The ministries of Finance and Education are locked in a battle over the presence of ghost pupils, students and teachers across the country. While the Ministry of Finance maintains that there are over 260,000 ghost pupils and about 86 per cent of teachers in government aided schools, the Education ministry says those were only absent at the time of the investigations by Finance.
An internal discussion between two senior accounting officers responsible for government’s critical Universal education programme is opening a new debate on the existence and gravity of ghosts.
Correspondences between Education Permanent Secretary, Mr F. X. Lubanga and his Finance counterpart, Mr Chris Kasami, which this newspaper has obtained, show that the country is losing up to Shs13 billion annually to fund nonexistent pupils, schools and teachers. “Your findings of ghost at a rate of 60 per cent of the sample district with ghost schools, 85 per cent with ghost teachers while 100 per cent had at least ghost pupils is worrying but not new as this is a problem we have been grappling with for some time now. As you may recall, in my reply letter EDD/282/01 dated October 23, 2009 to yours ISS 48/137/01 dated October 17, 2009, I reiterated my earlier position to you of releasing capitation grants reduced by 25 per cent,” Mr Lubanga wrote to Mr Kasami on September 21.
Mr Lubanga acknowledges that the ghosts have been a persistent problem haunting the Universal Primary Education programme. He says the ministry captured the shocking figures from findings from the Inspection Initiative Report by the Directorate of Standards (DES) and Rapid Head count exercise conducted by his ministry in 2006 that showed divergence between enrollment and attendance figures of 25 per cent in the schools visited.
A simple addition of numbers gives a staggering 26,000 ghost pupils in only 13 districts which the ministry sampled for its survey. The ministry carried out the survey to ascertain statistics from the annual headcount programme, Saturday Monitor has been told.
Mr Lubanga says that the enrollment data which is administratively collected and managed by the Ministry of Education using the Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) and is therefore reliable particularly for strategic planning it may not be relied on 100 per cent for operational purposes.
Mr Lubanga explains that not all absentees noted during spot checks may mean ghost pupils or teachers or even schools adding that regular attendance of school is affected by several factors including but not limited to sickness, local markets or helping out on the family garden or farm depending on the season and the time of the spot check.
“On the other hand, attendance is recorded every day in the morning in every class. However, we still don’t have a mechanism to capture this information regularly as it would be very costly. Nevertheless, this is what we are aiming at implementing with support from USAID in the next two years,” Mr Lubanga said.
On ghost teachers, Mr Lubanga, put the responsibility of recruitment and verification at doorstep of the Ministry of Public Service. “You are aware my ministry only provides teacher ceiling by district, recruitment and deployment is carried out between the Chief Administrative Officer (Cao) and Public Service ministry,” Mr Lubanga wrote.
Mr Kasami’s investigations found that ghost teachers including the dead, absconders and those in ‘unknown schools’ cause a loss of Shs6.794billion to government per year. In his reply, Mr Lubanga said, “The responsibility to recruit, deploy lies with Local Government; while payment of wages rests with the Ministry of Public Service. I advise you to sort out this with those responsible centres.”
Meanwhile the Minister in charge of the Presidency, Ms Kabakumba Masiko in a September 9 letter to her Education counterpart, Lt. Jessica Alupo, said her office had revealed the existence of 12,273 ghost pupils in 107 UPE schools in Bundibugyo District. She said the findings were contained in a monthly report by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC).