The Sunday Leader

School Uniform Material Distribution Racket Exposed

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

  • Principals of seven schools in the country have recently been suspended
  • It is up to the parents to decide where they should buy the uniforms
  • Supplier had paid Rs.35 to the principals for each metre sold

Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam
handing over a uniform voucher to a student

A racket involving the distribution of school uniforms has been under discussion for the past few months. It has once again come under the limelight with allegations being raised against the tender procedure for supplying the uniform material.  At present school uniforms are being distributed under a voucher scheme. It was a move that was introduced by the new government. However, Principals of seven schools in the country have recently been suspended on allegations of irregularities that had occurred while purchasing these uniform materials from Salu Sala.

When queried regarding the government’s response to the allegations on the distribution of school uniforms, Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said that the Secretary to the Ministry of Education has informed all the Principals of schools in the country in writing to cease all transactions with Salu Sala. He said the Education Ministry had not issued any approval for purchasing material from Salu Sala.

Secretary to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce T.B. Tennakoon has requested the Education Ministry to provide them an opportunity to distribute 5.8 Million meters of school uniform material in their possession among schools in the country.

The chairman of Salu Sala had also made a request on the matter, confirming the Ministry Secretary’s request. But Minister Kariyawasam insisted that his Ministry cannot permit the distribution of school uniforms without following the voucher scheme. Pointing out that the voucher should definitely be given to the school children, the Minister said that it is up to the parents to decide where they should buy the uniforms.

From May to September 2016, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in collaboration with the Salu Sala had made several requests to the Education Ministry to provide them an opportunity to supply uniform material even under the voucher scheme. Considering that Salu Sala is a state institution the Ministry had allowed it to distribute material in schools under the voucher system.

Accordingly the Educations Ministry has issued a letter to Principals to inform parents that uniform material could be purchased from Salu Sala to increase the competition among vendors so that the students in rural and poverty ridden areas would be able to purchase uniform materials at an affordable price.

However, in several instances, a group of personnel claiming to be representing Salu Sala had been able to distribute uniforms in a monopolistic manner with the help of some school principals by collecting the vouchers from students.

Although initially Salu Sala was to distribute uniform materials only in rural areas, in this case there have been some instances where they had carried out the distribution even in schools in Colombo. According to Education Ministry officials, school Principals do not have the authority to intervene in the uniform distribution procedure by violating Ministry circulars. Accordingly, disciplinary action has been taken against the school Principals who had done so.

Reports indicate that this particular supplier had paid Rs.35 to the principals for each metre sold. Therefore principals of several well-known schools in the country including Kandy and Colombo have been suspended. Since these vouchers are funds that are allocated for children, the principals do not have the authority to transfer these funds to other parties without the consent of the parents. It is also reported that to secure the favour, this particular supplier has given various gifts to these principals including laptops.

It has now become clear that the distribution of school uniforms has turned into a filthy racket. It has also compelled 17 employees of Salu Sala to go on voluntary retirement. Since Salu Sala is a state institution, the Education Ministry had provided an opportunity for it to cater to the needs of school children living in rural areas. But these racketeers have even misused this approval to convince school principals that they had received the approval from the Education Ministry to distribute the material.

Attempts made to contact the chairman of Salu Sala and the Secretary, Ministry of Industry and Commerce to obtain a comment over the allegations were unsuccessful. However, expressing his views on the matter, the Education Minister said that the investigations are currently being carried out to identify the culprits. Sources have revealed that the authorities are looking for brokers who had solicited these illegal deals in schools.

Meanwhile the chairman of Salu Sala has recently told the media that he had informed the Education Ministry about the availability of 400,000 metres and not 5.8 million metres of uniform material. However, the Educations Ministry authorities claim that they are in possession of a letter sent by the Salu Sala chairman stating the availability of 5.8 million metres. Reports further claim that the Secretary to the Ministry of Industries and Commerce has also requested the Treasury Secretary to remove the Salu Sala Chairman from his post due to some problems that had arisen among the tender holders in supplying uniform material for rural schools. Although the initial decision was to allow Salu Sala to provide relief to children in rural areas to purchase uniforms at an affordable price, due to the financial incapability of Salu Sala the Ministry has ordered it to issue the uniforms via an Indian textile company named “Vachesvi”.

Accordingly the Industry and Commerce Ministry Secretary has sought the help of a private money lender in Mirihana named Sarath Pathirana to act as an intermediary to supply the material from the Indian company to Salu Sala. The company has subsequently paid a commission of 3.5% to Salu Sala for the deal. However Sarath Pathirana has engaged in foul play by issuing his own material stock to Salu Sala. Therefore the Education Minister, upon information of the Indian company has ordered the Ministry to suspend the deal.

In a letter addressed to the President, the Secretary to the Education Ministry has made a request to enforce the law against Lanka Salu Sala and its officials, and external parties who are engaged in the school uniform material racket, misusing a letter issued by the secretary.

In this letter, he claims that their actions have sullied the coupon programme which was successfully introduced for free school uniforms last year. If a letter issued by him is being misused, then the Education Secretary must lodge a complaint with the police.

If a broader investigation is required, then the Education Secretary faces no obstacles in seeking the assistance of the Criminal Investigations Department. It is possible that the Secretary has opted out of these two options, because he is well aware of the contents of his letter, and because he is aware that it cannot be proven that his letter has been misused.

The letter issued by the Secretary on the other hand, can be considered as an instance of misuse of power. Being fully aware that Lanka Salu Sala is an inactive organisation, through this letter, the Secretary requests the heads of schools, and zonal and provincial education directors, to support an effort to purchase uniform material provided by Lanka Salu Sala, using the coupons provided to school students.

1 Comment for “School Uniform Material Distribution Racket Exposed”

  1. gamarala

    Charge sheets should be served and disciplinary inquiries held against the suspended principals and the Education Secretary.

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