriculum,” he said.
Minister Boatswain told reporters that government is now owing the suppliers of the free schoolbooks given to the nation’s students under Congress close to $1.5 million due to poor administration and poor management of the programme.
He said the Mitchell government has decided on a different approach in order to avoid a reoccurrence of what happened under the NDC administration.
“We will be putting structures in place to ensure while the programme continues there will be proper accounting procedures. We’ll also put in place structures to ensure that only the required number of books will be ordered and there would be one authority responsible, that would be the Permanent Secretary with the Chief Accounting Officer and therefore Principals of Schools will no longer be allowed to order books without consulting the Permanent Secretary within the Ministry of Education,” he remarked.
In addition, Minister Boatswain stated that the NNP government is now setting the stage for the implementation of E-Books since the goal is to replace books with Tablets.
In the campaign for the February poll, the NNP promised to deliver a free laptop computer to each student if elected into office to replace Congress.
After it won the elections, the party then announced that it would instead be giving tablets instead of laptops.