Kindergartens in a web of extortions and corruption

Фото: ЦЖРМ
Author: Тарас Зозулинский
19/04/2016 54947

Give some money to headmistresses, some gifts to the Education Directorate, and some extra fees to caregivers. Do not worry about queues or formal procedures. A couple of thousand will make to get your kid in. Our experiment reveals routines of corruption in preschools of Chisinau, while our Ukrainian colleague’s efforts to ‘organize’ a daycare for his daughter showed a well-functioning system of extortions, far from a single-case phenomenon.

Money in the envelope

- If you need it really badly, I can go to talk to them myself.

- To the Directorate for Education?

- Yes.

- How come?

- Well, just an envelope and... I need an envelope and the birth certificate.

- By envelope you mean…

- I do not know, if… I have had such a case once. I gave them one thousand leu.

- One thousand leu?

- Yes. And the documents, and I will help you.

I am at the office of the headmistress of the Preschool No. 149. Marianna Brynza is a young, good-looking and friendly lady. She insisted no vacancies were available here. Ten minutes ago.

- Well, this is just our system. All kids are queuing in line since their birth, - explained she. - I report to the Chisinau Directorate for Education on vacancies available on weekly basis. Russian-language groups have no vacancies since half a year ago.

The discussion changed when I shared that my wife and me have very good job offers with 1,700 USD salary monthly. It inspired Marianna Brynza to tell her envelope story.

For showreferrals

Kindergarten no. 149, Ciocana. Photo: CIJM

The procedure for getting daycare for your kid in Chisinau seems very transparent. Parents have to queue up at the Directorate for Education and get a registration card. When their kid turns three, the parents have to go to the local people’s education department again, and get a referral for a specific preschool institution from a special commission.

- We need a signature of one of the parents on the referral, - says Lilia Babuk, the Head of the Directorate for Education, Youth and Sport of Ciocana Sector. – It is mandatory to participate in person during the commission session.

Well, this is just an official declaration. As mentioned above, Marianna Brynza, the Headmistress of the Pre-school No. 149, promised to get a referral for us from the Directorate. One thousand leu was her price for this service, and she admitted it is not her first time.

- So you would take the money and go through this humiliation for me? Or maybe you have contacts there? – I asked by chance.

- I do by now. Because we work together. It started half a year ago. So, if you need, it’s doable.

Therefore, queuing in line and commissions are redundant. You put some money into the envelope, and problems are over. Well, there are some more costs.

- If I manage to get a referral for you… Each new kid pays 500 leu entrance fee, - Marianna Brynza explained unabashedly.

I described this situation to Lilia Babuk, since the above-mentioned preschool is in the district her Directorate for Education is in charge of.

- How can you comment on such actions?

- Well, nothing I can comment. They are illegal and subject to administrative prosecution, at least. Maybe even criminal.

With her elegant coat and trendy haircut, Lilia Babuk is a woman in style. She is the Head of the Directorate for Education of Ciocana Sector for almost four years. This is a single case, insists she, with almost no more such stories in Chisinau. Well, is it?

‘I want to help you’

Kindergarten no. 159, Posta Veche. Photo: CIJM

I am coming to another kindergarten, No. 159. I am presenting my ‘legend’ to its Headmistress Maria Smileanski. According to my story, I work together with my wife in Ukraine in a well-known American company. The company is opening a branch in Chisinau, so they are offering us well-paid jobs, 1,700 USD a month. Getting a daughter to a kindergarten as soon as this week is the only problem.

- You will have to bring your card from your preschool in Ukraine and the kid’s birth certificate, - Maria Smileanski is all business. – And I will try to arrange a referral for you. Because the Directorate can’t do it for you.

- Can’t they?

- You have to queue in the line. We have a line here… Well, my point is that you have to bring the card, the certificate and 500 leu. OK?

- And the Directorate cannot help me? – I pretend to be puzzled.

- You don’t need to be there. I will be there, - was the answer.

So, as you can see, no problem: the preschool manager can get a referral for me for 500 leu.

- I want to help you. Did Jesus charge people for what he did when he was on earth? He cured them and treated them well. I will make a vacancy for you in the Russian-speaking group.

It would be fine, but this kind of help is obviously a corruption according to the Moldovan legislation.

The Head of Rîșcani Sector where the Preschool No. 159 is situated seems to be surprised to hear about my findings.

- I don’t have such facts, - smiles Andrey Grosu. With his experience of running the education in this sector for almost 25 years, he knows better, of course. He has just one answer prepared to all my questions about corruption and extortions in preschools of his sector: it shouldn’t be like this.  

It shouldn’t; yet, it is a reality.

Clearly, it takes cooperation with some members or coordinators of the commission at the Directorate for Education, Youth and Sport of Chisinau for kindergarten headmistresses to pull the scheme.

‘I have heard about such ties’

Tatiana Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb has been running the education system in Chisinau for almost ten years. It looks like my stories make no strong impression on her.

- They might have connections. I do not know whether this is a coordinator or whoever, - says the Director General of the Directorate for Education, Youth and Sport of the Chisinau Municipality. – I have shifted commission coordinators among sectors, so that we can change it, if they have these agreements on ‘a vacancy for one thousand leu’ in some districts. I have heard about such ties between headmistresses and coordinators. I will rotate them, so that they do not have time to agree, - Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb is quite open about the situation. However, rotations fail to break the connections.

Coffee, candies and champagne

Preschool No. 161, Ciocana. Photo: CIJM

I am visiting the Preschool No. 161 at Alecu Russo Street. Headmistress Efrosinia Hristovski invites me to her office, offers a seat and focuses on my story.

She calls a caregiver and asks to come in. The formal reason is that she wants to consult her if it is possible to take my daughter in. Only later will I understand the actual reason of why she introduced me to Ms. Lilia, the teacher of Group 5.

- I participate in commission sessions and I have a say there, you see, - explains the headmistress. – So let’s try tomorrow or on Tuesday when I go to the commission. Let’s check the Chairperson’s reaction.

She spells out how and what needs to be done for the Chairwoman of the Commission at the Directorate for Education.

- She’s very serious. If she agrees, you will have to go somewhere nearby and to buy something for her. You have to return her kindness on the same day. Is it OK?

When I started asking about what I should buy and what the conditions in the preschool are, it became clear why the headmistress had invited the caregiver.

- Please go to Group 5 where I have talked to the teacher.

- But could YOU please tell me this?

- Look, we cannot tell you. The rules are strict. It’s different here from your country. We have to participate in tenders to become a headmaster. I am not entitled to speak about money with you.

The boss takes me to the lobby.

- Here’s your door. The teacher is there; she will tell you everything. Her name is Ms. Lilia.

“Come to me and I will whisper in your ear”

The teacher was waiting for me when I entered the room.

- First, you will get the referral when you bring some gift to the Commission. It can be coffee, champagne or maybe candies, whatever. For the Commission. When you are admitted here, I will lead you, - Ms. Lilia puts me in the picture in a soft voice.

She means, “I will lead you to my boss, Efrosinia Hristovski”.

- So what should I do for the Headmistress to be admitted here?

- First get your referral, then come to me and I will whisper in your ear, - Ms. Lilia smiles mysteriously. – If you succeed there when you bring something to them, then you come here again, and I will tell you. It will cost maybe 500, maybe 700 or 1,000 as a maximum. 50 USD is a maximum.

So, the coordinator at the Directorate needs some champagne or candies; the Headmistress needs 500 to 1000 leu; yet, more is needed.

- You pay 400 leu to the group to be admitted. This is a donation for the kindergarten in our group. When you are admitted in our group, you pay 340 leu for the admission; - Ms. Lilia’s mission is accomplished. – This is it from me. This was my message to you.

When I retell this case to Lilia Babuk, the Director of the Directorate for Education, Youth and Sport of the Ciocana Sector, the smile dies on her lips.

- Is it a normal practice to get a referral? – I asked Babuk.

- This is obviously a violation. I cannot imagine any of my headmistresses saying this.

Tatiana Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb also pretends to be surprised to hear about gifts for the Directorate. She tones up nervously.

- This is the first time I hear about something like this. How can it be? It’s horrible. She should immediately lose her position as both a headmistress and a commission member.

Interestingly, the municipal Directorate for Education as well as local directorates in sectors are perfectly aware of informal fees required in preschools.

- Please be frank: do preschools charge informal fees?

- Yes, of course. Some create parents’ associations for this, but others do it without associations, I think, - answers Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb without turning an eyelash. 

They have no right to do it. I have heard of such situations.

Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb puts it very mild as compared to the actual situation revealed by our experiment. Rather than single situations, informal entry fees are a routine. 

“Our preschool is not cheap”

Preschool No. 129. Photo: CIJM

- Cut to the chase: do you have a kid? – Taisia Dobrovolskaya, the headmistress of Preschool No. 129, has no patience to listen to the end of my legend.

- Yes, a daughter, three and a half years, born in 2012.

- Three and a half. No vacancies available.

All headmistresses I have talked to walked this line in the beginning. However, every time I mentioned very good wages offered to my family, the argument always helped to find a missing vacancy. The story repeated itself here.

- Our preschool is not cheap. The entry fee is at least 1,5 thousand.

Therefore, headmistresses effectively shake money out of parents, while Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb proudly declares that these are ‘single cases’.

- What about the procedure with all those departments. What if they say they have no vacancies when I go there?

- If I tell them that we have a vacancy for you, you will get your referral , - Dobrovolskaya assures me, while recording data of my daughter. 

Just 1,500 leu gets us to the preschool.

They are everywhere

Lilia Babuk, the Director of the Directorate for Education in Ciocana Sector, has no willingness to lie, in contrary to her immediate superior, Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb, who insists that entry fees are just single cases.

- Are there informal fees in preschools? – I ask point-blank.

- Unfortunately, yes. They are everywhere. I would lie to you if I said there are not.

Preschool No. 118 also granted admission to my daughter. Like all her colleagues, Lidia Prohvatilov started the conversation with well-learnt clichés.

- The problem is that we have no vacancies. No beddy-byes. Very difficult.

It took just five minutes to change the song.

- Our payment is very high. We have vacancies in the commercial group, but they are very expensive: about 2,000 per month.

The headmistress of Preschool No.118 delegates the task to Liudmila Grigorievna, the manager of the so-called commercial groups.

- You have to come to me, and I will organize a referral , - says Ms. Liudmila.

- What if they tell me they have no vacancies?

- They have hundreds queuing in the line. But if I give you a notification that you are admitted here, they will issue the referral.

It is plain and simple. The findings clearly indicate that commissions and referrals are just for-show formalities. The actual decision belongs to the heads of the preschools who enjoy very good cooperation with their coordinators at the Directorate for Education, Youth and Sport of Chisinau Municipality.

Lidia Prohvatilov in Preschool No.118 is open about this cooperation.

- I am signing this paper for you.

- What if they tell me at the Directorate for Education that they have a long queue?

- Just listen: if I visa your papers, they will not refuse to me. They will give you your referral.

Vacancies are available in reality, but not on paper.

How can it be possible to get into a preschool with no vacancies? Quite simple. Headmistresses effectively conceal vacancies from the Directorate.

- We don’t disclose it to the Directorate. If we admit that we have vacancies they will overflow this place, - explains Lidia Prohvatilov. – We do it one by one, no pressure. You come to me, so you get it.

Liudmila Grigorievna, the manager of the for-profit groups, completes the picture:

- So, the entry fee is about 1,000 leu and 350 for the filter. We have a filter for kids to drink water. The same flat fare in all preschools.

The fact that headmistresses conceal vacancies in their preschools is not a surprise for the education official Tatiana Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb. Moreover, she claims that she is aware of such abuses.

- We still have cases when “I have vacancies, just make sure you get the referral”. How can you have them, if our coordinators see “no vacancies” in their databases?

The officials are aware, but there is nothing doing.

“It is called corruption”

Preschool No. 122. Photo: CIJM

Several headmistresses of preschools denied admission to my daughter. They explained straight ahead that such activities are qualified as corruption. They said their colleagues should think about it.

- I still want to live at home, not in prison, - bawled out Anna Kepetsina, the headmistress of Preschool No. 122 in Botanica Sector.

- No one wants to take a risk, - Elena Moshanu of Preschool No. 17 also brushed me off. – We have no right to do it; no way to do it for a headmistress. We can lose our job for such things. It is called corruption if director .

However, such cases are rather exceptional. At Preschool No. 25, the headmistress Svetlana Zaporoshchenko gave me a promise to admit my daughter.

- When you have all the documents in hand, come to my office. Then I call to the Directorate for Education and give the permission.

“European name” for extortions

- Parents provide a kind of sponsorship during the admission, on a one-off basis, - says Zaporoshchenko looking straight in my eye, - one to two thousand leu.

Natalia Bairak, the headmistress of the Preschool No. 7 in Central Sector also mentioned a need for an entry fee.

“It started 16 years ago”

Young parents confirm our findings. Alla Revenko, a public activist, has created an initiative group, which fights informal fees in preschools.

- It started 16 years ago here, in Chisinau, - Revenko shares her outrage; - no one is solving anything. They want parents to pay for everything. 

Together with her team, she conducted a survey in Chisinau to reveal the actual picture about extortions in preschools. Results were stunning.

- Absolutely all kindergartens charge parents with entry fees and extra payments. Amounts vary between 200 and 6,000 leu, - says Revenko as she riffles the questionnaires. – These payments are considered voluntary. However, any mum who refuses to pay can share that such parents are under extreme pressure. They know that if they don’t pay, it will have an impact on relations in the community of parents. It can even affect their child.

“Shocked by racketeering in kindergartens” 

Apart from entry and monthly fees, paying for food and renovations, parents are expected to cover a part of teachers’ wages. Ekaterina Skoartse, the headmistress of Preschool No. 158 in Buiucani Sector, confirmed the fact of such extra charges. It was the same in Preschool No. 161, as well.

- Why do headmistresses oblige parents to cover a part of teachers’ wages? – I ask Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb. 

- I have heard about such stories. They shouldn’t.

It was very brief and concise, again.

Liudmila Garabadzhi, the headmistress of the Preschool No. 164, told a story from her family’s life in a heart-to-heart manner.

- My son needed a place in a kindergarten for his own son some time ago. He told me later: Mommy, I am absolutely shocked by the degree of racketeering in preschools, - shared Liudmila Garabadzhi energetically. – He said “the headmistress wanted some money, then the nurse wanted some money for the medical room. Then I went to the group teacher, and it was the final shot”.

- I hope you don’t have a camera, to do a job on me. Don’t you? – Marianna Brynza from the Preschool No. 149 is scanning me from head to foot. – In our times, some carry cameras even here.

This is what worries headmistresses: to get away. They do not worry, however, where young parents find money to pay for free-of-charge preschools.

“May fairy tale characters give the good to us, So that the good always prevails over evil!”

This line from a song for kids features as a slogan in one of daycares in Buiucani Sector. Unfortunately, the story is vice-versa in many preschools of Chisinau. Corrupted evil of enforced informal fees confidently wins against the good idea of free public preschools.

This story is a part of Moldova-Ukraine Anti-Corruption Initiative, a project implemented by the Investigative Journalism Center of Moldova and the Institute of Mass Media, and supported by the Freedom House and the Government of Canada.

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