Letter in response to Lale teacher story

Dear Sir,

With reference to the news article published on Minivan News with headline ‘Lale English Teacher Resorted to Begging, Sleeping in Fish Market’ I would like to issue the following clarifications to the case on behalf of the school.

1. An Australian citizen named Mr John S Campbell has served Lale as an English teacher on a contract basis.

2. Mr John S Campbell was NOT an employee of the School when he allegedly begged or slept in the fish market. His contract with the school ended on November 16, 2010. The school issued him a return ticket to Australia on October 20, 2010 and he left the Maldives on December 2, 2010. The Labour Ministry cancelled his employment approval for the School as he left the Maldives on December 2, 2010. The school paid him salary for every single month during his contract period, which was shared to Authorities upon request. Although his contract ended on 16th November 2010, the school paid him a full salary for November.

3. Mr. John S Campbell was claiming for December 2010 salary, which the school refused to give because his contract was over by November 16, 2010 and there was no new contract with him. No institution will pay as per the demands of people based on ‘Nothing’. Furthermore the school has noticed his habit of making baseless claims for money, like demanding 1 million USD from school for an injury; like demanding 50,000 USD from Bank of Maldives for not opening his bank account on time.

4. Mr John S Campbell took the matter to the Labour Ministry before he left the Maldives on December 2, 2010 and the Labour Ministry explained to him what his rights were and what the school should be giving him.

5. The school was in contact with the Labour Ministry, Australian Embassy, Immigration and Maldives Police Service regarding the case.

6. Authorities did not find any failings on the part of the school.

7. Mr John S Campbell did NOT inform the school at all about his return to the Maldives and was in the country for his own reasons and nothing to do with the school. When he returned to the Maldives he was no longer an employee of the school.

Furthermore we are very disappointed with the irresponsible journalism practiced by the author. This news article lacks any investigation, any comment from relevant government authorities which worked on the case and any comment from the school. In the past this author has accused the school and its management with various allegations without any proof, and has targeted the school regularly for reasons which Maldivian general public does not realize. We urge the editor to take concrete steps to make sure that information is verified before it is published.

Thank you.

Yours Sincerely,

Mr Mehmet Akif

All letters are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write a letter, please submit it to [email protected]


Lale English teacher resorted to begging, sleeping in fishmarket

When English teacher John Campbell accepted a job at Lale Youth International School two years ago, he had no idea he would be leaving the country with scarcely more than the shirt on his back and an expatriate horror story far removed from the picturesque experience of a resort worker.

At one stage in December 2010, penniless, starving, robbed, waiting for the school to pay his remaining salary and unable to get a response from any authorities, he was forced to sleep in the capital’s fish market for seven nights before being rescued by an immigration official.

At night, Campbell would sit in the doorways of shops and read by the light through the windows. Famished, he eventually resorted to begging outside Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

“It was my first experience of begging,” says the Australian national, who has 10 years experience as an English teacher and a wife who currently lives in Thailand.

“I hadn’t eaten for six days, but people gave me enough for a coffee. The humiliation was better than starving, but it was not something I want to repeat.”

He was eventually found by an immigration official and taken to the immigration lock-up, where he was fed and allowed to come and go as he pleased. Later, he was moved to another building that was being refurbished –

“I don’t think it was official,” he says, praising the department worker for the help he received.

Campbell says his problems began when the Turkish-run international school failed to pay him one month’s salary on completion of his contract. He claimed that the school also required foreign staff to initially pay a US$1200 “passport deposit”.

“The school didn’t want to pay the end of my contract. I had a flight on November 16, 2010, and they made an offer of US$300 but only if I signed a statement agreeing to make no further claims against the school.”

It was common practice, Campbell said, to give departing teachers a cheque in rufiya shortly before their departure, knowing they would be unable to change the money – and then offer a significantly lower amount of dollars.

Unlike other teachers Minivan News spoke to, Campbell took the cheque, “but the bank would not change the money.”

He left the country and flew to Thailand to visit his wife, and attempted to change the cheque there. Banks were uninterested and the best “unofficial” rate he could get was Rf 40 to the dollar – more than three times the pegged rate of Rf 12.85. He changed enough to survive, and returned to the Maldives to pursue his remaining salary.

Prior to leaving he had sought to press his case with assorted authorities in Male’, particularly the Education Ministry and the Labour Department.

“Five emails to the Labour Ministry and two handwritten letters delivered personally, but they refused to acknowledge that any letters had been received,” he said. “I even tried writing letters to the President’s Office.”

Unable to penetrate the Maldives byzantine bureaucracy and without the contacts to do so, Campbell met a Maldivian man who agreed to help him in exchange for Rf 500 a week. When Campbell visited Thailand on conclusion of his contract, the man also arranged for the storage of his possessions.

When he returned to continue pressing his case, “I discovered that he had taken everything I had. My clothes, shoes, paperwork, sound system, surfboard, tools, materials, fittings – everything I owned apart from my boat.”

The small hand-made sailing vessel was Campbell’s hobby during his spare time in the Maldives, and was made from 90 percent recycled materials.

“I’ve been boat building since I was a little kid, I built the first when I was 11 years old – the first that was big enough to use. In high school, I would buy boats that had been written off and restore them to resell. Then I started making surfboards – it was good money.”

His aim was go on weekend sailing trips to local surf spots – although he adds that the real enjoyment was the relaxing focus of constructing it.

“I had finished it the day before I left [to Thailand]. I left it on the shore near the Hulhumale’ ferry terminal, after towing it up the beach and tying it up. Two weeks later, I found it a few hundred metres from the ferry terminal, smashed to pieces on the rocks and stripped of all steel fittings.”

After his possessions were stolen Campbell went to police and gave the name, home address and two telephone numbers of the man he claimed had taken everything he owned. Nothing happened – “at least 20 people told me they’ve seen him around Hulhumale’.”

“It felt like I was seen as an acceptable target. I lost everything – for the first 14 days all I had was a ticket back to Australia.”

Unwilling to give up on his possessions or the money owed him by the school, Campbell sought a refund for the ticket from the Malaysian airlines office.

That money lasted two weeks, “and then I had nowhere to sleep, no support, and nothing happening [with my case].”

Unwilling to exploit the hospitality of his hosts at a local guest house without being able to pay them back, he moved onto the streets.

“I had no money left to pay for the hotel, and while they would have let me stay I didn’t want to rack up a debt I couldn’t pay,” he said.

Lale Youth International was not responding to calls when Minivan News called to corroborate Campbell’s story, and Biz Atoll, the Maldivian company that holds the agreement to run the school in conjunction with the Turkish group, requested Minivan News to call back later and then did not answer the phone.

However, a source familiar with the school and its employment of foreign staff told Minivan News that the Campbell’s treatment was not unusual.

“In one year, the contract was changed 2-3 times. The school was supposed to pay one month’s salary after completion of one year, but it seems they were not willing to do that,” the source said.

“They did it to a Sri Lankan boy who worked there – he begged for his salary in dollars, before leaving to Sri Lanka, and they made him buy it from them at a rate of Rf 14. He paid because he had to.”

Campbell, the source attested, “was a very good teacher” – and one of the last native-English speakers to leave the school.

“There were problems in the contract that worked to the advantage of the school,” Campbell says, “such as clauses that said in the event of any contention between staff and the employer, the employer’s opinion counted. Anyone who could read English would understand the contract was untenable.”

Campbell’s sister eventually paid for his flight out of the country.

“Why not the thief’s family?” he told Minivan News, from Thailand. “It seems I’ve made a large donation to the Maldives economy. I had to make a citizens arrest of the thief because the Hulhumale’ police couldn’t find him after six weeks of looking. I had to re-seize my property by myself because they were too busy at 6:00am in the morning to accompany me. I retrieved about 25 percent of it, but not the money stolen as well. Afterwards they were very keen to get me out of the country.”

“All the difficulties were created by the school’s refusal to pay on time, and having to stay and fight them then return and fight again, with no one holding them accountable – Maldives government departments are the worst case of ‘jobs for the boys’. It cost me more than anything, and I’m left in debt after two years.”

Minivan News reported on Lale Youth International School in May last year, after the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) launched an investigation into claims children were being abused.

Later that year, the Criminal Court found the former principal, Turkish national Serkan Akar, guilty of assaulting children and sentenced him to pay a Rf200 (US$14) fine.

Serkan had denied the charges against him, which included strangling and whipping a child with a belt.

After the sentencing and the release of the HRCM report, the government briefly discussed repossessing the school from the Turkish consortium.

Former Education Minister Mustafa Luthfy told Minivan News that the government eventually decided “to continue with the Turkish group, following certain amendments to the agreement and proposed changes. They brought in some changes, but they still need to do more.”
Addendum: Following publication of this article, Principal of Lale Youth International School Mehmet Akif sent Minivan News a letter in which he claimed that the school had fulfilled its contractual obligations to John Campbell. The letter has been published in accordance with the school’s right-of-reply.

Criminal Court fines former Lale principal Rf 200 (US$14) for assaulting children

The Criminal Court has found former principal of Lale Youth International School, Turkish national Serkan Akar, guilty of assaulting children and sentenced him to pay a Rf200 (US$14) fine.

Serkan had denied the charges against him, which included strangling and whipping a child with a belt during an incident last Ramazan.

A report from the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) released in June found that students at the school had been “physically and psychologically abused, discriminated against and bullied,” recommending “that police should investigate the physical and psychological abuse going on at the school as an urgent concern,” and “separate those suspected of physical abuse from the school’s students until the police investigation is concluded.”

A source at HRCM told Minivan News today that “as far as we’re concerned, [Serkan’s Rf200 fine] is ridiculous.”

“This sentence gives people a reason to take justice into their own hands. Why even bother to go to the courts?” the source said.

“This case was supposed to create a precedent for the future protection of children in this country. This is not the precedent we were looking for. We not sure of how to follow through – perhaps request deportation, or at least notify the Turkish government.”

The source added that there was little further that HRCM could do, because with the constitutional turmoil and doubt about the institution’s validity after parliament failed to legilsate for its continuity after the interim period, “we don’t even know if we are supposed to be going to work.”

“There are all these important issues we’re supposed to be working on, such as cases of people who don’t have access to water because their landlords have blocked the water meter even though they are paying rent. There’s nothing the water company can do so people have to come to us. But it’s questionable whether anything we do now has legal [legitimacy].”

Deputy Prosectutor General Hussain Shameem said that the Rf200 sentence ruled by the judge was legitimate under the current penal code, which was originally drafted in 1968 and apparently not reflective of inflation.

“Under the penal code the judge had four sentencing options: up to six months banishment, imprisonment or house arrest, or the fine of Rf 200,” Shameem stated.

“We cannot say that the sentence is unjust, because this is a punishment prescribed in law. But I want to say that the judge had three other options, but chose to fine. Rhe defendant probably had mitigating factors, such as no prior criminal record [in the Maldives].”

Minivan News understands that a revision of the penal code is currently before parliament, but has remained so for four years. Parliament has scheduled 29 sessions to examine the bill, and but all except three have been cancelled or failed to make quorum.

Trying to ascertain which judge issued the sentence, Minivan News phoned the mobile number of the spokesperson for the Criminal Court, Ahmed Riffath, but the person who answered the phone claimed to be someone else.

The Criminal Court’s front desk confirmed the number belonged to Riffath, and that he was the court’s only authorised spokesperson.

Shameen said he did not know which judge actually heard the case, “but [Chief Judge of the Criminal Court] Abdulla Mohamed was on the schedule.”

Abdulla Mohamed did not answer when Minivan News attempted to contact him.

“Our concern was that we wanted to get some incarceration because the victims were children,” Shameem said.

As for deportation, such matters were not part of the court sentencing, Shameem noted, but were rather the prerogative of the administration.

“The immigration chief has the power to deport any person alleged of an offence,” he said.

Serkan has already attempted to flee the country twice after HRCM’s preliminary investigation revealed a past systemic use of corporal punishment, questionable standards of education and suspect teaching qualifications among Turkish staff at the school, but his passport was confiscated at immigration.

Minivan News originally reported incidents of children being violently abused by senior staff in the the school in January, after a parent spoke about the abuse her 13 year old son was suffering.

“He would come home and tell me about the beatings. He told me it depended how angry the principal was – sometimes a leather belt was used,” she said.

“[The violence] has only been towards the boys, but they have done it in front of the girls as well. Just recently a pupil was held by the neck and put up against the wall. Many pupils went home and told their parents they were so scared they nearly wet themselves,” a parent told Minivan News.

Following the allegations the deputy principal at the time, Guvanchmyrat Hezretov, fled the Maldives to be replaced by another Turkish national, Suleiman Atayev.

Atayev and a Turkish teacher fled the country in July, after the pair were also implicated as suspects in the assault case facing Akar.

In May, Minivan News reported concerns raised by parents and members of staff that the school was being operated as a front for a Turkish tax racket whereby businesses in Turkey would evade taxes through charitable giving to institutions in tax-friendly locations such as Male’, and then retrieve these these funds through escalated salaries paid to selected Turkish staff. Minivan News also reported concerns regarding inflated visa quotas for teaching staff, and phantom teachers on the payroll.

In June, HRCM released its report, recommending that the Education Ministry terminate its contract with Maldives-registered company Biz Atoll Pvt Ltd to manage Lale Youth International School, “and hand over management as soon as possible to a qualified party.”

The matter was being reviewed by the Attorney General, prior to his resignation yesterday.

Download the HRCM investigation report (Dhivehi)


Take Lale School back from Biz Atoll: HRCM to Education Ministry

A report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) into Lale Youth International School on Hulhumale has recommended that the Education Ministry terminate its contract with Maldives-registered company Biz Atoll Pvt Ltd to manage Lale Youth International School, “and hand over management as soon as possible to a qualified party.

The Commission’s investigation had found that students had been “physically and psychologically abused, discriminated against and bullied,” the report stated, recommending “that police should investigate the physical and psychological abuse going on at the school as an urgent concern,” and “separate those suspected of physical abuse from the school’s students until the police investigation is concluded.”

The report also questioned the educational standards of the private school, observing that despite the “high fees” charged for students to attend, the school “has no laboratory for students preparing for the IGCSE” in 2011, the library “does not have books that students need”, and most of the Turkish teachers “do not know English and are therefore unable to teach.”

The government-run Fareediyya School was handed to Biz Atoll and a group of philanthropic Turkish businessmen in 2008, under an agreement made between Biz Atoll and the Education Ministry during the former administration.

In May this year, Minivan News reported concerns raised by parents and staff that the school was being used as ‘a front’ for other activities, highlighting anomalies such as ‘phantom’ foreign teachers who were being paid but had never reported to work, students being charged an assortment of fees arbitrarily, teachers with missing or fraudulent qualifications, and significant pay discrepancies between Turkish and other foreign staff.

Shortly after the Minivan News report was published, (now former) Principal of Lale Serkan Akar attempted to leave the country, leading to the confiscation of his passport. On a second attempt to leave he was taken into police custody and is currently in the criminal court facing assault charges for allegedly strangling and whipping a child with a belt, charges he has denied.

Since the story was published, Minivan News has learned that website has been blocked the school’s web filter.

The HRCM report also recommended that the school move to “dismiss employees with criminal records” and amend the school’s child protection policy to ensure that “inappropriate persons” did not work with students, and amend employment contracts “to allow adequate disciplinary action” against those suspected of physical abuse.

HRCM further recommended that Biz Atoll immediately submit the credentials of foreign teachers to the Maldives Qualification Authority (MQA) for approval, and stipulate that foreign teachers present certification of English qualification such as IELTS or TOEFL – and dismiss those teachers who did not meet the criteria listed in regulations governing private schools.

HRCM also suggested that the school establish a laboratory and library as required in its agreement with the Education Ministry, and hire a full-time librarian. It should also “immediately cease the practice of giving the same examination paper to students until they pass” and “stop charging additional fees other than those set by the Ministry” while ensuring that those fees “are commensurate to the quality of education offered.”

The HRCM report also raised concerns about the school’s adherence to employment practices in the Maldives, noting “allegations of discrimination and mistreatment of Asian and Maldivian staff”. It recommended the school establish both a school board, as required by law, and a mechanism for teachers to resolve employment issues.

HRCM also recommended the school formulate a pay scheme in accordance with employment laws “to eliminate discrimination and ensure fairness and transparency”, as well as “reimburse employees if a deposit has been subtracted from their salaries to allow them to keep their passports.”

Furthermore, the Education Ministry should formulate regulations governing international schools “to ensure supervision and monitoring by the ministry as a regulatory body”, and “establish guidelines to conduct follow-ups to supervision reports.”

“As the school was not handed over to the proprietor in a transparent manner and because the Education Ministry has not undertaken adequate efforts to improve matters at the school, and since corruption has been noted, these cases should be investigated,” HRCM’s report concluded.

HRCM has recommended the government repossess Lale School from Biz Atoll


Managing Director of Biz Atoll, Abdulla Jameel, said the company had read the report “and are reviewing the necessary actions we have to take.”

“We will bring changes to the school,” he promised, noting that a new principal would be starting “quite soon”.

The arrangement with the Turkish funders of the school would “definitely” continue, he noted.

Regarding HRCM’s recommendation that the school be repossessed from Biz Atoll and given to “a qualified party”, Jameel said the decision was “up to the government”.

“I respect the professional work of HRCM, but at the same time I’m disappointed it has mentioned nothing positive about the school,” he said, noting its reputation for “academic excellence.”

“Given the opportunity, we will continue to manage the school and try our best to make it the number one school in the Maldives.”

Jameel would not comment on the child abuse case pending against the former principal Akar.

Deputy Minister of Education Dr Abdullah Nazeer said the Education Ministry “received the report on Thursday” and was now seeking legal advice from the Attorney General’s office concerning the repossession of the school.

“We don’t agree with all the findings [in the HRCM report] – there are certain issues we need to refute from the ministry’s side, and we have communicated this in writing,” he said. “It was very unfortunate the report was not amended [before it was released].”

“The word used repeatedly to describe the Education Ministry is ‘irresponsible’,” he said, “[but] we were the ones who first contacted police, and based on that HRCM investigated the school.”

Police had yet to find evidence to support any allegations of abuse, he claimed.

The report was critical of the ministry’s decision to review the contract with Biz Atoll during the investigation, Dr Nazeer noted.

“We added amendements to the earlier contract (requesting a new principal in three months and including a termination clause),” he explained.

There were only “very general written regulations” governing the ministry’s role in supervising privately-owned and operated schools, he noted. “The regulations do not specifically say the government should intervene,” he said.

The Education Ministry was already seeking to resolve the employment issues at the school Dr Nazeer said, and had sent a letter to Biz Atoll on the subject

“We also had a complaint from a parent that the former Principal [Serkan Akar] was still accessing the school grounds,” he said. “We also wrote a letter to Biz Atoll saying it was not appropriate for a person currently involved in a court case concerning child abuse to be accessing the school.”

Dr Nazeer also noted that a delegation of officials from the Turkish government and the business community, had arrived in the Maldives and was currently meeting members of parliament to discuss the matter together with the the Turkish Consular General in Male’.

“I can’t comment on the delegation as I am yet to have a meeting with them,” Dr Nazeer said. “I don’t know what they will discuss.”

“As far as we are concerned, we are waiting for the Attorney General’s office to determine the gravity of the findings in the report, and if they agree, provide advice for terminating the contract.”

Download the full HRCM investigation report (Dhivehi)


Fleeing principal trapped as Lale International School investigated

Lale Youth International School is under investigation as a front for an international tax and visa racket operating out of Turkey, Minivan News understands, after weeks of investigation and dozens of interviews with concerned staff, parents and government agencies.

Today police requested that Maldives immigration hold the passport of Principal Serkan Akar, after he attempted to flee the country this morning. Minivan News understands the investigation relates to matters concerning child abuse at the school, and potentially fraudulent qualifications.

The school is also currently being investigated by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), following complaints from parents. A team from the commission has already interviewed staff and management, and is reportedly in the process of reviewing two conference-tables worth of documents.

Minivan News understands the investigation is now examining visa issues relating to the school, and possible human trafficking.

President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem said the Lale case was “very strange” and a “high priority” for the commission.

“A lot of government institutions have  investigated the school: the Labour Ministry, police… the strange thing is that no action has been taken,” he said. HRCM’s investigation is ongoing but is expected to be resolved next week.

Serkan Akar said he did not wish to comment on the status of his passport and promptly hung up when the subject of Lale was raised.

Deputy Principal Suleyman Atayev said Akar was trying to escort two children to an Information Communications Technology (ICT) Olympiad when police stopped him at the airport

“He had a return ticket for May 20,” Atayev said, adding that he was confident any allegations against the Principal would be proven false.

“Serkan has been told he cannot leave for seven days while the investigation is in progress. His passport is being held by police,” he said.

A teacher familiar with the matter said if Akar was escorting children to an ICT Olympiad, “then why didn’t he tell anyone, and why did he pack up his apartment?”

Atayev was also critical of HRCM’s investigation: “They are refusing to tell us the nature of the complaints they are investigating. They are supposed be about human rights but they are not respecting ours.”

“We are grateful you are seeking the truth,” he added.

I. Biz Atoll

The former government-managed Fareediyya School was converted to an international school and renamed Lale Youth International School in 2008, under an agreement made with the former government, and was officially opened by President Mohamed Nasheed in May 2009.

The agreement to run the school was made between the Education Ministry and a local Maldivan company called Biz Atoll Pvt Ltd, which operates out of an unmarked fifth floor residence in a large, nondescript apartment block on Buruzu Magu. The Biz Atoll paperwork is signed by a Turkish individual called ‘Cengiz Canta’.

Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy told Minivan News last week that the Ministry was thinking about the school’s future “very carefully”, and had amended its agreement with Biz Atoll to include a requirement for a new principal “within three months”, together with minimum qualifications. The Ministry also included “termination clauses”, he said, adding that while it preferred to minimise disruption to the school and students, it was prepared to go through a six month process of re-tendering if necessary.

Regarding the allegations of child abuse, he noted that it was very difficult to prove first hand “because when the supervisory team is there these things don’t occur.”

“We are still receiving complaints. Parents are not very happy with the school and we are not happy about what has happened – we look first to the welfare of the children,” Dr Luthfy said.

Biz Atoll declined to comment on this story “due to an ongoing investigation.”

Atayev said that Biz Atoll was “continuing to advise us.”

II. A ‘cardboard school’

Lale’s school fees are somewhat arbitrary. Most students pay a monthly tuition fee of US$150. Others pay a combination of other fees including a ‘registration fee’ of US$240, an ‘admission fee’ of US$50, and in some cases an ‘annual enrolment fee’ of up to US$300-465. Yet other students receive discounts on these amounts ranging between 5-50 percent.

The school, which was provided to Biz Atoll free by the government, reportedly receives 50 percent of its funding from a group of Turkish businessmen who pour charity funds into schools in several developing countries, including Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia and Cambodia.

Asked who these individuals funding the school were, Lufthy said “I don’t think anyone is sure.”

Atayev confirmed the school was funded by Turkish businessmen through a Turkish organisation called Tuskon, ‘The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists’, and its subsidiary.

But despite the apparent presence of an income, Lale teachers report being denied clocks and light bulbs for their classrooms because of budgetary constraints, while the school’s science labs have no water or electricity and the chemistry lab no gas connection, preventing students from completing coursework necessary for their IGCSE exams in 2011.

In addition, the school has no librarian after he was dismissed last year and not been replaced.

“It’s like they are intentionally trying to keep the school small,” a teacher remarked to Minivan News.

“Last December they gave the same exam to a student four times. Afterwards the teacher was advised to give the student more marks, and he passed. Multiple teachers have said they have failed half their classes, but still their students still move up.”

Another staff member told Minivan News that one of the greatest sources of angst among staff was “the situation with money.”

“It is commonly accepted among the foreign staff that Turkish teachers are getting higher wages, and that much of the money being brought into the school is not being directed in the appropriate manner. Indian and local teachers are at a huge disadvantage, with many of them receiving very low wages, and even gaining contracts minus basic privileges that other foreign staff get, such as rent allowances,” he said.

Atayev told Minivan News that a local teacher earned Rf10,000, while a Turkish teacher earned “maybe Rf10,200” out of which they paid their own accommodation.

“We don’t have accommodation at the school,” he explained. “A teacher who because of his position and responsibility might get 10,400-10,500 still has to pay US$800-900 rent from his salary.”

When a foreign staff member queried the salary situation, a Turkish staff member reportedly replied: ‘I don’t know, we get paid differently to you.’

Yet another staff member reported sighting “bundles” of Rf 500 notes being given to Turkish staff.

Meanwhile, a parent told Minivan News that he had spoken to one of the Turkish businessmen involved with the school, who had boasted that if his business donated money to the school, under Turkish taxation law he did not have to pay taxes on it.

A teacher told Minivan News that “Turkish teachers escort Turkish businessmen around the school on a weekly basis, and regularly make trips to Turkey. We certainly couldn’t afford to go to Turkey on our salaries, and this is a school that can’t afford clocks or light bulbs.”

“A lot of money is going somewhere,” another suggested. Atayev, on the other hand, claimed that no Turkish teacher worked at the school for the money, but rather “for the benefit of humankind.”

“Even Bangladeshi staff are given an airfare home once a year,” he claimed.

Parents who become inquisitive are reportedly offered scholarships, often by Serkan himself. A parent who had become concerned about the situation told Minivan News that Serkan offered her daughter a scholarship to Turkey even though only her son attended the school.

III. Lacking qualifications

A common complaint among both Maldivian and expatriate staff at the school is that many of the Turkish teachers are unable to speak English sufficiently to communicate, let alone teach.

Instead, students are reportedly taught five sessions of Turkish a week (compared with two in Islam). Several teachers have even offered English lessons to the Turkish teachers, and expressed surprise at the apparent lack of interest.

“The level of the Turkish staff’s English is a real concern, with many foreign teachers unable to even have an open conversation with some of the Turkish staff,” a Lale teacher told Minivan News. “They have been offered English lessons by two staff members, to which they have been lacklustre contributors.”

One Turkish teacher explained that it was “not important for [another Turkish teacher] to be fluent”, and that he would only use English “when he has to”.

Atayev said it was unnecessary for those teachers teaching Turkish to speak English, “but the chemistry and maths teachers are fluent.”

Many staff complained in particular about the Physical Education teacher, whose “demeanour both around students and staff has been the subject of discussions for some weeks now,'” according to one teacher.

The principal Serkan Akar was criticised for lacking both professionalism and any apparent qualifications in education or management. A source told Minivan News that when pressured over his qualifications, Akar had produced certification “still warm from the printer.”

“The Turkish teachers treat the school like their playground – their kids are here for 24 hours, and they even do their laundry and cooking on the grounds,” a teacher commented.

After HRCM demanded documentation from the school, including codes of conduct and school disciplinary procedures, foreign teachers were locked out of the school’s printing and photocopy room.

Minivan News understands that two large conference tables at HRCM are now straining under the weight of Lale School documents. A copy of Lale school’s disciplinary procedures, sighted by Minivan News, contains a category called ‘unsafe behaviour’ under which is included “throwing snowballs”.

Gambling is also prohibited “because it disrupts the learning environment”, as is “pulling the fire alarm”, despite the fact that Lale does not possess one.

IV. Visa discrepancies

Initial recruitment of teachers was performed by Biz Atoll. An early job advertisement sought nearly 138 staff, including eight mathematics teachers, eight biology teachers, six Russian teachers, five PE teachers and six chemistry teachers for Rf 10,000 apiece. Specific qualifications sought included “at least three years of experience” and “Should have good communication skill”(sic).

Despite the high numbers of teachers sought, the school currently has over 200 students, around 60 of whom are in the preschool headed by Serkan’s wife, Saliha Akar.

Sources in the Labour and Immigration Ministries have confirmed that the school’s work permit quota for foreign staff stands at 97, however the school only employs 26 expatriates (Atayev noted that 18 of these were foreign teachers).

However figures from the Immigration Department show that Biz Atoll has brought 30 workers into the country on Lale’s behalf, and there have been scattered but unconfirmed reports of Lale’s work permit cards turning up in several construction sites around the Maldives. One immigration official, appearing confused, commented to Minivan News that Biz Atoll “might be a manpower agency.”

In one instance last year a work permit was reportedly issued to an Australian teacher called ‘Christopher John Wright’. Immigration records purportedly show that Wright entered the country, however no one of that name has ever worked at the school.

Moreover, staff members familiar with matter have revealed that ‘phantom teachers’ not working at the school are being paid salaries, “and there are other instances in which teachers who have departed are still being paid.”

The school counsellor, who also works as a chemistry teacher and has ‘English teacher’ on his work permit, “can’t speak English and doesn’t even know what psychology is”, according to another teacher.

“Meanwhile, the music teacher has a degree in psychology, and while there is no business teacher, a teacher with a degree in business and tourism is teaching Japanese.”

During an investigation of the school last year, the Department of Labour Relations in the Human Resources Ministry told Minivan News that some employees at Lale were working “in positions that were different to those specified on their visa.”

Further complaints regarding the qualifications of teachers from private parties prompted the Labour Ministry to write a letter to HRCM and the Education Ministry, to review teachers’ qualifications and academic accreditation.

Moments before leaving the office to be interviewed by HRCM regarding the case, Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer confirmed that checking the qualifications of foreign teachers was the responsibility of an accreditation board that answered to the Ministry, and was charged with ensuring authenticity and comparison of credentials to their Maldivian equivalents.

“There will be substantial changes to the board from July, and in the future all teachers will be registered,” Dr Nazeer said, adding that several schools, “and not just Lale”, would be subject to “an ongoing monitoring program.”

“The ministry will not sit back to see a school mismanaged by private parties, without intervening,” he promised.

He said he had met a man who he understood was the school’s new principal, “and according to certificates submitted to the Ministry he has a masters degree and eight years experience at management level.”

V. Past abuse of students

Minivan News reported on January 14 that parents had made allegations that Serkan Akar and then-Deputy Principal Guvanchmyrat Hezretov were using physical force to discipline children.

“[The violence] has only been towards the boys, but they have done it in front of the girls as well,” a parent told Minivan News at the time. “A pupil was held by the neck and put up against the wall. Many pupils went home and told their parents they were so scared they nearly wet themselves.”

The parent of a 13 year-old boy told Minivan News that her son “would come home and tell me about the beatings. He told me it depended on how angry the principal was – sometimes a leather belt was used.”

Students were reportedly threatened that if they told their parents they would receive worse punishments.

Minivan News understands that Hezretov later fled to Sri Lanka after police obtained a warrant for his arrest. A supervision team sent by the Education Ministry to the school meanwhile interviewed parents and students about abuse at the school, and collected sufficient evidence to merit forwarding the case to police.

However, the case subsequently lapsed due to lack of evidence. Atayev emphasised that “there has never been corporal punishment at the school and there never will be,” and said he was not sure why the school was under attack.

“There were reports that some students were abused, but there was not much evidence,” said Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam from the Maldives Police Service, adding that since this incident, police had only received further complaints from one parent and child. “If child abuse [is occurring] there should be more than one,” he suggested. The investigation was unfinished, he emphasised.

Minivan News was sent a list of allegations in April by a distraught parent, who claimed that while the beatings had stopped following the intervention of the Education Ministry, “students who were abused then are now being abused verbally.”

“The principal uses filth and vulgar words when addressing [the students] and for any mischief done by any student, these students are blamed and given suspensions.”

A teacher at Lale told Minivan News that incidents of corporal punishment were believed to have disappeared following the departure of Hezretov.

“It’s important to note that the school has had a huge turnover of staff from 2009 to 2010, and from accounts of staff that were here last year, the environment of the school is much more positive and supportive on a number of levels,” he said.

“Several past teachers, including the previous vice-principal, are spoken about very openly as being over-aggressive and harsh disciplinarians. They have left the school, but unfortunately misrepresentations in the past have contributed to the current staff being dragged through the mud.”

A core group of teachers, he said, remained “extremely dedicated, hard working and flexible, and are working overtime to make the school successful.”

Other teachers noted that the mismanagement had forged a “strong rapport” between teachers and their students.

“They are clearly not running a school,” one teacher said of the school’s senior management.

“But they made the mistake of bringing in good teachers to try and make them look good to the outside world.”