Harare, March 23, 2014 – Former Finance minister, Tendai Biti has said the Presidential Scholarship Fund is President Robert Mugabe’s private scheme and is not entitled to government funding.
Biti said Mugabe as the patron of the Fund had an obligation to source funds required rather than drawing money from the fiscus.
He was responding to accusations by the Director of the Fund, Chris Mushowe that he contributed to the demise of the scholarship programme which is currently suspended for lack of funding.
Biti said the Fund was Mugabe’s “little foundation” and therefore funding it from the treasury was unfair.
“The scheme was never a government project. It was a private scheme of the President for his own charity work, and so it defies logic that I should be blamed for not supporting it during my term of office,” he said.
Biti said presidents elsewhere in the world had their own little charities but they sourced for the funds themselves and did not require their governments to pay for it.
“In 2009 I approached the minister of Higher Education to discuss this issue because I felt it did not make sense to be drawing money from treasury towards a private scheme,” he said.
The former Finance minister said in 2012 he was asked to allocate US$54 million towards the fund but failed to see the logic in the request.
“How could I grant such a request when the Cadetship programme required US$30 million? This scholarship was supposed to be for only a few students which the President could manage from his own pocket,” he said.
Mushowe on Friday told journalists that while Biti was Finance minister, he curtailed the Fund, resulting in the complications that currently exist.
“In 2010 Biti allocated US$3 million for students in 15 universities and that was not enough. We carried over the balance to 2011 but again we got US$2 million and it got worse in 2012 when he gave us a paltry US$1 million,” he said.
Mugabe initiated the scheme in 1995 which has to date benefitted thousands of students, most of them connected to Zanu PF officials. But of late, the programme has been facing funding challenges which resulted in the non-recruitment of new students in 2013 and this year.
Widespread reports claimed that some of the students under the programme, besides not having their fees paid, were also starving while some did not have decent accommodation.
However, Mushowe dismissed the allegations as malicious and challenged any student who was starving and homeless to come forward.
“I want to challenge any of the said students who are purportedly starving or do not have accommodation to come forward,” he said.
Mushowe,who is also the Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister, said only about US$1 million was currently owed in fees and they had already entered into agreements with most of the universities and all students had gone back to school.“I have negotiated with the university authorities and many have agreed to look after our students. I am shortly going to South Africa and one of the tasks that I have is to meet with landlords where some of our students are residing to renew lease agreements,” he said.
“Although there are no luxuries to speak of, no student has gone hungry or has not been able to go back to school. The programme is not collapsing; if we get adequate resources we will recruit next year,”he said.
Mushowe said there had been many challenges which hampered the programme.
“In 2012 there was the referendum, the constitution making process and then in 2013 the general elections. All these activities required a lot of money,” he said.
Commenting on allegations that some students delayed in going back to school, Mushowe said it was not fees related but visa challenges.
“The South African Embassy here delayed the process. Normally the students get a three- year study visa but then there are some students on a four-year programme,” he said, adding that no student had missed the graduation ceremony.