As FG owes agency N323bn
Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), has said it will suspend all foreign scholarship programmes for two years following the rising exchange rate.
Executive Secretary of the agency, Mr Sonny Echono, who gave the hint on Tuesday, said that the Federal Government was heavily owing the agency.
He further said that the naira allocated for foreign scholarship could no longer buy the required dollar for the beneficiaries.
The TETFUND boss spoke at a public hearing organised by an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the alleged missing N2.3 trillion in TETFUND.
According to him, TETFUND was owed the sum of N323 billion by the Federal Government having borrowed over N371.3 billion out of which it has paid N48 billion.
He expressed displeasure with the difficulties in accessing foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
The TETFUND boss who said that CBN had always insisted that the agency sources its forex by its self, sought the intervention of the House.
“We operate a system where our forex is being sold on our behalf at an official rate and we apply like anybody else to get it, sometimes it leads to additional cost.
“Currently, as I speak, we are in consultations with all our stakeholders to suspend foreign training for a year or two. 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. We are trying to put a hold.
“Most of our training now will be done locally through our experienced, first-generation universities and other specialised universities based here. This way we can retain our resources in house and cope with the change of foreign exchange variation.
“Some of the scholars that have been sponsored, unpatriotically when they go, they enjoy our scholarship, acquire a higher degree, they refuse to come back, it has become a major crisis.
“We are working with the staff unions for stringent and effective measures to be taken; currently before you are sponsored, you are made to sign a bond.
“The scholarship requires 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 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 fugitives of law from their countries.
“We may have to take that hard stand because the numbers are alarming. We just checked about 40 institutions and over 137 absconders and the review is ongoing.
“It is a huge number that we cannot afford and so we will be seeking your support to strengthen some of the existing regulations to ensure that those who benefit from this programme must come back.
“We are not against people looking for greener pastures; but do so on your own, not through our scholarship or through our sponsorship.”
On the alleged missing of N2.3 trillion in TETFUND, Echono dismissed the allegation as false and misleading.
House of Representatives had last week, set up a Committee to investigate the alleged abuse of N2.3 trillion generated from the Tertiary Education Tax by the Fund from 2011 to 2023.