Bishop Mackenzie International School (BMIS) in Lilongwe is reeling under suspected fraud of at least K77 million, prompting parents to demand that heads roll at the elite institution.
Two communications The Nation has seen—one from the school’s chairperson of the board of trustees Gianluca Bizzaro and another from Express Moyo, who at the time headed the school’s board of trustees finance sub-committee—show that the school has launched investigations into the matter.
The trustees have since commissioned a forensic audit to determine the extent of the suspected fraud which, some whistleblowers claim, could be as high as K300 million.
In his July 10 2020 letter to the “BMIS Community”, Bizzaro said the school conducted an internal probe in May and June this year into “alleged fraud totalling as much as K77 million”.
He said the probe led to disciplinary action, including termination of service for several employees.
Bizzaro said: “In order to establish the fullest understanding of the scope of the alleged fraud, we began soliciting proposals for a full forensic audit in June. That process is ongoing. It should be understood that the board is not in a position to provide interim reports on the status of these proceedings.”
In his undated follow-up communication to parents, Moyo—who has since left the BMIS board of trustees after moving his children out of the school—assured parents that the board was looking into all allegations of fraud.
He wrote: “With recent uncovering of fraud at BMIS Administration and subsequent anonymous emails with various allegations, we wish to inform you what actions the board, through its finance committee, has taken to address the issues.
“An immediate forensic audit has been commissioned to investigate the scope and depth of fraud that has taken place. The auditors have been requested to complete the audit within a strict timeline and we are committed to keeping parents informed about the outcome of this process as soon as it is complete.”
According to the school’s articles of association, only parents with children at the institution can be appointed to the board.
The board has nine members with three seats reserved for Malawians.
Source of alleged fraud
Interviews with the school’s employees, parents and a trustee show that the missing funds were lost through unauthorised loans that were never repaid as well as procurement transactions the sources claim were used as conduits to siphon school funds. We could not immediately establish how the loans could be disbursed without authorisation.
Parents are now demanding the resignation of the board chairperson, Bizzaro, on whose watch the alleged fraud took place.
“We want the board chair to go because the manner in which he has handled this whole issue leaves a lot to be desired,” said one of the parents who did not want to be named.
This parent and others we have spoken to are surprised that the school management fired some suspects, but left others scot-free.
“Some managers whom we suspect to be culprits too fired some employees for borrowing these funds yet those who authorised the borrowing and [some] who also borrowed funds have been spared. We are suspicious,” added the parent.
In an interview, one of the dismissed employees also wondered why they faced the chop when those who issued them with cash had been spared. The employee, who claims to have paid back the loan, accused the school of applying double standards and is seeking court remedy for unfair dismissal.
Asked why some employees have been fired and others retained when they are suspects, the school’s new director Brian Allen described the allegations against the retained suspects as unfounded.
“Allegations made against certain individuals were looked into and it was found that they were unfounded. Nevertheless, should the final audit come up with actionable material against any member of staff, we will not hesitate to take the requisite disciplinary action against them,” he said.
On dubious contracts to people with connections to the board, in an email response, board chair Bizzaro denied wrongdoing.
Parents have also expressed concern that the school does not seem willing to hold an annual general meeting (AGM), which, they said, should have taken place in March this year.
The parents say the AGM would have enabled the school to fully account for finances and, where necessary, decide on the future of the board and the director.
“The AGM has powers to fire the director of the school as well as the board. The excuse is Covid-19. Our argument is: the school is running online learning, which attracts 100 percent tuition, can’t they organise an AGM online or find ways to do so while adhering to covid-19 precautionary measures?” queried a parent.
With the alleged fraud creating a rift between parents and the school management, new director Allen is worried about the erosion of trust between the two parties, but hopes that the ongoing forensic audit would help restore parents’ confidence.