Schools hit by BEAM chaos as Ncube admits fees arrears of over US$57 million

Schools debt ... Finance minister Mthuli Ncube admits the government has fallen behind in school fees payments for disadvantaged children
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HARARE – Government Admits Inability to Fund Fees for Over a Million Disadvantaged Schoolchildren

HARARE – The Zimbabwean government has acknowledged its inability to pay school fees for over a million disadvantaged children registered under the Basic Education Assistance Model (BEAM).

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube’s admission has dealt a significant blow to many schools, which now face operational budget shortfalls due to the government’s non-payment of fees under the scheme intended to provide all children access to basic education.

Responding to a query from Emakhandeni-Luveve MP Discent Bajila on Wednesday, Ncube stated that the treasury would strive to find additional resources to clear BEAM arrears during the year.

During the 2023 financial year, 1,515,047 children registered for financial support under BEAM. By the end of 2023, the government owed schools US$57 million, Ncube revealed.

“The government availed ZWL$77.5 billion against a budget of ZWL$23 billion, thereby reducing school fees arrears and clearing ZIMSEC examination arrears for 2023. Despite these efforts, resource constraints and macro-economic changes led to BEAM arrears of US$57 million (ZiG772 million) by the end of 2023,” Ncube told MPs.

The 2024 budget allocated ZWL805,087,608 (now ZiG322,163,908 million) for BEAM. However, this amount is insufficient to cover both current fees and arrears. Ncube pledged that the treasury would release the full budget to address current fees and seek additional funds during the year to prioritize arrears payments to marginalized schools, ensuring service delivery is not compromised.

Despite the government’s debt to schools, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Torerai Moyo endorsed the use of debt collectors to handle parents defaulting on school fee payments.

“Legally, school authorities can engage debt collectors to recover unpaid school fees instead of turning away learners,” Moyo told parliament.

“We consistently advise school authorities to work with parents or guardians to ensure school fees and levies are paid without sending pupils away.

If parents or guardians cannot pay all required fees, school authorities should enter into flexible payment plans,” he added, urging parents to respect these agreements.

For years, the government has promised free primary education but has yet to fulfill this pledge.