THE Ministry of Education and Training has for several years failed to maintain human resource records, proper accounting and reconciliation systems resulting in a situation where millions out of its M1.7 billion annual wage bill for teachers are spent paying ghost teachers.
In addition, the Primary School Feeding Programme is in shambles amid revelations that M1500 per month payments are being advanced to individuals who are not contracted to cater for learners’ feeding requirements under the programme.
This came to light during a recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing in which officials from the ministry’s Teaching Service Department (TSD) appeared before parliament to explain their activities.
The TSD is a department within the Ministry of Education and Training which serves as the secretariat of the Teaching Service Commission and it has the mandate of implementing all the decisions the commission.
Among other things, the TSD is mandated to hire teachers on the recommendations of the commission, pay their salaries as well as maintain teachers’ records.
It however, emerged during this week’s appearance of TSD officials before the Selibe Mochoboroane-led PAC that the department has been spending millions of maloti over several payments to ghost workers chiefly because of the failure to maintain proper staff records and accounting procedures.
The Education and Training ministry’s Deputy Principal Secretary, Ratšiu Majara, and other TSD officials who initially sought to deny any wrong-doing were forced to perform an embarrassing about-turn when they were confronted with incriminating evidence of their shortcomings in the form of a leaked audio clip as well research from one of the constituencies.
“We have systems in place to check whether we are paying ghost teachers or not and there are no ghosts on our payroll as far as I know,” Mr Majara said in his rebuttal of accusations that they were paying ghost teachers and mismanaging their affairs. His story would change a few minutes later in the face of seemingly incontrovertible evidence from Mr Mochoboroane and other PAC members.
Peeved with denials of any wrong-doing, Mr Mochoboroane played a recording which was allegedly made by one of the Ministry of Education and Training officials warning TSD officials of the impending appearance before the PAC.
In the recording, a woman said to be ‘Manyakallo Phothane is heard warning one of her colleagues of the need to prepare convincing responses to explain to the PAC why ghost teachers have continued to be paid from government coffers. She also warns them to brace themselves for tough questions pertaining to the Primary School Feeding Programme.
“Listen here Jonny, we all know the number of individuals engaged under the school feeding programme per each district and an estimated total of their payments for each month,” Ms Phothane can be heard saying.
“We are however, in trouble with the issue of M1500 payments we have been making to individuals without school feeding programme contracts.
“The issue of ghost teachers is also at its highest peak in the TSD and we need to pray really hard to ensure that we come out of the PAC interrogation unscathed because our investigations show that these are some of the issues Mochoboroane and others are going to grill us on,” Ms Phothane continues.
Immediately after playing the audio, Mr Mochoboroane put it to the ministry’s officials including Mr Majara that they had been paying ghost teachers for several years while at the same time mismanaging the funds for the School Feeding Programme.
“The audio I have just played was made by one person who works at the ministry’s headquarters and she was tipping off the TSD employees,” Mr Mochoboroane said.
Faced with denials of wrong-doing by Mr Majara, Mr Mochoboroane went on to produce some documents that appeared to show that the TSD was been paying some substitute ghost teachers in a school in his Thabana-Morena constituency.
“Immediately after receiving the leaked audio clip, I did my own investigations in Thabana-Morena and I found that Motemolane Primary School has never had a Liepollo Monaheng as a substitute teacher for one M. Mohau who has never worked there in the first place.
“There is also one Evodia Bulane who has been receiving a monthly salary from the TSD even though she is a ghost teacher,” Mr Mochoboroane said.
Mr Mochoboroane further showed that there was one Senate Lebona who was employed twice by the TSD and was receiving two monthly salaries which were deposited to two different bank accounts.
The documents that Mr Mochoboroane produced had the TSD stamp and the Thabana-Morena legislator demanded to know the identity of the signatories that appeared on the papers.
He also condemned the TSD’s failure to put in place, systems to ensure that its payroll was free of ghost teachers, adding that parliament would countenance such gross violations of good corporate governance practices which ultimately contributed to the high unemployment of qualified teachers.
The ministry has often claimed that it was unable to absorb all graduate teachers due to funding challenges.
Another PAC member also weighed on the saga, accusing the TSD of continuing to pay one Moriana Marume, despite the latter’s death in 2011.
Another PAC member, Palo Leteetee, also revealed that one Kerongoe Lelesa who was purportedly engaged as a casual teacher at Khotlang High School was paid two salaries in 2016.
After having initially denied wrong-doing, Mr Majara was forced to concede that there were serious irregularities in the operations of the TSD.
“I cannot dispute the information you are putting forward and if that is what is happening, paying ghosts is theft and stealing is not allowed in the public service.
“But our system clearly hasn’t picked these anomalies. This shows that our officers are manipulating the system and we will need to follow-up on the evidence you have put forward.”
For her part, TSD Chief Education Officer, ‘Maselloane Sehlabi, said they did not readily have the list of all teachers on the payroll and it was therefore difficult to ascertain the veracity of the legislators’ allegations.
She however, said she “would not dispute that people might fraudulently fill in employment forms, masquerading as real teachers while they are ghost workers”.
“In January alone, we spent more than M139 million on teachers’ salaries. We have plus or minus 15 000 teachers on our payroll,” Ms Sehlabi said.
She said while the ministry spent 85 percent of its budget which translated to M1.7 billion annually on teachers’ salaries, there were no reconciliation systems in place to ensure that only deserving teachers were paid.
Asked if she agreed that the payroll had ghost workers, Ms Sehlabi said, “If there are ghost teachers, yes the M1.7 billion includes salaries of the ghosts”.