By Ranga Kalansooriya –
“Even an average public servant receives his or her normal transfer order in every five years. How come a principal of a school remains for consecutive 13 years in the same work place?”
This is an obvious question that would come to one’s mind when analyzing the recent interesting story about three high profile principals of leading schools in the country who came into the lime light last week. This above specific question refers to the former Principal of the most prestigious Royal College in particular, among many other issues.
Many weekend newspapers carried elaborative stories about the mafia style operation by these members of the “once-most-sacred profession.” Why I said “once-most-sacred profession” was probably due to the fact that the past glory of the occupation has already been extensively tarnished by many of its corrupt practitioners. Financial bribes are popularly known and we heard about several cases on sexual bribes, too. School admission is the most famous mafia operation where the principal would demand thumping perks, the parents would cheat through doctored documents and the poor child would lie as he or she was taught when facing interviews. This is how the child would start the marching towards the future. What a shame…!
If the education system is getting to these pathetic standards, where are we heading towards as a society? How can we teach morality and ethics to our children if their most sacred teachers and principals are so corrupt?
“Recently some principals started complaining that the students are no more worshiping them. Of course, the student knows the corrupt standards of these principals and teachers. The child knows how he/she got into the school, thus for the student, the principal is no more a sacred character, but a mafia businessman,” said a teacher of a Colombo school who did not want to be named.
The efforts of the government in taking stern action against these long pending cases are commendable. But according to Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) Secretary General Joseph Starlin, all these corrupt principals should have been interdicted before initiating inquiries. “We cannot understand why people like Mr Gunasekera were transferred to higher positions at the Education Ministry pending tough inquiries. He can certainly influence the inquiries when he is such high positions,” he questioned. 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 complains started pilling 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 three teachers who initiated those complaints against their principal out of Royal College. 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, the teacher said. The PSC inquiry, too, disappeared.
Then in 2013, the bribery commission commenced another inquiry against Mr Gunasekera. With this development coming into the scene, we saw the members of the former ruling family more frequenting at college events, said another teacher. No matter the inquiry, he was getting so close to the Royal family. In fact there were more such controversial programs like the “Kenda (Poridge) Project” and the Nutrition Department of the Education Ministry had no clue about it, said Joseph Starlin. However, the bribery inquiry, too, disappeared – likewise the commission itself during the previous regime.
Our continuous struggle against these corrupt principals was never stopped, said Starlin. In several instances, the auditors would conduct inquiries against those principals, but within a few days, the children of those inquiring officers would find their ways into the College. Thus clean reports would appear, he alleged.
Barely within two weeks of the Yahapalana government came into office on January 08, last year, the Education Ministry named 10 errant and corrupt principals in an official communiqué, but interestingly those three top class principals who were exposed last week were not among that list. More interestingly, 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 accused principals. However, the ministry was not flexible and the investigations are still underway, one official said. But why it took so long to take action when it was a matter of days for those top grade school bosses?
In fact, as our sister paper Sunday Times correctly highlighted, part of the problem is the Past Pupils Associations (PPAs) who deals with the corrupt principals. In ideal situations these PPAs should be the watchdogs of the system but it has become entirely opposite predominantly for their own personal benefits. Strange enough, in some instances these PPAs have appeared to defend these accused principals at any cost – even by conducting press conferences.
If the conduct of the head of the school is as such, no needs to explain those of others like teachers. We are not discussing about Municipal laborers (perhaps they could be much better), but one of the most sacred and respected profession in the country – which is responsible in shaping and molding the future of our country.
To my mind, these tragic developments, mainly in the sectors like education were the by-products of failures in good governance for over 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 the schools as well and corrupt individuals ran those once-sacred systems as they wished by totally ignoring morals and ethics of the profession. This is not to say that principals and teachers were not corrupt before the Rajapaksa regime – but probably not to this extent. The former regime provided a safe cover, so being closer to Royal Family was the modus operandi of defense for those corrupt school heads.
Yahapalanaya is not solely about political good governance. If education system is not cleaned up and saved from those errant practitioners, we cannot imagine of a clean society. Thus, it is equally important that the bribery commission turn its lights on schools and take tough action against those errant heads of schools. Food for thoughts to the Tough Lady at the bribery commission.