Beam students face expulsion over fee arrears

RESTRICTED fiscal space to cover children whose fees are paid by the government through the Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) could lead to beneficiaries dropping out of school or facing lawsuits over fee arrears, NewsDay has established .

This follows revelations by Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion Minister Mthuli Ncube, who recently told the House of Assembly that the government does not have fiscal space to cover Beam due to changes in the macroeconomic environment.

Beam is a government program introduced in 2001 to pay tuition, exam fees and levies for disadvantaged students.

Some schools have not received Beam payments for more than two years according to the National Association of Secondary Principals and the National Association of Primary Principals.

The government pays school fees for at least 1.8 million students out of an estimated six million.

Speaking during last week’s question and answer session, Ncube said the government was not in a position to cover Beam’s arrears and tariff obligations after Citizens Coalition for Change lawmaker Discent Bajila request a final roadmap for the disbursement of adequate funds to clear Beam’s arrears.

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“During fiscal year 2023, the government provided assistance to 1,515,047 children through the Basic Assistance Educational Module. The program ensures that all children access a basic education crucial for children to reach their full potential.

“To this end, the government allocated ZWL 77.5 billion out of a ZWL 23 billion budget, thereby reducing arrears in school fees and clearing arrears in Zimsec exams by 2023.

“Despite previous efforts, resource constraints exacerbated by changes in the macroeconomic environment resulted in an accumulation of arrears for Beam amounting to the equivalent of $57 million (ZIG 772 million) at the end of the fiscal year.” 2023,” Ncube said.

He said the Treasury had set aside ZWL 805,087,608,000 (ZiG322,163,908) to serve Beam in the 2024 national budget.

“However, due to limited fiscal space, the budget cannot fully cover arrears, therefore it does not cover both arrears and current fee obligations,” Ncube said, adding that the government will try to find additional funds over the course of of the year. .

“To this end, the Treasury will ensure the release of the entire budget in line with current rate payments to curb further accumulation of arrears.

“Treasury will also endeavor to find additional budget over the course of the year to prioritize payment of arrears to marginalized schools so that service delivery is not compromised,” Ncube said.

However, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Torerayi Moyo earlier this year advised schools to hire debt collectors to force parents to pay arrears.

“Find forms of collective rates. Involve debt collectors and a debt collector will not demand any payment from you or the school,” Moyo said earlier this year while addressing school principals in Bulawayo at St Columbus Secondary School.

“They will demand payment from the parent or guardian that is owed to the school. What we don’t want is for you to embarrass our students. There is no way. “We don’t want that.”

Over the years, Beam has been severely affected by lack of funding, causing it to struggle as several children under its patronage were unable to access basic education because their school fees were not paid.

The government has since admitted widespread abuse of Beam funds and late disbursement, acknowledging the mismanagement that has plagued the program.

Despite not paying for the programme, the government has warned schools not to reject Beam students for non-payment of fees, arguing that the Constitution does not allow students to be rejected from the school.

For years, the government has promised free basic education, but has not implemented the policy.

In 2020, President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed into law the Education Amendment Act which obliges the State to provide free basic education in accordance with the provisions of Article 27 of the Constitution.

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