Sat | Nov 17, 2018

Peter Espeut | Government victimisation

Published:Friday | October 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Education Ruel Reid addresses teachers and principals during a teacher sensitisation and consultation session at the Old Harbour New Testament Church in St Catherine on October 2. Government’s so-called exemption of civil servants from paying auxiliary fees proves the State’s policy on the presumably voluntary charges is confusing and dissonant.

Last Friday, the editor of The Gleaner exposed some of the policy contradictions of the finance and education ministries. Two years ago, to fulfil an election promise, the minister of education loudly announced the abolition of all auxiliary fees and cost-sharing payments. Education was - finally - to be free, after being declared so by Michael Manley over 30 years ago.

Many principals and school boards declared that the absence of these fees - even with an increase in the subvention from the ministry - will bring schools below break-even point, causing a reduction in the quality of education delivered. Almost all schools chose still to ask parents for a voluntary contribution to make ends meet.

The response from the minister was vicious! He called certain principals and school boards "corrupt and extortionists" for asking for these voluntary contributions, and although he withdrew the remarks, his animus was clear, and he still insisted that such payments are voluntary and optional for parents.

 

CIVIL SERVANT EXEMPTION

 

Recently, the minister of education announced that as part of their recently negotiated salary and fringe benefit package, civil servants were made exempt from paying auxiliary fees, and passed on this decision to the schools for implementation. This is a remarkable announcement! This is an admission of discrimination by the Government against parents who are not civil servants!

Why must some parents pay and others not, just because of who their employer is? I am surprised that Jamaicans For Justice has not called out the Government for unjust discrimination.

In his editorial last Friday, the Gleaner editor wrote: "The Government has to make up its mind whether auxiliary fees charged by schools represent compulsory or voluntary payments. If it is the latter, it must explain how the payments came to be considered part of the emoluments of public-sector workers, which is the logic of their exemption from it."

Clearly, if the payments are voluntary, parents don't have to pay. Therefore, including relief from these payments in salary and fringe benefit negotiations is a scam. To include them is an admission that they are compulsory.

But it is my understanding that that actual salary and fringe agreement with civil servants is that THE GOVERNMENT WILL PAY FOR THEIR AUXILIARY FEES, which is not the same thing as saying that the children of civil servants are exempt from paying fees. The fees must be paid - but by the Government, not by the parents. Schools are, therefore, to submit an invoice to the Ministry of Finance requesting payment for the auxiliary fees of children of civil servants.

 

REFUND REQUEST

 

Apparently, what some civil servants who have already paid the contributions for their children have been doing is to ask the schools for refunds. This is not unreasonable. What the schools must do is advise the parents that when the school receives the ministry's reimbursement for the auxiliary fees of the children of civil servants, they will get their refund.

In the 2017 ranking of high schools, of the top 30, only one was a government-owned and operated school. Rather than trying to drag down the top-quality high schools owned and operated by churches and private trusts, to make its own schools look good, the Government should seek to learn from its church and trust partners how to operate good-quality schools.

My church contacts advise me that there was no consultation between the Government and its partners before the announcement of the discriminatory exemption of civil servants from paying auxiliary fees, and there has been no reply from the minister to a letter asking the reason for the unilateral action.

It seems to me that the Government is purposely aggravating its partners to pressure them to take back their schools and retire from the partnership.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.