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[QUITO] Over US$36 million of Ecuadorian scholarships and research funding for last year remain undelivered despite promises by the former government to boost science.

Last week (29 January), Bernardo Creamer, head of the National Secretariat of Science and Technology (SENACYT), and Gustavo Vega, president of the National Council of Higher Education, sent a letter to the ministry for economy and finances (MEF) demanding release of the funds.

The letter details the outstanding debt to higher education centres that the new government — sworn in on 15 January — faces to finance 381 science and technology projects.

It also criticises the MEF over the handling of funds for master's and Ph.D. scholarships, offered by SENACYT for study in Ecuador and abroad.

It states that these funds had been labelled as "current expenses" instead of investments, enabling the MEF to make them a lower priority. The General Attorney's Office has ruled that the scholarships should be considered an investment since the scholarships are for training purposes.

This has affected 97 Ecuadorians whose scholarships were granted in the middle of 2006 but have yet to receive this support. The total value of the missing scholarships exceeds US$2 million.

According to Arturo Carpio Rodas, former head of SENACYT, one reason for the delay could be the recent reform of the science and technology system, which closed the Foundation for Science and Technology.

He said the transition from the foundation to SENACYT in the last months of 2006 was "inopportune, unwise and conflictive" and interrupted the release of funds.

César Paz y Miño, director of the Molecular Genetics and Human Cytogenetics Lab at the Pontificial Catholic University of Ecuador, said the situation had postponed scientific work. He said the government's actions were "deceitful". 

"We must keep making pressure to obtain those funds, denouncing this issue to the mass media, sending official letters from our institutions to the highest national authorities, protesting the withholding of resources for research", Miño told SciDev.Net.

On the 21 December 2005 the government announced a new policy on science, technology and innovation to be led by SENACYT (see Ecuador launches a new national science policy).

A new head for SENACYT will be announced in the next few days.