Education sector trade unions say politically prompted appointments of school principals and teachers and transfers were raising corruption levels in the sector.
The unions were responding to a recent Bribery Commission announcement that the education sector had topped the list when it came to taking bribes.
Over the past six months, the Bribery Commission has received 236 complaints of school principals and other education-related officials seeking bribes to get children admitted to schools, outranking the police, against whom 233 bribery-linked complaints have been lodged.
It was also revealed that most of the charges were against school principals.
Ceylon Teachers’ Services Union (CTSU) secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe attributed the bribery problem in schools to unequal development of schools, resulting in a class of “elite” or extra-privileged schools. These privileged schools benefited from extra benefits in teacher manpower and resources, and attracted parents who were willing to pay extra for a quality education for their children.
“Parents do not hesitate to offer bribes to principals in order to get their children admitted to a privileged school,” Mr. Jayasinghe said. “The unequal system creates an opportunity for dishonest school principals. This is what results when the power of money rules. The result is a corrupt education sector.”Ceylon Principal Services Union secretary Lal Chandrakumara said today’s public services had been “politicised”, leaving plenty of loopholes for corruption.
“Most appointments of principals of national schools and heads of staff at zonal and provincial-level education offices are made under political influence,” Mr. Chandrakumara said. “There is no transparency”
He said that even when corruption among principals was exposed in the media, school principals still continued to accept bribes. He said most principals entered the field of education with pure intentions, but ended up succumbing to the temptations of huge bribes.
Ceylon Teacher’s Union secretary Joseph Stalin said the main reason for growing corruption in the education sector was political appointments, especially of “acting” heads at provincial and zonal levels, and “acting” principals.
“Usually, the heads of provincial and zonal education divisions are Grade I officers of the Sri Lanka Administrative Services [SLEAS]. Presently, there are only two officers, but 198 acting officers,” he said.
According to Mr. Stalin, “acting” positions were given on political recommendations.
“There are 9,728 schools in the country and more than 4,000 acting principals, over 50 percent. Grade I and Grade II principals are not given promotions, they are made acting principals instead,” he said.
Mr. Stalin pointed out that some schools had retired principals as school heads, and as they did not receive a salary, they tended to look for other means to make money. He said there were several such principals in the Western Province.
Mr. Stalin said there were some 200 leading schools that parents were eager to admit their children to, and that parents were prepared to pay substantial bribes to gain places in those schools.
Maliyadeva (Boys) College Kurunegala principal R. M. M. Ratnayake said the situation would improve if the Education Ministry allocated more money for schoolsdevelopment.
“The principals have to take full responsibility for the development of their schools, especially national schools,” he said. “Many principals take money from parents with a genuine desire to develop their schools with the money, and even issue receipts for monies received. But these receipts are often used by bribery officers against the principals.
“The government should take strict action against corrupt principals and allow honest principals to get on with their job,” he said.