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

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

Beam is a government programme introduced in 2001 to pay tuition, examination fees and levies for underprivileged learners.

Some schools have gone for more than two years without receiving Beam payments according the National Association of Secondary Heads and National Association of Primary Heads.

Government pays school fees for at least 1,8 million learners 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 arrears and fees obligations after Citizens Coalition for Change legislator Discent Bajila had asked for a definitive roadmap for the disbursement of adequate funds to settle Beam arrears.

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“During the 2023 financial year, government provided assistance to 1 515, 047 children through the Basic Assistance Education Module. The programme ensures that all children access basic education crucial for children to realise their full potential.

“To this effect, government availed ZWL$77,5 billion against budget of ZWL$23 billion thereby reducing school fees arrears as well as clearing Zimsec examination arrears for 2023.

“Notwithstanding the above efforts, resource constraints exacerbated by changes in the macro-economic environment resulted in accumulation of arrears for Beam which stood at an equivalent of US$57 million (ZIG772 million) by the end of the 2023 financial year,” Ncube said.

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

“However, due to limited fiscal space, the budget is not able to fully cover the arrears thereby failing to cover both arrears and current fees obligations,” Ncube said, adding that the government would try to find additional funds during the course of the year.

“To this effect, Treasury will ensure the release of the full budget in line with current fees payments to curb further accumulation of arrears.

“Treasury will also strive to find additional budget during the course of the year to prioritise payment of arrears to the marginalised schools so that service delivery is not compromised,” Ncube said.

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

“Find ways of collective fees. Engage debt collectors and a debt collector will not demand any payment from you, from the school,” Moyo said early this year while addressing school heads in Bulawayo at St Columbus High School.

 “They will demand payment from the parent or guardian who owes the school. What we don’t want is for you to embarrass our learners. No ways. We don’t want that.”

Beam has over the years been seriously affected by underfunding resulting in it experiencing challenges as several children under its sponsorship failed to access basic education because their school fees were not paid.

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

Despite not paying for the programme government has warned schools against turning away learners on Beam over non-payment of fees arguing that the Constitution does not allow pupils to be turned away from school.

For years, government has been promising free basic education but has failed to implement the policy.

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