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Auditors and accountants, some fake, have for years been colluding with principals and school governing bodies (SGBs) handling millions of rand to cook financial books.

And now, the Department of Basic Education is seeking to flush crooked auditors and accountants out of the system.

It has launched a formal investigation into registered auditors and accounting officers doing work in schools.

In a circular, the department said the investigation would largely be conducted by relevant professional bodies. The bodies would investigate their members based on complaints received against them.

The department said it had received several complaints of dubious work by auditors and accountants, hence the probe.

“In light of the number of cases referred to the department relating to allegations of misconduct by members of professional bodies, the Minister of Basic Education (Angie Motshekga) formally furnished all professional bodies with a mandate to investigate allegations of misconduct by their members within the education sector,” said the circular.

The document said “discrepancies that have been identified” included submission of inaccurate data and misstatements in the financial statements, presentation of statements that did not meet professional standards, and officers who were unqualified as auditors and accountants doing the work.

Schools should forward to the department cases of misconduct they knew about, said the circular.

Elijah Mhlanga, the department's spokesperson, said schools handled millions of rand each year, but the auditing of their books was generally poor.

The richest schools could handle about R30 million a year, he said. The no-fee schools were also allocated thousands by the department.

“All schools receive large sums of money and all of them need to be audited. Some get donated money. All of that money needs to be accounted for,” Mhlanga.

But many schools were not doing the right thing, he said. “When we examined the nature of the problems we found that there were irregularities when it comes to the management of finances in schools, particularly the reporting.

“We require that schools must be audited by competent and qualified professionals. But some of the auditors used are not registered, while others collaborate with the schools to cook the books,” Mhlanga said.

He added that some schools were doing things properly: “They get quotes and appoint the best company, not someone in the SGB who says they work for an auditing firm.”

Mhlanga said that at the end of the probe, schools would emerge with a culture of proper auditing, “like it should happen everywhere”.