Former Pinelands principal accused of embezzling school funds
The school governing body (SGB) of Pinelands Primary School asked the department to institute a forensic investigation after it became concerned about the missing money. The forensic report then revealed that the principal, Mervyn Counsell, paid for a holiday out of school funds directly to a holiday resort; took out golf membership with school funds; procured IT equipment; paid staff loans, including a loan for himself; used the schools debit card for personal expenses; and entertained clients and staff.
The misuse amounted to R346 865.24.
Finding Counsell proved fruitless. The school refused to divulge his contact details, while SGB chairperson Gary Oliver said he did not have Counsell’s contact details.
“This has been coming on since 2015, when we started questioning certain things that took place at the school and the principal couldn’t provide us with adequate answers, and then we went to the education department head office to assist us,” Oliver said.
The investigation by the education department led to a forensic audit.
“That money could have been used for other things for the children, and if proper processes were followed, this would not have happened,” Oliver said.
The forensic audit also found that the school’s financial committee failed to ensure compliance with the law. No minutes of meetings were recorded and no records of who was present and what matters were discussed and resolutions taken were given.
The audit also pointed out that the absence of a financial policy, perpetuated for years, exacerbated the general state of maladministration by the principal.
Counsell took early retirement after disciplinary action was instituted against him last May. At the pre-hearing last June he indicated that he will be taking early retirement and his hearing was cancelled.
“Basically what this means, when an educator takes early retirement, is they can escape with that amount of money without repaying it. And that needs to be reviewed because Counsell walks away scot-free,” Oliver said.
He said the provincial department wanted the governing body to take action against the former principal. “That’s not our responsibility. We’re not going to do anything because it’s going to come out of our cost,” Oliver said.
Pinelands Primary School has been embroiled in a string of controversies relating to maladministration at the school for years. In 2016, parents staged a protest outside the school, holding up posters saying “Stop abuse of power”.
“I would like to see the Western Cape Education Department take responsibility and take ownership of this,” Oliver said.
Paddy Attwell, spokesperson for the education department, said they could confirm the contents of the forensic investigation, but could not comment on the concerns raised by the SGB.