Several schools are circumventing a 2014 Government directive to freeze tuition fees by introducing special levies that they demand in perpetuity.
Several schools have already applied to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education for permission to collect the special levies in the second term, which opens in May.
The levies are ostensibly for infrastructure development and the likes, and are supposed to be collected over a fixed period.
However, even after that period lapses, the schools continue demanding the payments from parents and guardians.
“This has left cumulative fees for most schools almost twice higher than the approved figure,” said an aggrieved parent.
“And there are good grounds to believe that these funds are being abused at the instigation of heads in connivance with (school development committee) chairs because they are not accounted for and each time the two are always covering up for each other.”
Investigations revealed that the practice is rampant throughout the country.
Gathered information shows that some school heads, as returning officers of their institutions, are allegedly manipulating the SDCs election process so as to impose office bearers who play ball with them.
“It is really bad,” protested Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Dr Takavafira Zhou. “Headmasters are conniving with SDCs and SDAs (school development associations) to rob parents through manipulating the special levy.
“Long after a special levy application has expired they continue charging the fee. They even start more funny projects without approval from the ministry and you can only wonder if the money is going where it is supposed to go.”
Dr Zhou encouraged parents to keep relations between school heads and SDC chairs in check to stop corruption.
Mr Sfiso Ndlovu, the CEO of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, concurred and added that the absence of investors in education had left room for graft.
“Yes, we have seen it happening (and) it is bad; it’s manipulation and dishonesty and should not be happening, especially in the education system,” said Mr Ndlovu.
“We encourage respect, co-ordination and transparency. But the problem is that development in schools is not being led by sound investment and the current system can be easily manipulated.”
Headmasters deny the allegations.
National Association of School Heads president Mr Johnson Madhuku said it was impossible for such malpractices to happen without parents noticing.
“Parents and schools normally have annual general meetings where they discuss such issues,” he said.
“These are usually held at the end of February each year and they discuss new projects and how much each student is supposed to contribute.
“It is during these meetings that parents should question any irregularities concerning the projects or the levies paid as most projected budgets of the year are usually presented at that time. This is also the time that schools submit fees structures to the ministry for approval. Therefore, if these procedures are followed correctly I am sure we won’t have such problems again.
“However, if there are school heads involved in such practices, as Nash president I want to urge my colleagues to desist from such practices as they are serious offences.”
SDC chairs also refuted the allegations, saying they in fact had a reputation of fighting corrupt school heads. Zimbabwe Schools Development Associations and Committees president Mr Claudio Mutasa said while it was possible, it was difficult to abuse special levies.
“As for us, we have not yet received any reports from parents but, yes, this could be happening,” he said. It is extremely difficult because the relationship between heads and chairs is not always so cordial on the basis that as parents, chairs always want to make sure that fellow parents are protected and funds are used for intended purposes. And it is not like schools are increasing fees through the back door because what happens is that not all parents pay these levies on time.
So when the time expires before the collected money is enough to complete a project schools are forced to continue collecting the money but this is done in consultation with the ministry. And because the special levy is not supposed to be used for anything else but the intended project, it becomes an offence for schools to hold on to the funds or use them for other purposes, hence they continue to collect until the project is finished.”
His secretary-general, Mr Everisto Jongwe, weighed in saying the election process of SDC committees was largely under parents’ control and was difficult to manipulate.
“Therefore, connivance at the end of the day becomes difficult because the committee members are parents elected by parents in a transparent election. And remember these are parents who do not know each other personally so conniving is difficult because parents have reputations to protect while headmasters have jobs to protect.”
Deputy Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Professor Paul Mavima, said it was an offence for schools to increase fees under the guise of special levies.
“It is not allowed for schools to hike fees without the permission of the permanent secretary. Once they have asked for a special levy, they have to revert to the original fee structures when it expires. Of course, it is a case-by-case situation but once we have known of the schools we will do investigations.”