The Chronicle has learned that several Gambian students abroad are still to receive their share of the 29.1 million COVID-19 relief package, five months after it was announced by the government. An unfortunate situation confirmed by members of the Confederation of Gambian Students Abroad (CGSUA). Meanwhile, the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (MoHERST), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad (MoFEA) as well as the various Gambian embassies abroad are clearly not sharing common position on the saga leaving many doubts on the handling and distribution of the funds.
“I can confirm to you that MoHERST has already wired to all Gambian embassies to pay all students whose personal data were taken”, the permanent secretary, Mot Secka told The Chronicle.
He said the ministry of Higher Education relied on lists containing names of identified beneficiaries that embassies of The Gambia around the world provided. According Mr Secka, the money was transferred accordingly, meaning the embassies should be blamed for not letting students know about payment availability. “I think the embassies are not communicating to students and it is their job to communicate to them on the disbursement of the funds so that the students will know what is going on.”
Secka said that the relief package was meant for those students who are government funded and non-government funded Gambian students living abroad. However, he clarified that the students studying abroad who are funded by the government and continue to receive their monthly stipends and allowances are not part of the relief package.
In May, 2020 Statehouse said that…“as part of its efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID19, the Barrow government announces the D29.1 Million Student Relief Package for Gambian students studying abroad. A sum of D12, 915, 880 has been allocated to help 836 non-government funded students while D16.2 million will go to the government-funded scholarship package.”
Preferring anonymity, a member of the Confederation argued that the monies were to be paid to every Gambian student abroad identified as such by a Gambian embassy. “There was no segregation as to who is supposed to receive the funds. The press release indicates that the funds were for non-government funded and funded government students.”
The confederation comprises more than 20 students’ unions located in different parts of the world and they expressed their dismay in the way the issue is being handled.
Our sources in CGSUA said the students and members of the Confederation are disappointed with the obscurity surrounding the lack of coordination and poor follow up between the different government departments involved to solve the issue. The people who spoke to The Chronicle expressed regret that the ministry of Foreign Affairs collected personal details of Gambian students abroad through its embassies while knowing that those students are not going to benefit from the money they were made to believe they will receive.
To this, the Communication officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad (MoFEA), Saikou Ceesay said the funds are under the purview of higher education who are solely responsible for disbursement.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no hand in the management of these funds. The funds are in their (MoHERST) custody and they decide who to give and how much to give.”
Ceesay said his ministry’s sole role was to collect information from Gambian students abroad and share it with the higher education ministry. “When we share the bio data, MoHERST releases what they think should be released to our embassies and the embassies distribute these funds accordingly.”
The Chronicle has contacted the various embassies abroad via emails for a week but no one has responded so far to clarify the issues. The paper will continue following the developments on this subject and reports accordingly.