Critics take aim at new scholarships ministry

Academics, student unions and opposition parties have condemned the creation by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of a new ministry – of National Scholarships – against the backdrop of the country’s ongoing economic woes.

Mugabe has created a new Ministry of National Scholarships in a cabinet reshuffle that saw eight new ministers being appointed and 10 others being reassigned.

Critics argue that Mugabe was supposed to trim his ministry rather than appoint new ministers.

Mugabe appointed Dr Christopher Mushohwe as the minister of state in the president’s office responsible for scholarships. Mushohwe was the country’s former information, media and broadcasting services minister and doubled up as the executive director of the Presidential Scholarship Department in the Office of the President and Cabinet.

Announcing the cabinet reshuffle, the state-run daily newspaper The Herald said all scholarships will now be handled by the new ministry. Previously, all scholarships were handled by the Presidential Scholarships Department and various ministries.

The appointment of a fully-fledged ministry will pave the way for budgetary allocations in the 2018 budget expected to be tabled in parliament before the end of the year.

Dr Ricky Mukonza, a Zimbabwean public management lecturer teaching at South Africa's Tshwane University of Technology, said the creation of a new ministry was an attempt by Mugabe and his party ZANU-PF to create “new jobs for the boys”.

“Could that portfolio not be placed in one of the education ministries under a directorate? Given the fiscal constraints that the country is facing, a responsible president would trim the cabinet, yet in this case we have one who adds ministries,” he said.

Zimbabwe National Students Union Secretary General Makomborero Haruzivishe said the ministry of scholarships was not necessary.

“It's a department that can and should be under the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development. This is proof that Robert Mugabe is not doing whatever he is doing for the betterment of Zimbabweans but for himself, his wife, and his kids,” he said.

In a statement, the spokesperson for former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai or MDC-T party, Obert Gutu, said the reshuffle was “a joke that isn’t funny”.

“Instead of reshuffling his bloated cabinet Mugabe should reshuffle himself by immediately stepping down from office,” said Gutu.

Kurauone Chihwayi, spokesperson of the MDC, said the duplication of roles and creation of parallel structures would strain the national purse.

“The head of state should also consider the cost of overloading the cabinet train,” he said.

Earlier this year, while still executive director of the former Presidential Scholarships Department, Mushohwe said in awarding scholarships, Mugabe insisted on equitable distribution between boys and girls and fair distribution among the eight rural provinces.

The minister said Mugabe’s selection criteria targeted very poor beneficiaries and programmes of study of greater need to Zimbabwe such as engineering, health sciences, dentistry, accounting, architectural science, actuarial science and agricultural sciences.

Mugabe, arguably the world’s most educated president, has consistently pushed education. The country has a relatively high literacy rate in Africa. In recent years more Zimbabweans have been sent to study abroad at tertiary levels.

In 1995, President Mugabe created the Presidential Scholarship Scheme, sending 15 students to the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, where Mugabe himself graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in history and English in 1951.

Last year, a report in The Herald said the Presidential Scholarship Scheme has so far churned out more than 20,000 graduates, mainly from South African universities.

The report said government had also started to send students to China with financial support from a Chinese company Qingdao Hengshun Zhongsheng Group.

In March this year, Mushohwe said plans are in the offing to honour Mugabe’s “long and close friendship with former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad through the establishment of an educational programme which extends the presidential scholarship programme to the Asian country”.