Ministry hides money for student dormitories
At our request to gain insight into the financial plan for
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by Biljana Bogdanovska
While residents of the student dormitory “Goce Delchev” publish photos all over the world of the terrible conditions they live in, the competent authorities do not want to provide any information on how and where money is spent on these facilities, whether it is about budget or students’ participation. It is not about classified documents. At our request, the ministry gave us an answer that they did not have it as it had been given to SAO?!
A statement of the relevant inspectorate for the purposes of this survey shows that they have given up controlling the dormitories and nobody takes into account student tenants.
About 60,000 Euros per month, or more than half a million Euros a year – the money received from the largest student dormitory “Goce Delchev” in Skopje, if you multiply the number of beds (1,216) with a price of 3,000 denars per month, as each student admitted to this student dormitory pays for food and accommodation.
How and what is this money spent for? Under the Law on Students Standard (“Official Gazette of RM” No. 15/2013 and 120/2013), the obligations of the state student dormitory that is its board of directors, among other things are – to make an annual financial plan on how to spend money for the following year, and the Report on performance in the previous year to be submitted to the Ministry no later than 31 January in the current year (Article 35 of the Law).
According to the Law on Access to Information, we asked the Ministry to give us the financial plan for the last two years. We wanted to see how much money goes for food, how much for possible repairs in the rooms, how much for other purposes… After a month of waiting, the response we got was “Financial statements for the dormitories of the past three years have been delivered to the people in charge in the State Audit Office, so we are not able to deliver them to you”. From the State Audit Office we were told that even if they were provided to them, the relevant ministry had to have these reports.
According to the reply we received, either the Ministry of Education does not know how the competent spend students’ money or it avoids giving the documents that are of public interest? If so, the only logical question that arises is – why hiding the information about the money?!
In the absence of concrete figures, financing accommodation and food in the student dormitories is as follows – under the Law on Student Standard (“Official Gazette of RM” No. 15/2013 and 120/2013), for students who stay in a state dormitory the Ministry of Education and Science participates in the price for accommodation and food to 50% of the fixed price, and the remainder to the overall price is paid by the student. Funding of the national student dormitories is provided from the budget of the Republic of Macedonia in accordance with the Law on Budgets, the Law on Budget Execution of the Republic of Macedonia, as well as service users, according to the law.
Why is there no hot water, walls fall and elevators break down?
Purchase of supplies for hygiene products, for pipeline plumbing repair, maintenance and repair of hot water and heating network, maintenance and repair of boiler and pumps, procurement services for unforeseen services for repair of elevators, and another one for additional and unforeseen services – these are purchases in the “contracts” published this year by the state student dormitory and applies to other purchases except for food and drinks, according to the website of the Bureau of Public Procurement. Last year’s purchases, according to the Bureau data are materials for tradespersons, crude oil and liquid fuels, supplies and hygiene.
How often does the State Student Center repair elevators, water pipes, electrical wiring, has it painted the rooms, when did they last buy beds, mattresses, blankets? If supplies are regular and repairs are timely and appropriate, why do students complain that toilets and washrooms are unusable, there is no hot water, elevators break down, there is not enough food?
We asked the State dormitory – Skopje and its director Daniela Temelkova for the answer to these questions. She did not answer a question at all. She was on vacation, although when we asked her for a meeting on this topic, she was at work. MON simply ignored the question of how much money is annually collected from dormitories in Skopje and how it is allocated.
“As Government, in the past few years we invested approximately 200 million denars to improve the standard of accommodation in student dormitories. The current government is the only so far that has decided to build new facilities – new facilities in the student dormitory “Stiv Naumov”, and reconstruct existing facilities as student dormitory “Goce Delchev”. The project provides complete reconstruction of the dormitory, which involves replacing floors, carpentry, walls repair, toilets, electrical installation and all other equipment”, they say in the response from the Ministry.
In “Goce Delchev” there are four blocks. For a standard double room students pay 3,445 denars per bed. The price for a single room is 3,645 denars. Students are accommodated in so-called kitchens, rooms that might used to have that purpose, at a cost of 3,145 denars per student. This price, despite the accommodation, covers a number of food coupons. When moving in, students pay 250 denars for cultural entertainment life. If they want to go to the student dorm’s disco, they pay a ticket. It is about amounts that can renovate one room a week, but students ask where this money goes.
In January last year, after a series of incidents in dormitories, Kresimir Pavic, former director of the Student Center resigned. Pavic’s resignation, who had this function for more than five years, was almost unremarkable – just a statement from the Ministry of Education. Temelkova, former educator and director of a kindergarten in Aerodrom, became director of the Student Center. We have not heard from her at all about the problems in the dormitories.
Inspectors powerless before the misery in “Goce”
Student dormitory “Goce Delchev” is in a bad sanitary – technical condition. As it is a huge building and its renovation is a major investment, there is no sign of taking measures to improve the situation. This is part of the final Report of the State Sanitary and Health Inspectorate for 2013 (attached).
Making this survey, we were told that the report for this year was yet to be prepared. The reason was that health and sanitary inspectors made controls in late May and June, and in September they checked how much problems were resolved during the summer to prepare the facility for the new school year.
In September last year, when they were to re-examine the situation, inspectors wrote: “As for the dormitory “Goce Delchev”, for which a decision has been issued, it is not controlled, because longer terms are given but it is about a big investment and for years the situation has been unchanged”.
Dzevdzes Shakiri, Director of the Inspectorate, confirmed the inspectors’ findings.
“In the dormitory “Goce Delchev” there has been no intervention for years. Managers could not intervene since a lot of money is necessary that the State Student Center does not have. So far not a denar has been invested in this dorm. You know, it was built in the time of Yugoslavia, and from the outside it may look sound and great, but inside the situation is bad. Most intervened of what we have requested is painting, repair of drains and sewers etc, but nothing more thoroughly”, said Shakiri.
He believes that the situation will be settled with the renovation announced by the Government.
“I am pleased that the state set aside money for renovating the dorm, as well as “Nevena Georgieva – Dunja” or popular Medicinar, to which I am particularly related, because there I spent two years of my life. It was intervened in the dormitory in Avtokomanda, “Stiv Naumov”, so the situation is slowly beginning to get better”, says Shakiri.
From this report it appears that sanitary inspectors found poor sanitary and technical conditions in the dormitory, pointed them, and as if they gave up – it is so bad, it cannot be repaired if not renovated completely.
Queues for 200 grams of steak
While waiting for the government to begin to realize the promise that the dormitory will be renovated, students say that this school year they are also forced to accommodate in unbearable conditions. In March this year, some of them organized the initiative “Operation Dorm”. They gained worldwide “fame” when pictures of the dormitory were published in the world media. For SCOOP they say: “We raised our voice, but we live same as before”.
“During the “Operation”, there were many controls in the dormitory. They entered the rooms, checked whether more people gathered, looked for student cards. In the shop where we buy with coupons arrived more food than usual. Intensively were carried shipments of food, but when there were not so many people any more, salami of the nonexistent “Hedis” were left with a week before the expiry date”, said the students asked what changed these few months after their reactions reached the public.
Last school year they had problems with broken elevators, dark hallways, unbearable bathrooms and toilets, without enough hot water, in rooms with moldy walls, same food not enough…From this September, the situation with mold and lack of hot water is the same.
“There is most food in September and October. Then it begins to disappear. Of meat, this year there was only steak. In the canteen there was a piece of paper where it was written that everyone may take only 200 grams steak. We queue and wait for 40 minutes for a piece of steak and a dish of fries. French fries are eaten with a spoon, because there are not enough forks in canteen. Last year, there were drinks in the bar – this year, there are not any in refrigerators. Hot water and heating are rare. There are no fire extinguishers on any floor. Cats and dogs are at home throughout the hallways. On my floor, toilets and shower cabins have no doors. It is not pleasant, but we have to use them, there are no others. In each block there are two elevators. One does not work for sure. Through the halls it is horror. Some lights do not work, other romantically blink all the time. In May, the elevator in D block did not work for two weeks. When it rains, it rains and on the floors there is short circuit in electrical installation”, say students.
According to their claims, in the whole block there is only one electrician.
“We have four tradesmen – carpenter, plumber, locksmith and electrician. They lack basic tools. After the electrician left, I was waiting for three weeks for a cracked socket. A valve was running in the bathroom, the plumber had no pliers to fix it”, says another student.
“Operation Dorm” in a new battle
Members of “Operation Dorm” say that the reason for the initiative is the fall of the elevator in block B, from the eighth on the second floor, and no one admitted it.
Initially there were 50 students. They are surprised that they quickly achieved success they did not even expect – they complain about the obstructions by their fellow students trying to put a political label on them. They are glad they have received tens of calls for donations. They have been asked from Australia and Germany how to be sent help, but they refused all such offers. Their photos have been seen over five million times.
“We are not politicians and do not want to be ones. We are very careful and not related to any parties. Since appearing before the elections, there were attempts for provocation from both sides, but for now we keep away from them. With open letters we emphasize that we are only fighting for our rights as students”, say some of the initiators.
From this autumn, they will continue the battle – they will require “student monitoring” of conditions in the canteen, buffet and other common rooms in dormitory “Goce Delchev”. They are planning to expand the initiative in dormitories in Avtokomanda and Centar.
“The main and essential task of “Operation Dorm” remains to be the media for the real picture of students’ life in dormitories. Although the formation OSD only pay “Goce Delchev”, considering the situation in which it finds alarming, with the new school year, “Operation” will work on the inclusion of other dormitories in Skopje in order to inform the public. The main goal is to support students – residents to get rid of the fear that they will lose their accommodation in the dormitory if talking about everyday difficulties, and that this freedom from fear is channelized in actions”, said the initiators.