DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Education movement gains ground
by Daniel Jackman
Support for the implementation of the Ley General de Educación 66-67 (stipulating that 4% of GDP must be invested in education) blocked Congressional approval of the 2011 budget in the Dominican Republic this week, as calls for more resources to be dedicated to education in the country grow steadily.
The Coalición Educación Digna in the Dominican Republic praised the 87 members of the House of Representatives for their votes in favour of sending the 2011 budget to a special commission to investigate whether the budget is complying with the Ley General de Educación 66-67. The law, introduced in 1997, stipulates that 4% of GDP must be invested in education and which, since its inception, has never been achieved by any administration.
Dozens of protestors gathered outside Congress demanding the implementation of Ley 66-67 in a showcase of public anger over the state of educational facilities in the country. The result of the vote will also have been good news for the National Council of Private Enterprise which submitted a proposal to President Fernandez a year ago outlining the importance of better education for productivity and competitiveness for the country’s business sector. This proposal still awaits the president’s approval.
However, some members of the government, such as the finance minister Vicente Bengoa who labelled Ley 66-67 ‘absurd’, are not happy at the result. He points out that since it came to power in 2004 the current government has already significantly boosted education expenditure from RD$11bn (US$296m) to RD$49bn (US$1.3billion), and that it is unreasonable to ring-fence education expenditure as spending allocations vary according to the different needs of the budget. Others claimed that the movement was ‘politically motivated’, while even opposition leader Miguel Vargas was accused of financing the movement.
Congress was obviously not convinced as supporters of the law, led by opposition congressman Nelson Arroyo, outlined ways of making up the RD$44bn shortfall. Their plans include cuts to politicians’ pay, a 60% reduction in the budget for the planned second line of the Santo Domingo Metro as well as 50% cut in government propaganda. The Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Francisco José Arnaiz, blamed it on a lack of will in the government, as he claimed there were more than enough other areas where the money could be switched from.
The need for greater government investment in education in the country is stark. According to data from ECLAC (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean), 13% of the adult population is illiterate, and while 87% of children finish primary school, only 62% complete secondary education. It is therefore unclear why the government is dragging its heels over increasing funds to tackle these figures, although one reason may be to protect government privileges and deals brokered.
That is certainly the opinion of Orlando Gil, columnist for Listin Diario, a local broadsheet; ‘cuando una acción no responde a los intereses oficiales, es política. Como si entre políticos la política fuera mala’, (‘when an action doesn’t correspond with official interests, its called politics. As if politics was bad for politicians’) he comments drily. The government was clearly surprised by the strength of public support for Ley 66-67 and called an emergency meeting.
Following that meeting of cabinet officials, leaders of the education movement, and the President, a ‘social pact’ was hammered out whereby the education budget would steadily rise to 5.5% of GDP in 2018, while for 2011, the original increase of RD$4.6bn was raised to RD$10bn. The 2011 budget was then finally passed.