Minister of Education Minister, Hon. Andrew Holness, has denied suggestions that his Ministry is targeting schools connected to the leadership of the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) in its annual audits.
“There is no grand scheme to audit schools that were once the workplace of presidents of the JTA. That’s not the intention of the Ministry of Education,” Mr. Holness told a press briefing at his office on Friday (January 14).
The Minister was responding to concerns raised by the Association of Principals and Vice-Principals about the reasons behind audits conducted at the Buff Bay High School in Portland, and the Porus High School in Manchester. Opposition Member of Parliament, Dr. Peter Phillips, also raised the issue in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The audits were done by the Public Accountability Inspectorate (PAI) of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service. Current JTA president, Nadine Molloy, is the former principal of Buff Bay High, and former JTA president, Michael Stewart, is the principal of Porus High.
Mr. Holness said that the auditing of school finances is part of government’s accountability thrust. He said school principals must be aware that both his Ministry and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service have the authority to conduct audits of all public schools.
“Schools are public agencies and, although they fall directly under the Ministry of Education, as long as they use public funds they also fall directly under the ambit of the Ministry of Finance. We want it to be clear that the Ministry of Finance has auditing powers, has oversight powers over how public schools use their resources,” he said.
He explained that the Ministry conducts more than 100 financial and management audits of public institutions, specifically schools, agencies and departments that fall directly under its authority, each year, as part of its oversight responsibilities.
“One school was audited by the Ministry of Finance by one of its agencies. The Ministry of Education had nothing to do with it; we didn’t even know that the school was being audited. We don’t even know what the school’s response to the audit was,” Mr. Holness stated.
He also disclosed that the Ministry of Education conducted a routine audit of the Buff Bay High school in 2009/2010, based on information that came to its attention. This, he said, was long before Mrs. Molloy became president of the JTA.
“Now it is sheer coincidence that it would be that the school which was audited by the Ministry of Finance was the school of the immediate former president of the JTA, and then the other school so happens to be the school of which the current present of the JTA was principal,” he said.
“I want to take this opportunity, therefore, to say to our principals that we are here to assist you and to serve you. We want to also alert you that with the new governance thrust towards accountability, school principals ought to become comfortable with the idea that their schools can and will be audited,” he said.
The Minister noted, however, that it was not the practice of his Ministry to make its audit findings public, as they were a matter of confidentiality.
“Education is built on the solid reputation of the teacher and the principal and we, at the Ministry, try as best as we can to protect the teaching profession, as a whole. We don’t want a few bad teachers or a few bad bursars to cast a negative light on the teaching profession,” he said.
He also assured the public that if any audit suggests fraud or misappropriation, the Ministry would act.
“We will continue to treat with the audit information in a very responsible way. We will continue to protect the reputation of the education system and educators generally, but certainly those persons who fall in breach will be dealt with appropriately,” he said.