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Improvement program victim of corruption it was intended to prevent?

Federal bureaucrats allegedly funneling cash to favored contractors for upgrading schools

Stamping out government corruption, as President López Obrador frequently asserts his administration is doing, is easier said than done.

The scourge is allegedly plaguing the federal government’s schools improvement program, which explicitly sought to put an end to corruption in educational projects by allocating funds directly to committees made up of parents and teachers.

The committee members supposedly have the freedom to decide how to spend the money they are allocated, and to hire contractors of their choice or even carry out projects themselves.

But parents of students at schools in eight of the poorest municipalities in Guanajuato say that state-based federal officials known as national servants have pressured them to hire their favored contractors. In some cases, parents forked out federal funds to the preferred contractors but the work they paid for was never completed.

Roberto Durán Grajales, an official with the Guanajuato Ministry of Education, said that members of parents’ groups have accused national servants of telling them who must carry out school improvement projects and ordering them to hand over resources to the favored contractors.

“The national servants dedicate themselves to pressuring mothers, … they wait for them at the bank, watch them make the withdrawal and then escort them to the contractor,” he said.

Parents accuse Arisbeth García Monjarás, a sub-delegate with the federal Welfare Ministry, of being behind the scheme, Reforma reported.

The newspaper said that at least 201 schools in the Guanajuato municipalities of  Atarjea, Doctor Mora, San José Iturbide, San Luis de la Paz, Santa Catarina, Tierra Blanca, Victoria and Xichú have received funds from the federal government program known as LEEN, short for La Escuela es Nuestra (The School is Ours.)

Parents from 83 of those schools say they were pressured to hand over the resources to contractors approved by sub-delegate García.

One contractor who benefited, Reforma reported, is Efraín Calixto López, whose sister is a national servant in Guanajuato.

Calixto received contracts to carry out projects at 40 of 51 schools that received federal funding in Xichú, which is considered the state’s poorest municipality.

Román Cifuentes, state president of the National Action Party, which governs Guanajuato, claims that García personally took 11 mothers from five different municipalities to banks and forced them to withdraw 150,000 pesos (US $6,600) each and hand the resources over to her.

After García received the money from the 11 mothers – 1.65 million pesos (almost US $ 73,000) in total – she was supposed to pay contractors to carry out school improvement projects, Cifuentes said. But no work was ever completed.

Reforma said that it has seen several complaints that parents have filed in Guanajuato against federal officials allegedly involved in the scheme.

The federal Education Ministry said in July that some 9.15 billion pesos (US $403.8 million) had been allocated to more than 49,000 schools under the LEEN program. Education Minister Esteban Moctezuma Barragán said recently that the program eliminates intermediaries and corruption.

When it was launched in February 2019, López Obrador said LEEN would help to eradicate misuse of funds allocated to the improvement and maintenance of schools, which he claimed was “a source of corruption.”

But a year and a half later, the scourge doesn’t appear to have disappeared in Guanajuato.

Although parents supposedly have freedom to decide how to spend the funds they receive, a group from Doctor Mora, a town in the northeast of Guanajuato, had a very different experience.

Durán, the Guanajuato education official, said that a group of parents in Doctor Mora decided to spend LEEN resources on computers, an internet connection, the improvement of water infrastructure and face masks for their children.

However, when they went to a bank to withdraw the funds they had been allocated, the transaction was denied.

Durán said the bank manager told the parents that the money was being withheld on the instructions of the national servants, who disapproved of the way in which it was going to be used apparently because they couldn’t get their hands on it.

López Obrador, who has made combatting corruption his administration’s primary raison d’étre, claimed almost a year ago that that there was “zero corruption” in the federal government as a result of his dedication to “sweeping away” what had developed over the past 30 years.

But corruption has been detected in several government programs including the tree-planting employment scheme known as Sembrando Vida and the “Youths Building the Future” apprenticeship scheme.

Source: Reforma (sp) 

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