JIS News

The Senate yesterday (July 29), gave the nod to a Bill to amend the National Housing Trust Act , allowing the Trust to divert $5 billion in a one-off transfer to finance the upgrading of educational facilities across the island this financial year.
There is also a sunset clause to remove the provision after one year in existence. The Act has also been amended to enable the NHT to, from time to time, make a contribution to the development of social projects and physical infrastructure in areas where it has provided special housing solutions and in areas where schemes are contemplated.
Information Minister, Senator Burchell Whiteman who piloted the Bill, which was passed in the Lower House on Wednesday (July 27), said the Bill reflected a fundamental departure in a positive direction in respect of the mission of the NHT.
“It is in fact saying we are not just about building houses, we are providing for people’s welfare,” he said, noting that the performance of the Trust over the years has been above par.
Opposition Senator, Shirley Williams in her remarks, said while she recognized the importance of education and lauded the effort of the NHT to intervene in this area, the Trust could not be lauded for not investing more of the $38 billion cash in accumulated funds, which it now has at its disposal in housing.
“I question why the National Housing Trust has allowed itself to sit on an accumulated $38 billion in cash, while such a significant amount of persons remained inadequately sheltered or unsheltered,” she said.
Senator Williams said despite the fact that the transfer was a one-off contribution, “it should be repayable”.
The Opposition Senators, while supporting the move by the NHT to provide funding to help in developing the sector, argued like their colleagues in the Lower House on Wednesday, that the amendments to the Act were unnecessary and the proposed sum should be provided through a loan without impairing the ability of the Trust to carry out its original mission of providing housing solutions.
Meanwhile, Government Senator and Education State Minister, Noel Monteith said he saw no difficulty with the Senate approving the Bill to divert the funds.
“If we have $38 billion in the Trust and Education is in need and the NHT’s Board agrees to give $5 billion to Education to kick-off the efforts to transform the system, I cannot see why the Opposition should oppose,” he said.
Furthermore, he said given the enormity of the task to be undertaken in repairing and equipping schools the $5 billion was “not a lot of money but was extremely helpful”.
Senator Monteith also dismissed the suggestion that the provision be taken as a loan, since this would mean further debt for the country. “Where is the repayment going to come from, what is the point of having it on the books?” he questioned.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in 2004 appointed a 14-member Task Force to help transform the island’s education system, and was charged with, among other things, making recommendations on financing from the basic to the tertiary level 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 is estimated that the country will need to invest some $65 billion over 10 fiscal years (2005-2014) for capital expenditure. The Task Force estimates that it will take $21.9 billion in additional funding annually to transform the education system.