We did not learn from the pandemic

Estela Ruíz Díaz Por Estela Ruíz Díaz

The General Budget of the Nation, the most important law since it establishes the objectives and goals of the Executive Branch for the next fiscal year, is analyzed in Congress. It establishes the general guidelines in the context of institutional development.

The first one to study it was the Bicameral Commission, composed of senators and deputies, which carries out the first task of sifting and reallocating the items. Already in that instance, an alert was made on the scandalous cutback in education and the terrible consequences for the future of children and young people, the most affected ones during the pandemic. Second cycle school dropout rates increased during the health crisis and, according to the figures, 243,000 students are not studying today. A tragic situation that must be reversed if we want to avoid the growth of poverty and informality. And most importantly, to restore the dreams that were cut short by the economic crisis.

All sectors linked to education were mobilized to stop the disaster. They spoke with the leaders of the parliamentary parties. The deputies gave speeches on the importance of the future, there were promises from the colorados. The presidential pre-candidates hurrahed for the shielding of FEEI (Fund for Excellence in Education and Research) resources, early childhood and Becal scholarships.

However, the Chamber of Deputies cut the Education and Research Excellence Fund in a sleight-of-hand maneuver to confuse. "The only thing that has been done is a change in the source of funding to cover school kits and feeding programs. We have checked the availability of FEEI fund balances and what was done is a reallocation USD 17 million. In addition, an article was added stating that the Ministry of Finance must replenish the funds to the extent of its possibilities", affirmed the colorado deputy Tadeo Rojas, in his justification. In other words, they took the safe education fund, to transform it into an uncertain fund.

In short, they took 17 million dollars out of "uncommitted funds" from the FEEI. The agency made a list of how this decision will affect the children in case the Senate does not correct the blunder: 5,000 children from 0 to 3 years old will not receive comprehensive direct and home care, 3,500 children will not be able to attend pre-school and kindergarten, 2,377 teachers will not have access to specialization trainings, 1,700 students will not have 46 new classrooms and equipment; 171 professionals will not have access to doctoral and master's scholarships at the best universities in the world; 256 scientific research projects will not be carried out; Paraguay will not be able to participate in the PISA International tests organized by the OECD in 2023.

Where does this money go to? Well, to new positions in the State. The Ministry of Finance detected that the deputies created 1,359 positions, mostly for the justice system.

It is easier to point out who were the deputies who stood on the right side of history because the executioners were the overwhelming majority. The 13 votes that could not reverse the situation to restore the funds to education, but it is worth putting black on white to avoid condemning everyone in the same bag: the colorados Hugo Ramírez, Carmen de Ovando, Jazmín Narváez, Carlos Núñez Salinas and Juan Carlos Galaverna (son); the liberals Édgar Acosta, Enrique Buzarquis, Manuel Trinidad and Juan Manuel Ayala; the patriqueridistas Sebastián Villarejo, Sebastián García and Rocío Vallejo; in addition to the encuentrista Kattya González.

Now the issue is in the hands of the Senate, which has shown to have more rationality in some delicate matters that put the State at risk.

WALKING BACKWARDS. The terrible coronavirus pandemic left two main lessons: the need to have strong public health systems and an education that makes qualitative leaps taking into account technological advances, because science is the most powerful tool that humanity has in order to face threats of various kinds. To this end, young people must be trained in educational centers suitable for current times, they must be sent to the best universities in the world, and research must be stimulated.

Political decadence is evident in this special situation. The FEEI, which was created in 2012, is a public entity with civil society participation created to allocate resources to programs and projects with the objective of "raising the quality of education, in the pursuit of educational excellence and the promotion of research and development", through numerous programs. Since then, there has been an unwritten pact not to misuse its resources, but for some time now, the political class has set its teeth in those funds. With this budget amputation, the total cuts in two consecutive years now reach USD 40 million.

The demands of different government agencies and civil sectors to prevent the educational catastrophe were of no avail. Because in Paraguay, the political class, always against history, shamelessly cynical and without ethical limits, prefers to feed the clientelism monster rather than bet on the long educational process. It is the nightmare of eternal return. With this leadership it is impossible to debate the present and even less to conjugate the future.

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