Headmaster denies trickery to fund school

A HEADMASTER turned to crime to provide desks, blackboards and plants for his pupils, a Tuen Mun magistrate was told yesterday.

Fong Shun-yuen, 35, was accused of fabricating documents to get thousands of dollars in extra Education Department funding for materials.

The prosecution accepted that not a single dollar went into his own pocket and he had acted 'only for the benefit of the school'.

Fong told the Independent Commission Against Corruption in an interview that the practice was widespread. School supervisor Lee Ching-chee told the court she had heard that other schools did the same.

Fong, who is still headmaster of the Tam Lee Lai Fun Memorial Pre-vocational School in Tuen Mun, denies seven charges of false accounting between September 1990 and August 1992.

He is said to have falsified pay slips for six 'ghost workers' to obtain extra funding, on a monthly basis, for the school.

The money was spent on wood for desks and to buy blac kboards, blinds and curtains for classrooms. It also bought security devices to protect the school from vandals and thieves.

Palm trees and plants were also bought to improve the environment for pupils.

Education officer Lo Ying-choi was questioned by Andrew Macrae, defending, on the level of funding for Hong Kong schools.

The court heard that staff at schools had become demoralised by the grant system at that time.

Funds to buy basic materials were often not enough, suggested Mr Macrae, while a surplus frequently existed on the grant given for administration.

But regulations at the time required schools to return any surplus funds available from the administration grant.

Mr Lo did not agree that funding was insufficient but accepted that schools had been unhappy about having to give up money left over after administration expenses.

A new system from 1992 enables schools to be more flexible in the use of funds. Mr Lo accepted that if Fong's school had been part of that scheme no complaint would have been made of his use of resources.

Gramsci Di Fazio, prosecuting, said Fong began committing the offences because, in 1990, he considered facilities needed improvement.

When questioned by the school supervisor, he admitted he had used 'ghost workers', the court heard.

The trial before Magistrate Alan Wright continues today.