Despite US and civil society objections, World Bank approves Tanzania loan

Secondary school students take their exams in Mpanda district, Katavi region, Tanzania. Photo by: Kelley Lynch / GPE / CC BY-NC-ND

WASHINGTON – March 31, world BankThe Board of Executive Directors has approved a controversial $ 500 million education project in Tanzania, which has drawn criticism from civil society groups, the US government and opposition politicians.

The “Secondary Education Quality Improvement Project” aims to strengthen public schools, while “establishing stronger educational pathways for students leaving the formal school system”.

“A ‘separate but equal’ policy should in no way be supported by the World Bank.”

– Senator Robert Menendez, in a letter of March 12

Critics claim that students who “drop out” of public schools in Tanzania are often kicked out by the government. The administration of Tanzanian President John Magufuli has vigorously supported a policy to prohibit pregnant girls from attending school and to channel them into “alternative education pathways”.

Due to Magufuli’s endorsement of this policy, along with his administration’s broader crackdown on civil society and threats to arrest gay Tanzanians, the World Bank withheld the education loan in November 2018. – when it was worth $ 300 million.

According to a long World Bank fact sheet, the revised version of the draft approved this week includes elements to address gender discrimination and human rights concerns. The project’s environmental and social commitment plan, negotiated with the government, commits to “keeping children in school and helping all high school dropouts, including pregnant girls, to continue their secondary education and … provide a path to the formal public education system. “

The World Bank has also pledged to join with other development partners to advocate for the government to end the practice of expelling pregnant girls from school, especially under the project. and in its political dialogue with the Tanzanian government.

Tanzanian activists continue to voice concerns about the project and the Tanzanian government’s commitment to end discrimination.

“The government must affirm through legislation that reintegration into mainstream schools will be the main route for pregnant schoolgirls, which is not clear from the fact sheet presented by the Bank today,” a Tanzanian civil society activist, who requested anonymity due to concerns about government retaliation, wrote to Devex.

“The government should commit to updating legislation and guidelines, in consultation with civil society and other stakeholders, to institutionalize non-discriminatory policies and processes for the re-enrollment of pregnant schoolgirls in school. by the end of 2020, so that they can come into force. when the SEQUIP loan goes into effect in 2021, ”the activist added.

The US government, the World Bank’s largest shareholder, voted against approving the project on Tuesday, while acknowledging that the bank had made progress in its negotiations with the government.

“The United States wishes to be recorded as having voted no on this operation, as vulnerable communities still face significant risks of not being able to access quality education, and there remains great concern that the project will continue to stigmatize girls, ”the US Treasury Department noted in a declaration.

“While the Bank has taken steps to work with the government on many of these issues, the United States is not convinced that this investment is appropriate at this time, nor that it will succeed in meeting its objectives, and is concerned that Council approval be interpreted as support for some of the unfair practices in progress, ”he added.

Ahead of the board vote, US Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, wrote to World Bank President David Malpass expressing his concerns about the project.

“To date, it is still unclear whether the Tanzanian government adequately addressed the Bank’s concerns about these policies, which led the Bank to suspend the previous loan,” Menendez wrote in a letter from the Bank. March 12 at Malpass, which Devex obtained.

“It seems that the Bank, through this loan, can help institutionalize a discriminatory government policy by setting up specific institutions for pregnant girls. A “separate but equal” policy should in no way be supported by the World Bank, ”Menendez added.

As Magufuli’s administration has cracked down on civil society, independent media and opposition figures, critics of the project remain concerned about how the bank will provide independent oversight of government education plans.

According to the bank’s fact sheet, 96% of the project funds are conditional on the government achieving the agreed outcomes, which must be verified by an independent body that the bank must approve. The project agreement also includes a “joint government, World Bank and civil society mechanism” that “will review project results and how they have been achieved”.

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