Heated discussion in parliament over spending of USAID education fund

A heated discussion broke out in parliament on Sunday over the allocation of a LE2.7 billion USAID fund obtained by the Ministry of Education for the creation of "Alam SimSim," an Arabic version of Sesame Street. A conflict arose between members of the education committee and Reda Abu Sree, first undersecretary for the Minister of Education.

The committee gave the ministry 48 hours to provide documents detailing the allocation of the fund over the past seven years. The committee said that until the annual expenditure on USAID-funded projects becomes clear, it will suspend its approval of a US$40 million increase in education funding. The committee also demanded a comprehensive report detailing the salaries of both consultants and trainees.

Pointing out low student literacy rates and high drop-out rates, the committee questioned the ministry's claim that it spent US$100 million on school libraries, according to the MPs.

The committee also objected to Abu Sree's amendment to the objectives of the national strategic plan for pre-university education reform for seven governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Fayoum, Beni Suef, Minya, Qena and Aswan.

The committee went on to criticize the spending of LE40 million on training education department heads. Abu Sree replied that the ministry spent the money on training 148 department heads at a cost of LE5.5 million, and established 39,000 new school libraries with some 24 million books.

Committee Chairman Sameh Farid said he was intent on obtaining USAID's reports regarding the agreement, pointing out that USAID did not arbitrarily choose these seven governorates. He went on to say that the ministry's failure to generalize the agreement to include all governorates is proof that there were no feasibility studies, and that the education system is inadequate.

Discussions grew even more intense after a number of MPs demanded to know the cost of producing the children's program "Alam SimSim" for Egyptian television. Abu Sree responded that production of the show ended in 2007 after 60 episodes, and that he had no information concerning the costs involved.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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