Chilean Senate Ousts Education Minister

By: AP
By: AP

SANTIAGO, Chile - Lawmakers in Chile ousted the education minister on Wednesday for failing to prevent a scandal involving subsidies to private schools that overstated enrollment.

The Senate's vote also bars Education Minister Yasna Provoste from public office for five years.

Appointed by President Michelle Bachelet in July 2006, Provoste is the first cabinet-level minister to be dismissed by lawmakers since democracy was restored in 1990 after a 17-year dictatorship.

Provoste is not accused of any wrongdoing, but opposition legislators said she should be held accountable for the alleged mishandling of millions of dollars (euros) of government funds allocated to private schools.

An investigation by the General Comptroller's office showed that steep subsidies were paid to schools that overstated the number of their students. The probe, still in progress, involves some US$580 million (euro360 million).

Bachelet's administration and pro-government lawmakers called the ouster politically motivated, and said the irregularities were merely accounting mistakes that are being clarified.

The president accused the opposition of wanting to "make a show of political force," and said, "I hope this will not set a bad precedent."

But opposition Sen. Jovino Novoa said Provoste "was informed of the serious situation that was occurring in her ministry and failed for several months to take action."

Provoste, 38, claimed she was being persecuted for being "small, dark-skinned, middle-class and indigenous." She is a descendant of Aymara Indians.

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