Estimates totalling $13.9 billion meant for the Ministry of Education were approved on Wednesday afternoon when the National Assembly met to consider the amounts.
The process was not without a few verbal skirmishes, mainly between the two leading ladies in this area, Education Minister Priya Manickchand and APNU Shadow Education Minister Amna Ally. Contributions were also made by AFC MPs Valerie Garrido-Lowe and Cathy Hughes and MP Carl Greenidge, APNU’s point person on all things finance.
Among other things, Ally zeroed in on amounts proposed for purchasing vehicles. In total, the ministry, under its various programmes, intend to spend about $71 million this year bolstering its fleet of vehicles. Explaining the proposed allocations Manickchand told the House that her ministry possesses the oldest fleet of vehicles, some of which are 13 to 22 years old.
Purchasing of vehicles
Under the estimates for the ministry’s main office, Manickchand explained that $9 million is provided to purchase a vehicle for the minister as the one currently being used has already been overhauled twice. Under the ministry’s National Education Policy Programme, $18.5 million will go towards the procurement of four vehicles to enhance the capacity of ministry’s employees, including the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Administration. Funds will also be used under this programme to purchase two buses.
Meanwhile, $30.5 million is estimated for the purchasing of two 29-seater buses. Manickchand explained that the end of a programme which facilitated transportation for children to go to school in Kuru Kururu is at hand, and that the ministry wants to continue the programme as it has greatly enhanced school attendance.
The money will also provide a bus for the David Rose School for the Handicapped to facilitate the transportation of its students. According to the minister, the school’s students require special care, but continue to face difficulties on public transportation.
The purchase of a double-door pickup, the minister continued, is also provided for to assist staff in various departments.
Payment for security services
There were also increases, under several programmes, of amounts intended to pay for security services. This time, it was Greenidge who highlighted that proposed expenditure under “Main Office” is $7.8 million, up from $4.8 million in 2013.
It was also pointed out that amounts for security services under the proposed “Education Delivery” programme amounted to $318 million, up from $295.1 million in 2013. Asked the rationale behind the increase, Manickchand explained that the new minimum wage order issued by the Ministry of Labour last year necessitated an increase in the amounts the ministry once paid for security services.
Printing of texts
Several million dollars have also been allocated to finance the writing of text books to be used in Guyana’s schools. Manickchand said that recent decisions concerning honouring copyright laws have made it more difficult for the ministry to procure the books needed for schools. As such, she explained, the ministry has endeavoured to gather competent and capable minds to write books for school-use. She said some of the books have been completed and have to be tested. In addition, $488.9 million is allocated for “Print and Non-Print Material” under the ministry’s proposed administration programme.
Meanwhile, Lawrence inquired of Manickchand the ministry’s plans to combat overpayment of salaries and other sums to contractors for incomplete or shabby work.
Lawrence, a member of the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – a body which scrutinises the finances of public institutions – said that the Auditor General has found that from 2006 to 2011 the ministry has made overpayments totaling $34.6 million.
To this Manickchand said that measures are being implemented to ensure such instances do not recur. With regard to taking measures to recoup the sums, she said the ministry is contemplating publishing the names of all those who owe the ministry money. Some of the persons who owe the ministry, she said, are aware of the fact that they received more than they were supposed to, but did not have the decency to give the amounts back. She said the ministry is first trying to exhaust all other measures before it decides to publish names in newspapers.
Manickchand is also not yet sure how she will go about distributing the money which will go to the parents of children in the public school system. When he presented the budget 2014 Finance Minister Ashni Singh announced that “government will provide this year a cash grant to the parents of every child attending a nursery, primary or secondary school in the public education system in the amount of $10,000 per child.” Singh said the provision is expected to benefit188,406 families.
On Wednesday Manickchand revealed that the ministry is yet to work out a distribution system but assured that officials are to meet and flesh out a process.