SINGAPORE: A secondary school teacher accused of misappropriating about S$40,000 from students said in court that she did not keep records of the money she collected.
Maslinda Zainal, a former Head of Department for English at Woodgrove Secondary School, took the stand on Tuesday (Oct 6), stating that she did not check or count the money handed to her by other teachers for the purpose of printing learning materials.
There were no guidelines then on how cash should be collected or handled, she said, noting that teachers had left the money on her desk in envelopes and Ziploc bags after collecting them from students.
“I did not keep records because nobody told me I had to keep records when money was given to me,” said the 46-year-old.
Maslinda is contesting two charges of criminal breach of trust as a public servant.
She is accused of misappropriating about S$40,000 meant for students’ learning materials between January 2016 and April 2017.
READ: Woodgrove Secondary teacher on trial for allegedly pocketing S$40,000 from students
Maslinda told the court the money collected was meant for the printing of Excel packages, which were used in place of English textbooks and workbooks for the students.
When the packages were introduced in 2007, they were printed in-house at the school for all students, she said.
This continued until 2012, when then-principal Sung Mee Har called for such heavy printing to be outsourced, with the cost to be borne by students, she added.
When questioned by her lawyer Singa Retnam of IRB Law, Maslinda said there was no surplus cash collected until April 2016, when she realised there was money left over in the box where she usually kept it.
She could not return the funds as she did not keep records of who had paid or how much had been initially collected, she claimed.
She said she decided to use the extra money to buy assessment books and stationery for the students, which she noted was usually paid for out of pocket by teachers.
She thought this was “okay” as the items were to be used by students for their schoolwork, she said.
The stationery, which she said all teachers had access to, was kept in boxes in her cubicle at work, said Maslinda.
However, she noted she could not prove to investigators that they had been bought with the money as she could not produce receipts of their purchase.
About S$8,000 had been recovered when investigators searched Maslinda’s desk on Apr 7, 2017, the day she was arrested.
Another S$11,000 was found in her handbag, though Maslinda told them this was her own money.
READ: Woodgrove teacher trial: Principal did not know money was collected from students, says defence
Maslinda claimed that investigators had told her there was still some S$34,000 which was unaccounted, and that she would not be charged if the amount was paid in full.
She paid the amount on May 17, 2017, she said, explaining that she felt responsible as she had not kept records of the money that was collected.
She also did not want the school to be responsible for the loss of the money or the students to suffer for her negligence, she said.
Despite this however, Maslinda was charged in October that year.
In her cross-examination, Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Chew pointed out a discrepancy from an invoice dated Feb 3, 2016, stating that Maslinda had collected about S$1,700 for the materials for a particular module for Secondary One students which only cost about S$500 to print.
Ms Chew added that on Feb 15 that year, Maslinda had even sent text messages to other teachers, asking them to make payment.
Maslinda however countered by claiming that she did not receive the invoice until much later, and that as a teacher for the Secondary Four and Five students, she did not know what materials Secondary One teachers required or how much they had to pay.
Earlier on Tuesday in court, Maslinda said that there were multiple missing invoices.
However, Ms Chew pointed out that this was not brought up when the school bookshop staff member responsible for overseeing the printing – referred to as Colleen – had appeared in court.
The alleged missing invoices were an “afterthought”, said Ms Chew.
Ms Chew also pointed to a statement made by Maslinda to the police in which the accused had said the unaccounted cash was spent “not solely for myself”, and asked if this meant she had spent some of the money for herself.
Maslinda however said she was referring to stationery she had bought for teaching purposes.
When asked why she did not explain to police that was what she had meant, Maslinda said she was not asked to clarify what she had said.
Maslinda told the court that she had no need to pocket the extra money, pointing to the S$7,000 after Central Provident Fund contributions she brought home each month as a head of department.
In one of six statements made to the police, Maslinda had admitted to taking about S$10,000.
Maslinda had previously said that she had been harassed by investigators, and that her statements were made under duress.
On Tuesday, Ms Chew had also asked Maslinda if she knew that spending the money on items that were not Excel packages – without the knowledge or consent of students – was wrong, and if the decision was made unilaterally.
As a senior teacher, who had taught at Woodgrove Secondary for 15 years, Maslinda should have been familiar with what to do with cash, said the Deputy Public Prosecutor.
Maslinda replied that she did not think it was wrong at the time.
Ms Chew also noted that an ex-colleague of Maslinda’s previously said in court that the former head of department had replied “greed”, when asked via text message how she had gotten into her predicament.
Maslinda however said that the exchange had never happened, claiming that she had no contact with the teacher in question since the end of 2016 when she stopped teaching at Woodgrove Secondary, or with any of her other colleagues since her arrest.
The trial continues on Wednesday.
If convicted of criminal breach of trust, Maslinda can be jailed up to 10 years and fined for each charge.
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