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Mugabe Scholarship Fund Spends Unauthorised Funds

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has incurred unauthorised expenditure amounting to nearly US$6 million for his personal scholarship fund to assist local students to study in South African universities.

Mugabe’s Presidential Scholarship Fund, which falls under his office and has one of his cronies as director, runs on government funds.

Last year the fund was allocated US$1.3 million in the national budget, but Mugabe also used US$5.8 million in unbudgeted expenditures.

The amount is part of nearly US$500 million that government departments and ministries used last year without parliament’s approval, as required by the Constitution.

Now Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has approached parliament to approve the spending, including the scholarship funds, in retrospect – as required by the supreme law.

The Constitution states that if more money has been spent than was appropriated, or money has been spent for purposes for which no money was appropriated, the minister should introduce a bill to the National Assembly seeking to condone that unauthorised spending.

Last year’s unapproved spending on scholarships by Mugabe was during a time when he was part of a unity government – and it was done in defiance of protests by then finance minister Tendai Biti, who belonged to the rival party, the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC.

Biti insisted that the Treasury could not continue to bankroll the controversial scheme, as it was a personal initiative of Mugabe. MDC youths and student associations claimed that only people aligned to Mugabe’s ZANU PF party were benefiting from the bursaries.

In opposing the spending ahead of the 2013 budget, Biti said: “It is a fund created for sentimental reasons…the president wanted us to fund it to the tune of US$54 million yet it’s private, just like the Reagan Foundation and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.”

At the time, then higher education minister, the late Dr Stan Mudenge from ZANU PF, said that in the face of Biti’s opposition, the president would find money elsewhere. But it has since emerged that he resorted to unauthorised expenditure.

The scholarship scheme

Established in 1995 and funded by the state, the Presidential Scholarship Scheme is aimed at helping talented young Zimbabweans from poor backgrounds access university education.

Beneficiaries are sent to South African universities such as the Witwatersrand, Rhodes, Cape Town and Fort Hare – where Mugabe got his law degree. To begin with, students were sent only to Fort Hare, but now 14 South African universities are involved.

Most of the students are reportedly reluctant to return home to a country with a nearly 90% employment rate and political uncertainty.

Mugabe turns 90 next month and does not have a succession plan in place, prompting fears of an explosive power struggle between different political factions and the army should he suddenly die. The economy is in a free fall.

Critics of the fund have argued that it should be placed under the aegis of the Ministry of Higher Education and not be run by a committee handpicked by Mugabe.

Opposition lawmakers have also criticised spending money on scholarships for study abroad when it could benefit thousands of students at local institutions.

During one debate they said while Mugabe ‘externalised’, tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe were being neglected, with the University of Zimbabwe having an enrolment of close to 10,000 students but only managing to accommodate 4,287 in residence, while the National University of Science and Technology only accommodated 104 of its 4,000 students.

Some students have also been forced to defer or drop out of studies due to failure to pay tuition fees.

There are also allegations that the fund has been haunted by ghost students.

Reports have claimed that while the scholarship requirements are that only disadvantaged students from rural and remote districts under 25 years, with no criminal record and a good medical report, qualify, the scheme is run on patronage. The daughter of Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba has been cited as one of the beneficiaries.

Universities Worldwide News

Categories: General
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