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Independent panel to probe alleged misappropriation of funds for pupils’ Australia tours at top Hong Kong primary school

Governing board of Baptist (Sha Tin Wai) Lui Ming Choi Primary School says committee is expected to submit its findings in three months

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 10:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 10:33am

An independent investigation committee will probe the alleged misappropriation of funds collected from pupils at a top primary school in Sha Tin for overseas trips, its governing board has decided.

The committee, which will include a former judge, a retired principal and an accountant, will be set up in two weeks and is expected to submit its findings in three months, according to a statement issued by the board of Baptist (Sha Tin Wai) Lui Ming Choi Primary School on Tuesday night.

The move came four days after the Education Bureau confirmed on Friday that it had received a complaint about the alleged misappropriation and would look into it.

The school’s principal Joyce Sit Fung-ming and a teacher involved in the case went on sick leave on Tuesday and Monday respectively. Vice principal Wan Hin-chiu said on Tuesday the teacher would return to work on October 15 and Sit on October 18.

A bureau spokesman said it would continue to follow up on the complaint but had not received any notice of personnel changes.

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

Pupils’ Australia trip cash funded teacher tours, complaint alleges

A complaint letter to the bureau claimed Sit and the teacher had used the money to fund their own trips to Australia, including accommodation.

Last Friday, Sit publicly denied the claim, saying the 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.

“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,” she said.

The school’s governing board had a meeting on Monday and decided on three actions “to find out the facts and dispel public doubts”.

Other than setting up the investigation committee, the board would also hire an independent auditor to conduct “thorough and in-depth examination” of the financial records related to all the trips to Australia.

The finance committee under the board would review the school’s internal procedures for handling funds, “with a priority on financial issues related to overseas trips”, according to the statement.

“The board expects to receive a report from the independent investigation committee in three months. By then we will definitely explain to the public again,” the statement said.

Wan said a district officer of the bureau paid “a routine visit” to the school on Monday afternoon but did not attend the board meeting.

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Wan declined to comment on whether the school’s parent-teacher association would also look into the complaint.

“Parents support the school and trust the principal. They accept the explanation given by the principal last Friday,” Wan said.

School supervisor Tsang Ka-shek declined to comment and Sit did not respond to the Post’s inquiries.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption said it would not comment on individual cases.