Allegations against school principals taking financial bribes are well known. So are cases of their demands for sexual bribes
Even an average public servant is transferred every five years. So, how come a principal of a school remains for consecutive 13 years in the same workplace?”
This is an obvious question that would come to one’s mind when analysing the recent interesting story about three high-profile principals of leading schools in the country who came into the lime light last week. This specific question above refers to the former principal of Royal College in particular, among others.
The weekend newspapers carried elaborate stories about the mafia-style operation by these members of the ‘once-most-sacred profession’. The reason why I said that was chiefly because the past glory of the occupation has been extensively tarnished by many of its practitioners. Instances of financial bribes are well known and we have heard about several cases of sexual bribes, too. School admission is the most infamous mafia operation where the principal demands thumping perks, parents cheat through doctored documents and the poor child would lie as he or she was taught to do when facing interviews. Is this how a child should start the march towards the future. What a shame!
If the education system has fallen to this pathetic state, where are we heading as a society? How can we teach morality and ethics to our children if their school teachers and principals are so corrupt?
“Recently some principals started complaining that students do not ‘worship us anymore’. Of course, the student knows about the corruption among their teachers and principal.The child knows how he/she got into the school, so the principal is not a sacred character, but a mafia businessman,” said a teacher of a Colombo school.
The efforts of the government in taking stern action against these long pending cases are commendable. But according to the Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) Secretary General Joseph Starlin, the corrupt principals should have been interdicted before initiating inquiries. “We cannot understand why people like Mr. Gunasekera were transferred to higher positions in the Education Ministry pending inquiries. He can certainly influence the inquiries when he holds such a high position,” he said. Certainly a valid argument; if the charges are serious enough, how come he continues in the services without facing interdiction or compulsory leave?
According to the CTU, the complaints started piling up against the former Royal College principal as far back as 2010, followed by a series of complaints by a group of teachers of the very same school. The Public Service Commission commenced an in-depth inquiry, but the ultimate result was the sudden transfer of the three teachers who initiated those complaints against their principal. The accused remained in the same position with more power, but the complainants were punished, said a staff member of the college.” So no more complaints against the principal, we decided to keep our mouths shut,” a teacher said. The PSC inquiry too, was dropped or ‘made to go away’.
“In 2013, the Bribery Commission commenced another inquiry against Mr. Gunasekera. With this development, we saw members of the former ruling family frequenting college events,” informed another teacher. Despite the inquiry, he was getting close to the royal family. “In fact there were more such controversial programmess like the Kenda (Porridge) Project where the Nutrition Department of the Education Ministry had no idea about it,” said Joseph Starlin. However, the bribery inquiry dimmed and so did the commission itself during the previous regime.
“Our continual struggle against corrupt principals was never stopped,” said Starlin. “In several instances, auditors had conducted inquiries against those principals but within a few days, the children of those inquiring officers would find their way into the college and ‘clean’ audit reports would appear,” he alleged.
Within two weeks of the Yahapalana government assuming office on January 08, last year, the Education Ministry named 10 errant and corrupt principals in an official communique. But interestingly those three top-class principals who were exposed last week were not among that list. According to ministry sources, it was one of these three principals who attempted to broker a negotiation using his immense political power between the ministry and the principals. However, the ministry was not flexible and the investigations are still underway, one official said. But why did it take so long to take action?
In fact, as our sister paper Sunday Times correctly highlighted, that part of the problem are the past pupils’ associations that deal with the corrupt principals. In ideal situations these PPAs should be the watchdogs of the system but they have become entirely opposite predominantly for their own personal benefits. Strangely enough, in some instances these PPAs have appeared to defend principals named as wrong-doers at any cost – even by conducting press conferences.
If the conduct of the head of the school is such, there is no need to explain the doings of others like teachers.We are not discussing about municipal labour here, but a most sacred and respected profession which is responsible in shaping and molding the future of our country.
To my mind, these tragic developments, mainly in the sectors like education are the by-products of failures in good governance for over the past 10 years. Corruption, nepotism, abuse of power, no rule of law were the key features of governance for over a decade. Thus, those features penetrated into schools where corrupt individuals ran schools as they wished totally ignoring morals and ethics of the profession. This is not to say that principals and teachers were not corrupt before the Rajapakse regime - but probably not to this extent. The former regime provided a safe cover and being close to Royal Family was a trump card played by corrupt school heads.
Yahapalanaya is not solely about political good governance. If our education system is not cleaned up and saved from those errant practitioners, we cannot imagine a clean society. Thus, it is equally important that the Bribery Commission turns its lights on schools and take tough action against corrupt heads of schools. That’s a challenge to the Iron Lady of the Bribery Commission.