Coltart accused of abusing Education Transition Fund

The Herald

By Hebert Zharare

27 May 2013 

Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart has been accused of hijacking the Education Transition Fund (ETF) where he allegedly set up parallel structures in a bid to divert money to finance his cash-strapped MDC party’s activities. The ETF is the brainchild of the Government and is funded by donors. ETF has been running since 2009 and in 2012 moved from phase 1, whose target was to raise US$50 million to phase 2 where it is eyeing to raise US$160 million to re-kit and re-tool disadvantaged schools.

Sources in Government said since the establishment of the fund, there has been an overwhelming influx of funds from various international donor agents and European Union countries.

Documents in the possession of The Herald reveal that the fund was detached from Government to avoid scrutiny and that an office was established in Bulawayo to administer the fund.

Minister Coltart dismissed the allegations as baseless, arguing that everything was operating above board and that Unicef was co-ordinating donors and managing the fund.

“What those people are saying is false . . . ETF is managed by Unicef in Harare and there is no ETF office in Bulawayo. The ETF implementation committee is chaired by (Ministry of Education official Mrs) Constance Chigwamba.

“ETF is a fund by donors coming from EU countries. I chair the fund but it is managed by Unicef in Harare. Not a single cent comes to Government that I can use personally . . . Speak to Unicef, their country director can confirm that,” he said.

However, documents leaked to The Herald, show that ETF was being abused for political expedience, with MDC officials now responsible for buying of school textbooks.

“The office was reportedly manned by MDC party officials and no Government structures or institutions are involved. Minister Coltart brought two officials Linnet Nyathi and Ellen Shiriyedenga from his party to work in the office.

“Ellen is elections director in the MDC and is now a civil servant but both receive US$1 500 per month as salary from the ETF, and as such Ellen gets double salary . . . The buying of primary school textbooks and subsequent problems which emanated from some Unicef sponsored books was all as a result of machinations by Minister Coltart to try and give mileage to his party and himself when he unsuccessfully tried to put his foreword and picture on the textbooks,” reads the documents in part.

Reports say the Minister used parallel structures to set up programmes to train headmasters, teachers and district education officers in administration without the consent of Government.

They were reportedly given hefty allowances during these training programmes resulting in the majority of teachers shunning Government training programmes.

“Parallel finance handling programmes were created and are not subject to Government audit,” reads part of the documents.

Phase 2 of the ETF was launched in 2012 targeting US$160 million and funded by Global Partnership for Education.

Minister Coltart also defended Ms Shiriyedenga and Ms Nyathi who are alleged to be working for both the ministry and MDC.

“Ellen works in Harare, she has been my personal assistant from day one and her political affiliation cannot be questioned. She is not in the ETF implementation committee. Nyathi was employed to run the Education Advisory Board and is based here in Harare,” he said.

Minister Coltart said the ETF, to the contrary, had improved the country’s education sector and all the funds were accounted for.

Unicef chief communications officer Mr Victor Chinyama on Tuesday confirmed that part of the ETF funds were used to pay Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture officials running the National Education Advisory Board.

“The ETF was established to, among other objectives, provide financial and technical assistance to the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts, and Culture. Based on a request from the Ministry, the ETF has been meeting part of the salary costs for personnel working under the National Education Advisory Board, an entity established under the Education Act, and in the Minister’s office,” said Mr Chinyama.

However, Minister Coltart accusers say the game plan involved the School Development Committees (SDCs) who become heavily politicised as some pro Zanu-PF officials leading the SDCs were booted out.

“A good and clear example was the ousting of Lawrence Chidzonga who was chairman of SDC at Fletcher High School by an unknown group of parents who were reportedly bused from Senga to vote in a well-known MDC activist. Chidzonga was a well-known Zanu-PF activist and Government Inspector in Mvuma. This has been reported to be prevalent in schools,” read the documents in part.

These SDCs that are receiving training from a Netherlands-based NGO, SNV, have become so powerful that they can hire and fire non-academic staff.

No comment could be obtained from SNV yesterday.

It is alleged that Mr Coltart was making frantic efforts for SDCs to have full control of the Government schools so that they could be used to control students and communities for political expedience.

Under a programme called Teach Zimbabwe, the minister reportedly wanted to establish what he termed schools of excellence where intelligent students from at least two schools per province could be sponsored by the NGO.

The ETF phase 2 that is under way has some schools empowerment grants and is led by an Australian called Jeanine Sprink and so far US$153 million has been made available for the programme.

Some SDCs are asked to open separate accounts and the money is deposited directly into those accounts, raising accountability issues.

The project has already started and so far schools such Goromonzi have benefited.”