Teacher convicted of misappropriating above $40,000 in student monies

Wan Ting Koh
·Reporter
·4-min read
(PHOTO: Google Street View)
Woodgrove Secondary School. (PHOTO: Google Street View)

SINGAPORE — A school head of department (HOD) accused of pocketing more than $40,000 in monies from students was convicted of her charges on Monday (11January).

Maslinda Zainal, 46, who had been suspended as HOD for English Language and Literature at Woodgrove Secondary School, oversaw the collection of student monies by the teachers in the English department for learning materials. Her role in this area was to coordinate with the bookshop that printed learning materials for students.

In convicting her, District Judge Ng Cheng Thiam said, “There is entrustment of the money by the accused in her capacity as a public servant. I find that the accused has misappropriated the entrusted monies and I find that there is dishonesty on her part.”

The prosecution’s case was that Maslinda was the only one who knew that the bookshop was charging “far less” than what had been collected from students. Instead of alerting her superiors, colleagues, or the students to this issue, Maslinda misappropriated the excess of monies collected in 2016 amounting to $21,627.40.

The following year, Maslinda instructed teachers to collect funds according to the booklist prices, even thought she knew excess money would be collected. She then pocketed the excess of $19,009.30.

Maslinda was charged with two counts of criminal breach of trust as a public servant, both of which she claimed trial to.

During the trial, 20 teachers from the English department testified that they were not informed by Maslinda that there was excess money collected. All had believed that the amounts collected were charged by the bookshop.

When it came to her turn to testify in court, Maslinda claimed she had not kept a record of the funds the teachers had passed to her as she had trusted the teachers to count the monies before placing them at various spots within her cubicle.

Asked why she had not counted the monies, Maslinda said that she was overwhelmed with her duties and counting monies for each class would take a lot of her time. There were no guidelines on keeping records of student monies, she added.

There was no issue with surplus money until 2016, when Maslinda realised that she had funds in excess after paying for invoices presented to her. She claimed that she used the excess funds to buy stationery and other teaching materials, thinking that the funds would still be going back to students.

However, prosecutors said Maslinda had not proven that she used the money for teaching materials, and that her testimony about the types of materials she had bought was inconsistent.

The issue came to light after the lower-secondary head for English, Jacqueline Chan, discovered a discrepancy between the amounts being collected by the teachers and the amounts charged by the bookshop.

Cheng Bee Lian, the woman who ran the school bookshop, testified that Maslinda had told her not to hand a copy of the 2016 or 2017 invoices to Chan. Cheng eventually did so and Chan was shocked to find a discrepancy.

Chan informed one of the vice-principals about the issue a few weeks later, who then raised it to the school principal. The principal and vice principal compiled records of collection and invoices before contacting the Ministry of Education’s discipline unit.

MOE investigation officers interviewed Maslinda on 7 April 2017, and the latter claimed that she had used the surplus money to buy assessment books and practice papers for the students, and that leftover money belonging to students was at her cubicle.

On 17 May 2017, Maslinda handed a sum of $34,304.80 to the police as restitution for the missing sums of money.

In court, Maslinda said she had been informed by investigators that she would not be charged in court if she restituted the money.

Maslinda, who was charged in October that year, will be sentenced at a later date.

For committing criminal breach of trust as a public servant, she faces a jail term of up to 10 years, and a fine.

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