The Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Education Vibert Welch said during his appearance at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting yesterday that the ministry does not have a policy to withhold salaries from teachers who travel overseas, despite the Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Five claiming this is so.
Welch’s comment comes on the heels of protests by teachers against Region Five’s REO Ovid Morrison, who instructed the education office to withhold the salaries of teachers who were travelling abroad on their vacation leave.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon told the media last week that Morrison said he was acting on a regulation that allowed for teachers travelling abroad for the period to either lodge one month’s salary or have it withheld from them. This regulation was to be presented by Morrison for scrutiny.
“If they’re going overseas for leave, obviously they would have had permission to go overseas. We wouldn’t withhold salaries or anything for them,” Welch said in response to a question posed by committee member Juan Edghill.
Edghill’s enquiry about the policy guiding salary payments for vacation leave, came after his questioning about the arrangements to ensure there are no overpayments to staff on maternity leave.
Welch related that in order to create a more efficient system, it has been communicated to head teachers that they are to make every effort to submit the records of persons who have applied for maternity leave in a timely manner, so that updates can be made and the salaries adjusted, otherwise overpayments result. He related that teachers on maternity leave are paid 30% of their salaries.
According to the Auditor General’s 2015 report, overpayments of $4.895 million were recorded for 2010 through 2015, and deductions totalling $2.209 million were still not recovered at the time of reporting in 2016.
The update provided by the ministry yesterday stated that in an attempt to recover overpayments, the names of the officers that were overpaid were published in the daily newspapers, and the information was also communicated to the ministries and other public agencies where they might be employed for assistance. The sum of $601,067 has since been recovered from 17 persons for the period.
Additionally, it was stated that adjustments were made on the payroll in 2016 to the tune of $2.209 million for officers who were on maternity leave.
Hundreds of teachers turned up last Thursday at the Regional Democratic Council’s Office in Fort Wellington, West Berbice, to protest after Morrison instructed the education office to withhold the salaries of teachers who were going on vacation.
Harmon had related at last week’s post-Cabinet briefing that after Morrison’s attendance at the PAC where he was faced with providing an explanation for expenditure of about $80 million in overpayment to teachers, the REO had returned to the region and reportedly found the regulation regarding the salaries and decided to enforce it.
Harmon added that there was supposed to be a meeting between the union, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Communities to provide clarity on the situation.