By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
27 August 2014
The ZANU PF government has asked Britain to pay school fees for one million poor children who are on social welfare, according to British newspaper The Telegraph.
The request was submitted to Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), on the same week that schools re-opened for the new term.
A fortnight ago Sydney Mhishi, the director of social services, told legislators that the State had failed to pay fees for 750,000 poor children who are eligible under the Basic Education Assistance Model (BEAM) scheme.
Under the scheme, the State is supposed to pay fees for primary school children from poor families. Free primary education is also a constitutional right.
Mhishi said unless donors resumed funding the education sector, as they used to until last year, many children will miss out.
“We still think DFID might come again,” Mhishi said.
A DFID official has confirmed receiving the funding request from Zimbabwe.
“We received an initial request from the Zimbabwean Government and we are considering our response,” a DFID spokesman told the UK Telegraph on Friday.
Britain is among other western donors that have kept Zimbabwe’s social service institutions functioning since ZANU PF embarked on its ruinous policies in 1999.
To date, donors have provided 13 million textbooks, with Britain paying school fees for more than 300,000 poor children.
In November, former education minister David Coltart said at least 380,000 disadvantaged children were turned away from the BEAM scheme due to a shortage of funds.
Speaking to SW Radio Africa two weeks ago, Coltart also raised concerns over the lack of transparency and the partisan way in which the BEAM has been managed.
“If government commits itself to free basic education then we don’t need that bureaucracy because every child will be able to get a free education,” he added.
Coltart has on many occasions criticised the government’s lack of commitment to adequately fund the education sector in the last two decades.
This year, the ministry asked Treasury for $73 million to cover BEAM but only received $15 million.
Tuition fee for each disadvantaged child is $8 a term, which translates to $28 million for the 750,000 pupils.
The government says it has no money, despite stupendous salaries being paid to civil servants at the country’s parastatals.
Last week, the State-owned Herald newspaper reported that Cuthbert Dube, head of the Public Service Medical Aid Society earns $250,000 per month.
Dube’s salary is enough to pay fees for one term for 31,250 primary school pupils.
Head of the Harare-based Council of Social Workers Philip Manyanye, a social worker, said the government was showing itself to be inefficient and unable to protect children.
“Many of these children end up on the streets and this exposes them to exploitation. Some end up being accommodated at homes where they are abused.
“Primary education should by now be free as stipulated by our constitution but yet again they are failing in their duty of care,” Manyanye added.
With many of the country’s social programmes underfunded, it is not surprising that the country will keep going cap in hand to western donors for assistance.
Although ZANU PF government officials continue to aim potshots at the British government and claim the country does not need any western support, the majority of Zimbabweans have survived the past decade thanks to foreign assistance.