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Provinces to pay another R45m for Cuban students following currency ‘miscalculation'

Following a foreign exchange miscalculation, provincial health departments have been instructed by the National Department of Health to kick in another R45m to the R122m they have already paid towards funding the Cuban medical training programme, reports City Press.

It writes that Eastern Cape and Limpopo are the latest provinces to withdraw from sending students to Cuba. Western Cape withdrew from the medical programme a few years ago, citing that it was not appropriate for the health system in that province and that it was too expensive.

A blunder caused by a miscalculation of the dollar-rand exchange rate will result in government digging deeper into national coffers this year to fund tuition fees for medical students in Cuba. City Press learnt that National Health Department director-general Sandile Buthelezi instructed provinces last month to pay a R45,154,956.66 shortfall for the 2019/20 funding of the Nelson Mandela-Fidel Castro medical programme.

The programme, which was set up by the late presidents in 1995, has also been marred by allegations of corruption. City Press reports that at the time of going to press, only Limpopo and Mpumalanga had confirmed that they had paid a combined amount of more than R12m to the department. The extra funds are in addition to what provinces have allegedly paid for the programme this year.

City Press reports that according to a departmental report, provinces have already paid R121,760,000 to the department – and that is only for the tuition of students studying in Cuba this year. When other expenses are added, the total is far higher. For meals and accommodation, government has allegedly paid R55 503 360; R23 577 600 for stipends; R5 184 000 for insurance; and R3 684 000 for administrative costs. This comes to R209 708 960.

Butheleziʼs letter to provinces, dated April 5, notified departments that the dollar-rand exchange rate baseline used to calculate tuition fees for students in Cuba was R15/$1 for the 2019/20 academic period. “In light of the fact that the exchange rate escalated so much above the baseline, the amount transferred to Cuba was lower than the amount received from provincial departments of health. The amount transferred to Cuba did not cover the total amount due,” wrote Buthelezi. The deadline for payments was April 30.

The new amount was split as follows:

R4 597 056.34 to be paid by the Eastern Cape for 124 students; R704 387.67 to be paid by the Free State for 19 students;
R9 750 208.21 to be paid by Gauteng for 263 students;
R7 192 168.79 to be paid by KwaZulu-Natal for 194 students; R4 078 033.85 to be paid by Mpumalanga for 110 students;

R8 823 382.34 to be paid by Limpopo for 238 students;
R2 298 528.17 to be paid by the Northern Cape for 62 students; and R7 711 191.29 to be paid by North West for 208 students.

Provinces pay funds to national government to finance the students in Cuba, as well as bursaries for those studying medicine at local universities.

“Most of the students in Cuba are struggling academically, as Cuban education focuses more on primary healthcare than our medical education does here in South Africa, so we assist them (academically) in order to benefit from the money they get from government,” a student alleged. He said students studying in Cuba were supposed to receive R70,000 a year, but only a fraction of this was paid – the rest went to corrupt officials.


Full City Press report (Restricted access)


See also MedicalBrief archives:

DOH asks parents of SA medical students in Cuba to send food and toiletries

Unlike the Cubans, the supernumerary registrars battle COVID-19 unpaid

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