JIS News

The Bill to amend the National Housing Trust Act to allow for the diversion of funds to finance the Education Transformation project was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (July 26) after much debate.
The government is seeking to divert $5 billion in a one-off transfer to finance the upgrading of education facilities across the island this financial year.
Debate on the Bill started in the House last week but was suspended to allow for further consultation and consensus between both sides after the Opposition said it could not support the amendments as already, the legislation governing the Trust allowed it to make such expenditures or investments.
Opposition Leader Bruce Golding, speaking at that time, said that the Opposition was not convinced that the grant would be a one-off transfer given the fact that some $22 billion was needed to fund the education sector annually over the 10-year transformation period, and questioned where the provision would come from in the ensuing years.
Yesterday, Mr. Golding underscored that while not disputing the need for the injection of the $5 billion in funds into the sector, nor the use of the NHT’s resources, securing the funds by way of a loan to government was still the best option. “We did not last week nor do we now accept the protestations of the Minister of Finance (and Planning) that it will have this significant impact on the deficit of the country,” Mr. Golding said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said that following a meeting between members of both parties on Monday (July 25), a consensus was reached but had been followed by a later indication from the Opposition that their agreement was no longer forthcoming.
The Prime Minister noted that despite the Opposition’s later change of view, the government would hold to the agreement reached during the discussions on Monday. “If what we understood to be the agreement reached in the discussions of yesterday, we are going to honour it no matter that the Opposition no longer appears to be of the same view as its representatives yesterday,” he stated.
For his part, Mr. Golding said that when the Opposition’s proposal to access the fund by way of a loan had been “firmly rejected,” a proposal was made to have an amendment with “a built in finality that the provision would be for this year alone and that the provision enabling the transfer of funds from the Trust would expire within a year.”
The Act was amended to allow the NHT to provide special support for education as a one time provision, as well as to enable the NHT to, from time to time, make a contribution to the development of social projects in respect of areas where it has provided special housing solutions and in areas where schemes are contemplated. The Bill was passed with two amendments.
Prime Minister Patterson in 2004, appointed a 14-member Task Force to help transform the island’s educational system. The committee was charged with among other things, making recommendations on financing from the basic to the tertiary levels and determining the best allocation of resources; evaluating the education ministry’s structure, organisation and staffing and making recommendations about its effectiveness; and identifying the tools to ensure a first-rate educational system.
Based on the recommendations of the Task Force, it was estimated that the country would need to invest some $65 billion over ten fiscal years (2005-2014) for capital expenditure. The Task Force estimated that it would take $21.9 billion in additional funding annually or a total annual budget of $52.1 billion up to the year 2015 to transform the education system.