On January 16, the headmaster of a primary school in Semenyih withdrew RM109,000 from a bank before losing all of it when the cash was stolen two hours later.
The circumstances of the theft are very suspicious. The headmaster’s movements upon withdrawing the money are themselves questionable.
Was the 50-year-old careless, negligent, eye-wateringly stupid, or party to this crime?
Two questions immediately spring to mind.
Firstly, was this an inside job? The sequence of events indicate something fishy going on.
Secondly, we live in the 21st Century. Modern technology and advanced banking practices are thrust upon us. If some one is unable to electronically transfer money, how about using crossed checks?
RM109,000 was stolen and the taxpayers have reimbursed this money.
If the people responsible for committing this crime are not severely punished, and that includes the headmaster, thefts of a similar nature will recur.
The Malaysian taxpayer cannot be treated as a bottomless pit, to be called upon to bail out every loss, theft, or careless act by a civil servant.
According to Minister of Education Fadhlina Sidek, the headmaster breached the standard operating procedure (SOP) when he failed to request a police escort or another teacher to accompany him.
Why did the headmaster fail to observe the SOP? Is he by nature an irresponsible man? Was this his first withdrawal of a huge amount of cash? Was he so arrogant to think that he could overpower a snatch thief?
More incriminating news followed.
Having withdrawn the money from the bank at 10.00 am, the headmaster placed the money in a bag and left this on the front passenger seat before going for a drink at a restaurant.
Leaving the bag behind was like extending an open invitation to robbers!
Would he have committed the same stupidity if the RM109,000 had been his own money?
Why was he deliberately careless? He acted with extreme naivety, assuming that no one would suspect the bag contained anything valuable.
He didn’t even bother to hide the bag under the front seat. He could have locked the bag in the boot for extra security.
These two positions would have been preferential than placing the bag on the front seat.
Opportunist thieves will smash and grab without a moment’s hesitation. Drug addicts will not think twice before breaking the window and running off with anything that looks resellable. They are desperate and will be satisfied with a few ringgit to fund their next quick fix.
For the druggie, even an empty bag can be sold as long as their addiction was satisfied.
Was this an inside job? And if the headmaster was unable to electronically transfer the money, how about using crossed checks instead?
Having withdrawn a large sum of cash, a conscientious and responsible headmaster would have immediately returned to school and not loiter in town.
At the bank, he could have been observed by potential crooks who would mark him as their target, before tailing him. They would have patiently waited for the opportune moment to steal the money from their victim.
It is possible that this was an inside job. Dishonest bank staff could have alerted their dodgy friends that the headmaster of a village school was going to withdraw a huge sum of money.
However, if all the bank staff were to be that devious, then there would probably be a spate of thefts of people withdrawing large sums of cash. People like supervisors of manual workers often pay their laborers in cash.
This headmaster did not appear to make effective use of his time. He may have gone to the bank during school hours to perform an official job of withdrawing money intended for schoolchildren.
However, that did not give him the right to go for an extended drink at a restaurant during school hours!
Why couldn’t he return to the school for a drink? He withdrew the money at 10 am and only lodged the report two and a quarter hours later. The time lag is significant.
How long does it take to withdraw cash? The bank would have been alerted well in advance to prepare the money. The headmaster probably did not have to queue up but would have been admitted to the bank manager’s office.
Moreover, how long does it take to have a drink? A headmaster who does not know how to make the best use of his time is not an asset to the school.
If he bends the rules, how can he expect his students to act responsibly?
Earlier that morning, the headmaster would presumably have told his personal assistant that he was going to the bank.
The PA and school administrative staff would have been primed to receive this money and preparations would have been made for the headmaster’s return.
The staff would have planned to either store this money safely in the school safe, or immediately distribute it to the needy schoolchildren for whom the money had been intended.
Was this an inside job originating from the school? Had someone in the headmaster’s inner circle alerted their not-so-honest friends that the headmaster would be carrying a huge sum of money by himself?
Why cash? If needy schoolchildren are the intended recipients, would they return home with large amounts of cash and face potential danger as targets for muggers?
Both the education and finance ministries must think of better solutions for safe banking for the school and schoolchildren.
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)