TETFUND May Suspend Foreign Scholarship Over Exchange Rate

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The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), has said that consultations are ongoing to suspend foreign scholarships as a result of the current exchange rate.

The Executive Secretary of the fund, Mr. Sonny Echono, made this known at a public hearing on alleged missing N2.3 trillion in TETFUND between 2011 to date, organised by an ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives.

He said that the tax accruable to the fund was generated by Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, and the fund’s account was domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

Echono said that some of the tax come in foreign currencies to CBN but when it is time to pay fees for scholars abroad, the apex bank insisted TETFUND source forex, making the fund lose value.

According to him, “We operate a system where our forex is being sold on our behalf at the official rate and we apply like anybody else to get it; sometimes it leads to additional cost.”

He urged the committee to intervene and compel CBN to allow TETFUND access to its forex to pay fees when due.

“Currently as I speak, we are in consultations with all our stakeholders to suspend for a year or two, foreign training.

“This is because of the recent exchange rate adjustments, we are unable to continue based on our disbursement guideline; the money we allocated in naira cannot cover the dollar requirement for training.

“Those who are currently there, we now need more naira to pay for the dollar that is required for their annual fees,” he said.

Echono said that the fund had identified courses where Nigerian universities have the competence and the right quality of faculty to run.

He said that the fund had earlier decided that only limited courses “where we do not have the capacity in our institutions will qualify for foreign sponsorship.”

The executives-secretary announced that most training would now be done locally through the experience, first generation universities and other specialised universities in Nigeria to retain revenue to cope with the exchange rate.

However, Echono said that no fewer than 137 sponsored scholars had absconded from 40 institutions abroad.

He said that some scholars who were sent for foreign training to acquire higher qualifications unpatriotically refused to return to Nigeria to serve.

He said that TETFund was working with other stakeholders on stringent measures saying that before anyone was sponsored, the bond must be signed.

“The scholar undertakes that you will come back, it is required that you have a guarantor and in many cases, the guarantor has suffered undue hardship because when you disappear, we hold the guarantor to pay all the money expended on your behalf but that has not been effective.

“We believe that in a system where we work with our embassies and the institutions, we can enforce the repayment for those who insist they will not come back.

“If they don’t, we will declare them “persona non grata”, we will write to the embassies and they will make it available to those countries and they will not be able to get jobs; they will be seen as a fugitive of law from their countries,” he said.

Echono called for the review of existing regulations to ensure that those who benefit from the TETFund programme must come back.

According to him, we are not against people looking for greener pastures but do so on your own, not our scholarship or through our sponsorship.

On the alleged missing N2.3 trillion, Echono said that the revenue accruable to the fund within the period was N2.47 trillion.

He said that “between 2011 to date, a total of N371.3 billion was borrowed by the Federal Government and only N48 billion had been repaid.”

The executive secretary said that all relevant documents to aid the investigation of the committee had been provided.

Earlier the Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Oluwole Oke (PDP-Osun) said that the committee was formed following a resolution of the house on a motion on the need to investigate the alleged missing sum.

He said that the committee would look at all the documents submitted by TETFund and also look at the law establishing the fund.

Oke said that the committee was also interested in the welfare of the staff of the fund and the House under the leadership of the Speaker, Rep. Tajudeen Abbas, would not harass or intimidate any agency or person.

He, however, said that the parliament would ensure the fund did what was right and deliver the required services to Nigerians.

He adjourned the hearing to Thursday.

Source: NAN

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