- School drowns in debt because of funds mismanagement
- Four staff members accused of fraud
- Staff salaries slashed by 50 percent
LAWRENCE SERETSE & TLOTLO KEBINAKGABO
A forensic report conducted at Westwood English Medium School in Gaborone found that it is drowning in a P10 million debt, which was acquired as a loan to pay salaries after four members of management were found to have defrauded the school coffers to its last penny, documentation held by this publication alleges.
This publication made the discovery in a letter (dated May 2nd 2020) written to parents by the Chairperson of the WIS Council Peter Sedingwe who attained his position in July 2019. According to his letter, due to the mismanagement of funds by the previous school administration, especially during the years 2017, 2018 and part of 2019, the school found itself in debt of approximately P10 million as of January 2020.
When the matter was still under wraps earlier this year, The Botswana Gazette spoke to administration employee Same Toteng at Westwood, but at that time she could not shed light on the matter.
In light of the new evidence, The Botswana Gazette contacted the school yet again this week, but could not reach anyone because of the lockdown. An email sent to the school, was also yet to be responded to by press time.
However, Chairperson Peter Sedingwe states in his letter that by the time his Council came into office (July 2019), the previous school management and outgoing Council, had just applied for a P3 million overdraft from First National Bank Botswana (FNBB). He says the reason given for that overdraft application was that the school had apparently run out of funds and could not finance the July 2019 payroll, Sedingwe’s letter states further that the overdraft application was successful and the July 2019 salaries were paid.”
The WIS Council Chaiperson goes on to state that by November 2019, the school had once again run out of money of which they applied and were granted a P7 million loan from FNBB, the loan is payable over two years. “This loan was just enough to cover November and December staff salaries, end of contract gratuities and various accumulated bills,” says Sedingwe.
He states that considering the school financial position, WIS council and Head of School (HOS) who arrived in office on 1st September 2019 carried an investigation and forensic audit into the school’s accounts. Sedingwe alleges that the forensic audit showed that there had been financial mismanagement and or fraud on the part of four members of the school administration. “Following disciplinary hearings in January and February 2020, all four were found guilty of charges and were consequently removed from school. The case was then handed over to the Botswana Police and is part of an ongoing investigation,” he says in the letter to parents.
According to Sedingwe following the school financial troubles an austerity budget for 2020 was put in place in order to cut non-academic costs wherever possible. In his letter written to parents, he states that in March 2020, the austerity budget was going to see the school through until the end of the school year. “However, by the end of March, the school found itself without enough funds to pay April salaries but not enough to meet May salaries in full,” he says.
The COVID-19 pandemic made the school’s financial position worse as according to Sedingwe school fee collections were affected, something which led to a drop in revenue. To mitigate that, the decision was made by the school in consultation with their staff, to cut salaries by 50 percent for the month of April and possibly 50 percent for May (depending on the amount of school fees that will be collected in term two).
He says the decision was also made to maintain term two fees at 100 percent to maximise revenue but to offer greater flexibility to parents for the payment arrangements based on the impact of COVID-19. “It should be made clear that, over the past eight months, since the new Council and HOS have been in office, every attempt has been made to keep Westwood going,” Sedingwe’s letter states. “There have been times when the very survival of the school was in question.”
To ensure that the school keeps on running Sedingwe notes that budgets have been tightened where possible without making any sacrifices to the quality international education offered to students. “However, the school’s finances remain precarious and more efforts will be required in the year 2020 and beyond. No one can be sure of the negative impact COVID-19 may have on the economy of Botswana and on the finances of the school,” he says. “We are also grateful to you parents. At this difficult time, we are dependent on you, to do your utmost to pay the school fees that are so necessary for the continued survival of the school.”