Ministers cautiously defend their govt-paid tuition fees ; opposition calls coalition “absolutely indecent”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 December 2016, 23:52 by Denis Chabrol

Evidently fazed that it’s now in the open that government is paying their university tuition fees to the tune of millions of dollars from the National Treasury, two government ministers reacted cautiously while the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) began slamming the government.

Junior Minister, Annette Ferguson said she became eligible for a GYD$3.3 million per year scholarship to study Public Policy Management at a United Kingdom-based institution because she is the holder of two degrees and three diplomas and she was successful. Asked why should the Guyana government pay for a minister to study, she said “I prefer to have that particular question deferred.” She is in her second year.

Junior Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry, who is in her first year pursuing a doctorate in Public Health, preferred to advocate for higher education of everyone because “we would be in a better place.”  She sought to justify government’s payment of ministers’ tuition fees. “That’s not unusual because the ministers need to ensure that there is continuous policy development in every field that you work…”

Why shouldn’t you be paying (tuition fees) out of your own earnings?: “Well, we are taxpayers, too, you know,’ she replied.  Henry said the process was advertised and interested persons applied.

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo said he has seen the list but he declined to comment in detail. “I cannot comment. I have to find out what is it really about. The list doesn’t say anything that would bother me at this time.” He opted for silence when asked whether he was bothered by the fact that government was paying for ministers to study.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, who is responsible for the Ministry of the Presidency’s Department of the Public Service could not provide any clarity on why government is paying tuition fees for ministers. “I can’t provide any clarity on that right now.”  On the question of whether he felt awkward about it, Harmon said “no”. “I have nothing further to say at this point in time.”

Among the other beneficiaries are Alicia Roopnaraine- the daughter of Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine and Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, a Director of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL), publishers of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper.

Roopnaraine has since stated on Facebook that her monies on tuition fees were exhausted and she applied for funding to complete her studies. She said she is bonded by a three-year contract with the Guyana government and she would be serving her country on completion of her studies.

Former Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, who has been lampooned by the then opposition A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change up to last year for receiving at least GYD$2 million in dental fees from the then PPPC-led administration said Wednesday night that she felt vindicated. “I have not read the article in its entirety, but I believe that it speaks to double standards.” Sukhai was one of numerous persons whose medical assistance had been partly funded from the coffers.

Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira labeled the situation “absolutely indecent” and the claims of clean hands are a lie. “No wonder they can’t run their ministries. They are too busy doing other stuff,” she said.

Told that her party’s critics would point out that under the PPPC-led administration several closely-linked persons had millions of dollars in medical bills paid, she reasoned there is a major difference between life-threatening illness and receiving scholarships. “People got them all and the medical (aid) that were given were given to people who needed it…” she said.