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Catholic Church in DRC Defends Role in Paying Teachers

FILE - A teacher conducts a mathematics lesson to high school students in Democratic Republic of Congo town of Bunagana, Oct. 19, 2012. Many teachers are paid months late.
FILE - A teacher conducts a mathematics lesson to high school students in Democratic Republic of Congo town of Bunagana, Oct. 19, 2012. Many teachers are paid months late.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo many teachers are paid months late if they are paid at all. In remote areas, teacher salaries are distributed by the Catholic Church run organization Caritas, which some politicians and teachers suggest is not up to the task. But Caritas defends its record and says the real problems lie elsewhere.

In the last session of the DRC parliament, which ended on June 15, opposition lawmaker Fabien Mutomb called for an urgent parliamentary inquiry into what he called ‘gray areas’ around government workers’ pay.

Among those gray areas, he suggested, were the details of the government’s contract with the Catholic organization Caritas, which distributes the salaries of state school teachers in parts of the country without banks. Mutomb recommended handing back that responsibility to local government.

A spokesman for the teachers union in Goma, Jean-Luc Ndailitse, told VOA teachers were dissatisfied with Caritas’s performance.

"We have two propositions," he said. "Either Caritas improves its service so that teachers are paid on time, or Caritas must give up the contract with the government, and allow the government to relaunch banks where teachers can be paid.”

Most teachers paid through the Caritas office in Goma have not been paid for the past two months, said Ndailitise.

For example, he said, in Rutshuru and Lubero territories teachers still have not been paid for December and January because Caritas’s vehicle was held up by bandits, and they have also not been paid for April and May which makes four months arrears.

A Caritas spokesman in Goma, Abbe Arsene Masumbuko, told VOA the delays were not Caritas’s fault.

He said the arrears were easily explained, as the money could be held up between the government and Caritas’s national headquarters in Kinshasa, because sometimes there were administrative problems.

High transportation cost

The main problem, he told VOA, was disagreements over who should cover the high transport costs, the government or Caritas.

In North Kivu, insecurity is the main reason for the high cost. Caritas used to transport the money by road to the many Catholic parishes, where it was collected by school directors, but in some areas this is no longer possible, and the money has to go by air.

Noth Kivu’s most remote territory, Walikale, was a real problem, said Masumbuko. He said Caritas was counting on using U.N. mission planes for Walikale, but the U.N. mission refused, and it was difficult to use commercial flights as they landed 25 kilometers from Walikale’s main town, which was a security risk.

In the past year-and-a-half Caritas in Goma lost $130,000 when one of its vehicles carrying teacher pay was ambushed, and another of these vehicles was chased by bandits who may also have stolen teacher pay.

Abbe Masumbuko said the same army officer, who was suspected of committing the first of those robberies, also chased the second vehicle to a parish and threatened Caritas staff.

He added that the army officer has been removed from his post, but has not been put on trial.

Despite his criticisms of Caritas, Ndailitse said the organization did a far better job of getting money to teachers than the government managed in the past. Previously, he said, teachers received only about 70 percent of their salaries and the rest was deducted by the administrative hierarchy, but now they receive nearly all of their salaries.

Besides many teachers being paid late, many are not paid at all in DRC.

Ndailitse said about 30 percent of teachers at state schools received no salary from the government. The local education authority in Goma said locally it was more like 45 percent, as many new schools have been opening and their staff were not yet on the government payroll.

Ruth Habimana was an unpaid teacher for several years before she resigned.

"They often promised us we would be paid, and when a year had gone by they said, 'You will be paid next year,' and the years passed like that," she said.