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Top Hong Kong school in Sha Tin ‘being looked at’ after accusation of misappropriation of funds for Australia trips

Principal of Baptist (Sha Tin Wai) Lui Ming Choi Primary School denies any wrongdoing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 4:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 11:38pm

Hong Kong’s education authority is looking into the case of a top primary school in Sha Tin suspected of misappropriating funds collected from pupils for overseas trips over the last seven years.

But the principal of Baptist (Sha Tin Wai) Lui Ming Choi Primary School on Friday publicly denied the claim. Joyce Sit Fung-ming said money had been transferred to a teacher’s bank account to save the school from having to set up a foreign currency account, which she believed was complicated.

Media reports published on Thursday night claimed cash had been collected in Australian dollars amounting to HK$2.87 million (US$366,000), and a portion had gone to the teacher’s account. It had been obtained from almost 200 pupils to fund nine study tours to Australia in the last seven years.

A complaint letter to Hong Kong’s Education Bureau claimed principal Sit and the teacher had used the money to fund their own trips to Australia, including accommodation.

“I admit we can do better in terms of handling cash, but let me clarify that we did not commit fraud, misappropriation of public funds, or accept any advantage,” Sit said.

The school board would find an independent auditor to look into related finances and update stakeholders soon to alleviate concerns, she added.

The principal said money had been collected from parents as petty cash in Australian dollars to avoid fees for exchanging currency and because there was no Australian-dollar bank account for parents to transfer their contributions to.

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“Back in 2011 and 2012, the parent-teacher association discussed whether to create an Australian-dollar bank account for the school, but due to the complicated procedures and limited time, the idea was scrapped,” Sit said.

“Opening a foreign currency bank account for a public school is relatively rare.”

Opening a foreign currency bank account for a public school is relatively rare
Joyce Sit, school principal

But in recent years many Australian businesses had stopped accepting cash for large payments, she said, so the teacher’s account was then used to handle funds.

Only small amounts were deposited for individual items over short periods when needed, she added.

“For example, if we needed a coach, we put that amount in.”

School supervisor Tsang Ka-shek said both he and the previous supervisor were aware of the situation and had absolute trust in Sit’s handling of the finances.

But the bureau said it had received a complaint and was following up.

“All school income must be deposited in the relevant bank account opened in the name of the school,” a bureau spokeswoman said.

Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector in Hong Kong’s legislature, said he believed the case was an isolated incident.