German school under investigation for “illegal transactions” | The journalist

School expels students who paid tuition in birr

The German Embassy School in Addis Ababa is under judicial review by the Attorney’s Office of the Ministry of Justice for illegal transactions and banning students who pay in Ethiopian Birr. Some 25 Ethiopian students at the school were banned as the school began requiring tuition fees to be deposited in a Euro-only European bank account.

According to a letter signed by the Prosecutor General’s Division and signed by Fikadu Tsegaye, Minister of State for Justice, on November 2, 2022, the school is under investigation for alleged crimes related to “the exercise banking activities without a banking license from the National Bank”. from Ethiopia.’

The investigation is ongoing in coordination with the Federal Police Commission’s Criminal Investigation Bureau, according to the letter.

The Department of Justice wrote the letter after families of students at the school filed complaints that the school required tuition fees to be denominated in euros. Although education started three months ago according to the school curriculum, parents who have already paid in birr are seeing their children expelled from school.

“I have been sending my children to German school for 11 years. We paid the school fees in birr. They passed a new law that required payment in euros, and we couldn’t pay in euros. Now our children can’t go to school,” a parent said. The journalist.

The school announced to families in a letter dated June 29, 2022 that tuition fees could only be deposited in euros at the German Bank of Commerce.

“Besides the lack of sufficient income, the school can barely cover its expenses in euros, as most tuition fees are paid in local currency. [birr]“, indicates the letter.

The letter also states a 10% addition to the tuition rate. This also justifies the new measures as the school faced a budget deficit of EUR 750,000 in 2020/21 and a budget deficit of EUR 500,000 in 2021/22. While the school pays its expenses in Ethiopia in birr, it is unclear why the school needs money in hard currency.

However, according to the NBE proclamation, “no one may engage in foreign exchange except banks and authorized dealers”. The NBE directive, introduced in 2021, also prohibits resident foreign nationals of Ethiopian descent from opening foreign currency accounts.

In fact, the NBE has asked the Ministry of Education (MoE) to transfer the names of schools violating these laws to criminal investigators. In a letter the NBE sent to the MoE two months ago, the NBE demanded that the MoE share information about schools engaged in hard currency transactions.

Following complaints from parents, the MoE responded to requests from the NBE as well as those from the Prosecutor’s Office of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The Ministry of Education also ordered the German school to stop its activities and immediately send the pupils back to their education.

On August 11, 2022, the ministry informed the school that “Ethiopian parents or residents who are paid in Birr are not allowed to change the currency to Euros and transfer to a foreign bank account as part of the school fees of their children that they are supposed to pay”. pay in Ethiopia.

In another letter dated October 24, 2022, addressed to Martin Nutz Schulleiter, the German school’s principal, the ministry said the school had taken action against various Ethiopian government regulations.

The school, by expelling students who had already paid their tuition fees in birr, also violated the Council of Ministers regulation which stipulates that any tuition fees for the following school year must be discussed with the parents three months before the end of the current school year. .

Despite multiple letters and warnings written by the MoJ, MoE and NBE and pressure from parents, the school has not changed its policy and students remain expelled.

“We told the school that they could not ask the student’s family to pay in hard currency. It’s illegal. We have ordered the school to accept the students and allow them to continue their class until the hard currency issue is resolved,” said Birhanu Nega (PhD), Minister of Education. The journalist.

He says that regardless of letters from the Department of Justice and his department, the school has not taken the necessary action. “We know the students have not returned to school.”

Efforts to get a response from school officials were unsuccessful. “We cannot comment on this matter,” school officials said.

In Ethiopia, international community schools are either run by the government or as a private commercial school. In the latter case, they must be audited and pay taxes, among other things.

“These schools generally fall under the mandate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). In the case of the German School in Addis Ababa, the Ministry of Education entered into a memorandum of understanding with the German government regarding education issues,” Birhanu said.

The school replied to the parents saying that it is an international school and that it only follows international laws, not local laws. Even though Birhanu says there is a memorandum of understanding, parents say the school has relapsed on the memorandum of understanding since last year.

The only option available to victimized students is legal proceedings through the Ministry of Justice, according to Birhanu. “At the end of the day, what matters is identifying the legal options. If the school completely refuses to accept Ethiopian students, that is their decision. It’s an embassy school. We cannot force them to agree. But the school must operate according to the law.

Birhanu thinks Justice Ministry prosecutors should pursue the case. “The parents’ problem is now a legal problem. The Ministry of Education has a mandate focused on coverage, quality, etc. education. It does not engage in such legal matters.

The parents also claim that the school violates Ethiopian laws, mainly due to the immunity granted by the MoFA. That of the journalist The request to MoFA’s European office was also unsuccessful.

‘MoFA’s European office does not take action against the school’s illegal actions,’ a parent said The journalist.

The parent says he doesn’t believe the Justice Department is really investigating the matter. “Why couldn’t the Ministry of Justice enforce its own decision and allow our students to return to class until the black market case is resolved?”

According to these Ethiopian families, the school uses the German Embassy for protection. “The German school is part of an informal business system that involves the embassy. They use the hard currency to import commercial products using the embassy’s duty-free import privilege.

Since most of the parents at the school work in German organizations in Ethiopia, especially GIZ, they have no problem paying in euros, according to parents The Reporter spoke to.

“It’s impossible for Ethiopian parents. The school says it is an embassy school, government school or commercial school, whenever they want,” a parent said.

The tendency to transact in hard currency is currently rampant among international organizations in Ethiopia. This is mainly because landlords and other service providers in Addis Ababa ask these international organizations to pay rent and other payments in hard currency to overseas accounts.

The German Embassy School in Addis charges between 321,000 and 452,000 birr per child per year. He teaches from KG to 12th. The International Community School (ICS) in Addis Ababa is the leader in terms of prices, varying between 923,000 and 1.7 million birr per year. The British International School comes in second, with between 824,000 and 1.1 million birr.

The problem comes down to weak government oversight, according to an official familiar with the international community’s controversial school jurisdictions in Addis Ababa.

“International schools in Ethiopia are 100% under Ethiopian jurisdiction. They might get a room for a relaxed study program, but they must follow Ethiopian law. There is a sensitive issue and a delicate line that Ethiopia does not keep intact,” an education ministry official said.

If the Ministry of Education has effective leadership, it is fully within its mandate. Because they do not regulate them, international schools use different mechanisms to exploit legal loopholes, using their embassies as cover, according to the official.

In order to regulate international schools, these schools must be registered as an NGO, government entity, endowment, foundation, or private school. “However, in Ethiopia they don’t have a single license to avoid being regulated by law. Instead, they claim the type of school that suits them, whenever they are asked,” the official explained.

Most of these schools are engaged in illegal businesses, the official said. “For example, a number of these international schools in Addis Ababa charge half a million birr just to accept a student. This amount does not include registration fees or tuition fees, which are usually huge. Some families are willing to send their children to such a school, just hoping that their children will go to international universities when they finish high school. It is a very reckless investment. »

James R. Rhodes