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Capitation cash fraud rocks Mbale School for the Deaf

The State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) has initiated a comprehensive investigation into reports of capitation grant fraud within educational institutions in Mbale district with the expectation to scale it up to other areas across the country.

The catalyst for this extensive inquiry stems from Mbale School for the Deaf, situated in Mbale district, which has recently been embroiled in allegations of corruption involving school administrators manipulating student enrollment figures to secure increased funding.

Mbale School for the Deaf, one of only two secondary schools for the deaf in Uganda, has grappled with internal turmoil over the past year, with tensions among current and former students, staff, and parents centering on their dissatisfaction with the headteacher, Rev. Sister Rose Nelima.

Mariam Natasha, the spokesperson for the SHACU, confirmed that they received information highlighting irregularities in student enrollment figures at this school and several others in Mbale district, prompting their interest in this matter. 

"The investigations have commenced, and Mbale School for the Deaf is just the tip of the iceberg. We possess information indicating a more extensive issue of inflated figures within this school and throughout the entire district." Natasha told our reporter.

She further emphasized that the investigation will not be limited to the school alone but will extend to officials within the district education office

"How can a school inflate learner figures without the district officers being aware?" Natasha questioned.

On Tuesday, there were rumors circulating that the SHACU was investigating the permanent secretary at the ministry of Education for the same reason. However, it's worth clarifying that these rumours have been officially denied. Nonetheless, Natasha did highlight that the commissioner of special needs, Sarah Bugosi, and the commissioner of secondary schools, Sam Kuloba, are persons of interest in the ongoing investigations.

The problem of inflating the numbers of learners in schools is not a new issue in Uganda. This phenomenon has been labeled as "ghosts," encompassing ghost teachers, ghost learners, and even ghost schools. These ghost entities have been a significant drain on taxpayer funds, costing the government billions. The government has been grappling with this issue since the early days of programs like UPE (Universal Primary Education) and USE (Universal Secondary Education). 

Various measures have been implemented to address this problem, one of the most well-known being the headcount. As far back as 2004, the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) conducted an operation that revealed the existence of over 300,000 suspected ghost pupils and students in government-aided schools. 

There have been unconfirmed reports of a syndicate within the education system involving headteachers, school management committee members, district officials, and ministry officials, which perpetuates the issue. 

To combat this, the ministry of Education recently introduced the Education Management Information System (EMIS). In a recent interview, Vincent Ssozi, the assistant commissioner for statistics, monitoring, and evaluation at the ministry of Education, explained that the revamped system will replace the headcount in public schools by assigning a unique identification number to each learner.

Ssozi further noted that for years, the ministry has struggled to obtain accurate learner data, as the old EMIS tracker relied on school census questionnaires, which presented challenges such as schools inflating or under-declaring the number of learners. 

“Government schools have been giving us ghost learners by inflating the number of learners in their respective schools so as to get more capitation grants. That's a form of corruption and it is going to be checked with the new system. We will not need headcounts anymore,” he said.

Despite the system being rolled out, it has not been fully utilized due to various challenges, including limited internet access and untrained users, among others. There are suspicions within the ministry that the delay in inputting learner data might be related to the discrepancy between the number of learners claimed by schools and the actual number.

As of August this year, data from the system indicates that a total of 11.5 million learners have been registered. Out of this figure, 10.2 million learners were enrolled by December 2022. Since the beginning of this year, an additional 1.3 million new learners have been introduced into the system, resulting in a cumulative total of 11.5 million learners.

Deeper issues plague Mbale School

Sources within the education community suggest that the challenges at Mbale School for the Deaf run much deeper than inflated student numbers.

"It's a situation that goes beyond what's immediately apparent. There are hidden influences at play here. To give you an example, the headteacher has wielded considerable power, almost as if the school were her personal domain. She has significant connections," noted one source.

Alumni of Mbale Secondary School for the Deaf have resorted to repeated demonstrations at the ministry of Education headquarters in a bid to draw them to what they perceive as severe mismanagement within the school.

One of their primary concerns revolves around the admission of non-disabled children into the school, a move that has deeply upset them. The situation at the school has triggered other investigations by the ministry itself, the Equal Opportunities Committee, and the parliamentary committee on education, underscoring the complexity and depth of the issues faced by the institution.

The ministry had attempted to carry out transfers at the school, notably appointing Dismus Wandulu to replace Rev Sister Rose Nelima, despite ongoing investigations. However, this transfer faced strong opposition, particularly from Obed Mwiri, the LC III chairperson of Busoba sub-county in Mbale district, who lodged a petition with parliament, alleging political interference by Sarah Bugoosi, the commissioner of special needs at the ministry of Education.

As a result, the ministry of Education decided to suspend the controversial transfer. Officials from the ministry appeared before the parliamentary committee on Education on August 30, revealing that the transfer had been put on hold until the investigations were concluded.

During the same meeting, minister John Chrysostom Muyingo disclosed that they were also investigating allegations against the commissioner of special needs education. She was accused of exacerbating conflicts between deaf students and those who can hear.

Furthermore, Muyingo revealed that the ministry had engaged with various stakeholders, including the Equal Opportunities Commission, and preliminary findings indicated simmering tensions among the school administration, board of governors, and other ministry officials.

"The commissioner of special needs education and the former chairperson of the board of governors were identified as key instigators of disputes within the school," he said as reported on the parliament news site. At the time of publishing this story, our reporter was unable to obtain comments from the implicated officers and the headteacher.

Comments

+1 #1 kabayekka 2023-09-21 08:59
This is an African country that is very proud of its heterosexual credentials in the world. How come it is failing to look after its so badly disabled citizens.

It sounds true to the fact that as one points a finger at many miserable sinners three of the other fingers are pointing to oneself as well!

Jesus always in his surmons strived to attend to the welfare of such disabled people who unfortunately in these times roam the cities of this country any how anywhere starving and begging.
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