ACTING Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry Kurt Meyer says it will cost $5 billion to complete 161 unfinished schools. He was speaking as ministry officials appeared before the Public Administration and Appropriation Committee at the Parliament building yesterday.
Meyers said the major reason why schools were not completed was money. He said it would cost upwards of $5 billion to complete, while the allocation to complete was $297 million, and those closest to completion were given priority. Meyer said some contractors had abandoned sites and residents were monitoring them where the ministry could not.
“We do not have the ability to defend all schools.” He said in some instances the site had not even been handed over.
“It is not a pleasant situation to work with right now. It is extremely challenging.” Meyer said the ministry was negotiating with contractors and had made some significant payments, adding that he would provide the committee with a list of projects and the time frames.
Mark also asked the status of two Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL) projects – Chatham Government Primary School and Santa Flora Government Primary School – which were 79 and 73 per cent complete as at August 2017, when a total of $32.4 million had been spent.
Meyer said since the beginning of the last fiscal year EFCL had been unable to continue any projects. He said the two schools were priority and there have been recent meetings between the ministry, EFCL and the contractors and by next week the contractors, who were on site, were scheduled to resume construction to complete the projects.
Meyer said because the economic climate is not the best, the ministry has many creditors and a lot of debts over the years.
“And it is difficult to manage.” He said a number of projects could be moving at a faster pace. He said the ministry was not designed to manage the 11 agencies under its purview and officials are looking at rationalisation and creating a dedicated compliance unit.
Of the 2018-2019 funding allocation, he said about 20 per cent has been utilised, and cited severe construction challenges with EFCL last year when the ministry had to utilise other agencies.
Meyer also said the ministry should have direct oversight over agencies as it was given a billion dollars to spend, and it was unfortunate there were incidents where purchases were made and taxpayers’ money lost. He said the ministry has been engaging the Finance Ministry on this issue, as well as better mechanisms for proper and timely reporting.
Chief Education Officer Harrilal Seecharan said the overall academic performance at private schools was on par with government and government-assisted schools.
Mark also about the school drop-out rate. Seecharan said it was about two per cent, and in some instances the ministry has had to seek police help to find the students.
Seecharan also said there was about 100 vacancies at Student Support Services and there was a difficulty in securing personnel, as well as to ensure the personnel were utilised in the most efficient manner. Meyer announced the ministry will be launching an online system to make reports directly to Student Support Services to speed up the time frame.
Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine asked how equipped teachers were for providing for children with special needs.
Seecharan said it was a difficult question as it ranged from special education teachers to teachers who do not feel that is their job. He said it requires training of all teachers, as the plan was to have preliminary screening at the primary school level.