Thu, 20 Nov 2003

Widespread graft plagues schools in East Kalimantan

Rusman, The Jakarta Post, Samarinda, East Kalimantan

The East Kalimantan education office is investigating alleged irregularities in the use of scholarship funds totaling Rp 1.7 billion (US$1.9 million) in 393 schools in the capital city of Samarinda.

The office has also frozen the disbursement of the funds to the remaining six schools, pending the investigation, which is expected to end before this month's Idul Fitri celebration.

Mugni Baharuddin, head of the local office, said on Wednesday that the scholarships were part of the central government's special program to assist poor students, but the schools' administrators had allegedly cut some of the funds that should have been received by students for "administration fees".

He further said that the office had summoned several school principals and questioned them about withholding the money, but many kept arguing that the funds had been cut for tuition fees.

"The scholarships are part of the government's program that aims to assist poor students .... The students have to receive all money allocated to them," Mugni told The Jakarta Post.

"We have summoned several school principals for questioning about the issue, and some argued money was used to cover unpaid tuition fees from the previous semesters. Indeed, we will continue investigating because their replies have not yet satisfied me."

At the beginning of the new semester last August, the Ministry of National Education allocated Rp 1.7 billion for 399 private and state schools in Samarinda to assist about 883,000 poor students.

Elementary school students receive Rp 60,000 each for one semester, while students from junior and senior high schools each receive Rp 120,000 and Rp 150,000 respectively.

But complaints have been rife following the withholding by the schools, prompting the local education office to set up a team to probe alleged irregularities.

"I will not tolerate any violation in the disbursement of the funds. If my team finds any infractions, I will not hesitate to sanction the principals," Mugni said.

"Maybe we will also change the mechanism of the disbursement of the funds by giving them directly to the students," he added.

There have been allegations of rampant irregularities at the schools, but only a few have been revealed to the public.

The local office of the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) proposed that each school set a committee consisting of students' parents to supervise the use of school money and look into possible misuse of assistance.

The anticorruption watchdog had earlier revealed its findings of rampant irregularities in education projects worth trillions of rupiah across the country. These projects included those funded by foreign agencies.

The ICW accused some senior officials at the Ministry of National Education of involvement in corruption cases.