Sound the alarm! Disturbing reports of corruption across education institutions raise concern

Published Aug 25, 2022


Johannesburg - A new report released by Corruption Watch has revealed the persistent graft and corruption in certain areas of the education sector in South Africa.

Titled “Sound the Alarm”, the report highlights 3 667 reports of education-related corruption received between 2012 and 2021, representing 10% of the total reports received by Corruption Watch over that period.

The voluminous amount of reports point to widespread misappropriation of resources, acts of bribery, sextortion, abuse of authority, and blatant flouting of employment and procurement processes.

Corruption Watch has received “disturbing” reports of alleged corruption across basic and higher education institutions throughout the country for over 10 years.

The Sound the Alarm report looks specifically at how corruption has impacted mainly primary and secondary schools, SETAs, and Technical, Vocational, Education and Training (TVET) colleges.

Corruption Watch senior researcher and author of the report, Melusi Ncala said the report draws a link between acts of corruption across these institutions, “exposing the struggles to secure education from primary to tertiary level”.

“What is particularly striking about these heart-wrenching accounts is the willingness of ordinary people, whether parents, guardians, learners, students, workers, or professionals, to speak up against brazen acts of corruption,” Ncala said.

“Equally conspicuous is the persistent failure of government and law enforcement to act against those educators, principals, administrators, unions, and board members implicated in corrupt activities, usually motivated by personal greed,” he added.

Though most provinces have been affected by the widespread corruption, the reports found that the hotspots where most cases originated were in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The report also found that the predominant types of corruption and implicated parties vary according to the institution.

In schools, misappropriation of resources, maladministration, and abuse of authority ranked highest, with principals and school governing body members implicated as the primary culprits. Alarmingly, incidents of bribery and extortion are also prevalent, including allegations of sextortion, along with employment irregularities.

The picture changes slightly in SETAs, as procurement irregularities top the scale, followed by maladministration and misappropriation of resources.

The report again highlights that it is people in positions of power who are seen to solicit bribes, flout recruitment processes, and disrupt the smooth roll-out of training programmes and learnerships.

Similarly, at TVET colleges the main types of corruption reported are procurement irregularities, employment irregularities, and abuse of authority. As with schools and SETAs, these cases involve theft of resources, bribery, and extortion, with municipal officials and college executives and administrators most often implicated.

“Education is considered to be key to unlocking people from poverty, and Corruption Watch has made several interventions during the years of covering corruption in this sector. Its team of investigators, journalists, and lawyers probed complaints, wrote stories to expose the rot, provided training to school governing body (SGB) members on corruption issues, and sought answers from government departments and law enforcement agencies,” the organisation stated.

Focused investigations into schools around the country have included reports ranging from procurement irregularities and money mismanagement to abuse of power by principals, which in some cases led to the dismissal of that principal.

Because distribution of resources is central to the way that institutions are managed, Corruption Watch capacitated individuals elected to SGBs across the country, and provided information on the most important criteria for SGB appointees.

“If education is vocational, it would be reasonable to expect those responsible for managing these institutions to be more mindful of the duty of care,” Ncala said.

Lack of resources is a frequent excuse for not providing proper education – and yet, Ncala said, if the limited resources that do exist are being mismanaged to the extent that they see, something has to be done urgently to hold the guilty parties accountable, and to address the challenges preventing people from accessing the education that they deserve.

“The authorities in this sector are simply paying lip service to the issue of graft – and if anything can be gleaned from their rhetoric, it is their apathy and refusal to be accountable. Their failure to act decisively necessitates strong and resounding action by us, the people,” Ncala added.