SINGAPORE — A teacher accused of misappropriating some $40,000 in funds belonging to students claimed in court that she had not kept records of or counted the funds she had collected.
Maslinda Zainal, the suspended Head of Department (HOD) for English at Woodgrove Secondary School, said that she had trusted the teachers to count the monies before handing them to her for the purpose of buying learning materials for students.
Taking the stand on Tuesday (6 October), Maslinda, 46, who had been at Woodgrove Secondary School for more than 10 years, told the court about the scope of her duties at the school as a HOD, under examination by her lawyer Singa Retnam.
She is contesting two charges of criminal breach of trust as a public servant, allegedly committed between January 2016 and April 2017. The amount in the charge sheets totaled $40,636.70.
Too busy to count money: Maslinda
The court heard that apart from teaching duties and walkabouts to ensure classes were being taught effectively, Maslinda was in charge of seven committees such as a publication committee, marketing, a relief teaching team and a committee in charge of organising a concert at Republic Polytechnic. At the national level, the HOD also had supervisory and logistical duties related to examinations.
Asked if she was suggesting she was “overloaded with work”, Maslinda replied that she had “many many things to do”.
Despite her duties, in 2007, Maslinda was involved with other teachers in reviewing the students’ textbooks and later came up with new teaching materials known as the “Excel package” for their students.
While the package was printed in-house initially, it was outsourced from 2013, with the cost borne by students. The person in charge of printing the package would put the prices in the booklist, according to Maslinda.
Teachers would then collect funds from their students and hand them over to Maslinda to collate.
Maslinda testified that there were no guidelines on how money was collected from students or handed to her.
Teachers would keep the funds in envelopes, ziplock bags or plastic sheets and place them in various spots within Maslinda’s cubicle, such as her cabinet or laptop drawer.
Asked by Singa why she had not counted the money handed to her, Maslinda said that she trusted the teachers and believed they would do their due diligence to count monies.
“And I am overwhelmed with a lot of things and counting monies for one class would take a lot of my time (about 15 minutes) so I thought the teachers had counted the money so I just kept money when they were given to me,” she said.
She added that she had not kept any records of the monies she received because nobody had told her to do so and there were no guidelines on the process.
There were no issues of surplus monies until April 2016 after Maslinda paid for invoices presented to her at the end of the month. She then realised there were extra funds in a white-coloured box where she kept the students’ money.
Maslinda said she initially had no idea what to do with the money, as she did not know who had paid or how much she had collected.
Given that before 2016, teachers would use their own money to pay for stationery, Maslinda then decided to use the excess money to buy stationery.
Said Maslinda, “Since I had extra money and these are students’ money I thought if I bought stationery (and) teaching resources it’s actually going back to the students, which is why I used money to buy stationery and teaching, learning material…because I really didn’t know what to do with the money.”
Maslinda was arrested in April 2017 and her workstation checked by Ministry of Education investigators, who found various amounts of money in a black ring file, the white box, and an assessment book.
The investigators also found $11,000 in Maslinda’s handbag.
“I told them that these monies belong to me these are my salaries and the money my husband has given me, they told me okay I would not take this cause it is yours,” said Maslinda.
At this point, Maslinda broke down in tears, recalling how she showed the investigators the stationery she had bought. However, as she had no invoices or receipts for the equipment, investigators told her that these were considered personal expenses, said the teacher.
After counting the money that was found, investigators allegedly told Maslinda that there was a discrepancy of around $34,000 and asked if Maslinda was able to compensate the amount.
“I told her I would make good the $34,000 because it was my mistake for not counting the money and keeping record or keeping receipt for invoices or receipts for stationery material, so I told her I will pay it back so the school will not be responsible for any loss of money (and) so my students will not suffer because of my negligence,” said Maslinda.
Maslinda paid the amount on 17 May 2017, after she was allegedly told by investigators that she would be treated leniently if she cooperated with investigations.
On this matter, Maslinda said, “I was informed that if I paid back the money I would not be charged. I paid back the money in May but I was charged in October.”
If convicted on criminal breach of trust as a public servant, a person may be jailed for life or up to 10 years, and may also be fined.
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