Sparks fly over fees hikes

Source: Sparks fly over fees hikes | Sunday Mail (Local News)

Brian Chitemba

Corruption-fighting agencies are looking into recent complaints lodged by parents over arbitrary school fees hikes with a view of establishing if they “are driven by authentic and genuine reasons” or “whether they are a product of profiteering and corruption”.

A group of parents, who suspect that some headmasters are colluding with staffers in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to circumvent due process in approving fee increases, has since approached the Special Anti-Corruption Unit (Sacu) in the Office of the President and Cabinet.

Both private and  public schools have variously increased fees for the first term of 2020 to between $4 000 and $60 000 per term.

Fees for boarding schools ranged from $900 to $1 000 last term, but parents had to top-up mid-term as prices of goods and services rose.

Sacu chair Mr Tabani Mpofu said the concerns raised by parents have been referred to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC).

“We have received a letter of complaint and forwarded it to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) and the police for investigation.

“The issue of spiralling school fees is of major concern to parents throughout the country. We have done a brief and referred the matter to ZACC. We hope that the results of the investigation will shed some light whether these school fees hikes are driven by authentic and genuine reasons; whether they are a product of profiteering and corruption.”

ZACC Commissioner John Makamure could not immediately comment as he did not respond to questions.

However, a dossier written by Dominican Convent School parents alleged that the school head, Sister Kudzai Mutsure, could have connived with Harare Provincial Education Director (PED), Mr Christopher Kateera, to increase fees without consulting parents.

Mr Kateera dismissed the allegations as baseless, saying fees were determined by the Dominican Convent School board.

“We are not members of the school board; the Ministry (of Primary and Secondary Education) only looks at school levies. Parents who cannot pay fees at private schools should just withdraw their children and enrol at our public schools. Government withdrew teachers from trust schools and now schools pay 100 percent,” he said.

Dominican Convent School board chair Mr Tapiwa Shiri refused to discuss the matter.

Sister Mutsure, however, said: “ I don’t comment on those issues.”

But parents allege that Sister Mutsure wrote to Mr Kateera seeking to review fees without consulting parents as prescribed by the Education Act.

The parents said they had running battles with Sister Mutsure throughout 2019 due to school fees increases which could not be explained in terms of the law.

“We have written several times to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education seeking intervention but nothing was done to sort out the problem. We had issues where fees were increased in retrospect and without the consent of parents as provided by the Education Act. Sister Mutsure also hid school fees approval letters from the ministry until we had to find it on our own. We, therefore, call for a proper investigation into the happenings at Dominican Convent School,” wrote the parents.

Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education Mrs Tumisang Thabela recently told The Sunday Mail that schools should follow procedure before increasing fees.

Parents are also calling for a probe over how the school purchased a sports club for US$6 million without approval from parents.

Mr Mpofu said the allegations would be thoroughly investigated to establish whether a crime was committed.