SINGAPORE: A former Head of Department for English at Woodgrove Secondary School was found guilty on Monday (Jan 11) of misappropriating S$40,000 paid by students for learning materials.
Maslinda Zainal, 46, was convicted of two counts of criminal breach of trust as a public servant after a trial that spanned almost two years.
District Judge Ng Cheng Thiam found that there was entrustment of the money to Maslinda in her capacity as a public servant.
"I find that the accused has misappropriated the entrusted monies and I find that there is dishonesty on her part," said the judge. "I therefore find that the prosecution has established beyond a reasonable doubt all the charges and you are accordingly found guilty and convicted."
Maslinda, who had a gross monthly salary of S$8,800, was in charge of collecting money submitted by students to their English teachers for learning materials known as Excel packages.
However, she over-collected about S$40,000 from the students between January 2016 and April 2017.
The suspended teacher, who has a masters in education and had multiple teachers reporting to her at the time, denied the charges and said she did not keep records of the cash as nobody told her she needed to.
She had admitted in police statements that she had taken the sum of S$39,000 to S$40,000, saying that she spent the money on her own expenses such as food and did not buy anything lavish with it.
She also testified in court that she had used the money to buy stationery and other items for the students.
The offences came to light when the school's lower-secondary head for English Jacqueline Chan asked the bookshop seller on the first day of school in 2016 for a copy of the invoices for the books.
The seller responded that Maslinda had told her to give the invoices only to Maslinda and not to hand them to Ms Chan.
When Ms Chan eventually obtained a copy of the invoices, she realised there was a discrepancy between the amounts being collected by the teachers and the amounts on the invoices.
She later flagged the issue to a vice-principal and the principal was shocked to discover such a large over-collection. Ministry of Education (MOE) investigators and later the police were called in, and Maslinda was cuffed and taken away from school grounds.
All 20 teachers in the school's English department testified in court during the course of the trial, and they said Maslinda did not tell them about the excess money being collected.
The defence's case was three-pronged: Maslinda did not count or keep records of the cash handed to her and it was possible that some teachers had not paid her in full according to the book list, the invoices before the court did not fully reflect the sums paid to the book shop and the excess money had been used for the benefit of the students with no dishonesty.
On Monday, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said in a statement that Maslinda has been suspended from duty since 2017.
"MOE takes a serious view of staff misconduct and will not hesitate to take disciplinary action against those who fail to adhere to our standards of conduct and discipline, including dismissal from service," it said.
The prosecution asked for an adjournment to prepare arguments on the sentence.
For criminal breach of trust as a public servant, Maslinda could be jailed up to 10 years and fined for each charge.