KINGSTON – Ninety-six of 212 delinquent teachers who cumulatively owe the Ministry of Education $410 million in bond payments are to be slapped with lawsuits in short order.
The education ministry said the decision was taken following Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis’ report from an audit done early last year. It is estimated that some of the monies are owed from as far back as the 1990s.
According to the auditor general, as at March 31, 2012, a total of $410.096 million was owed to the ministry by 212 teachers who failed to honour their commitment. Of this number, 114, or 54 per cent, have not made a single payment to reduce their obligations. She said the ministry was advised by the attorney general to prepare suits for 96 delinquents, but up to the time of the report this was not done.
Yesterday, newly appointed Permanent Secretary Elaine Foster- Allen was unable to provide the timeline along which the teachers became indebted, but said the ministry has “recognised that there were some weaknesses in regard to how the procedures were implemented”.
“We realised that only one person was in charge of the bonding process, and we realised that this is just not enough capacity. We have set up a unit and we have been working with our legal unit to review all the files, with the help of five paralegal students,” Foster Allen told the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.
“We realise that the vast majority of the outstanding sums owed to the ministry are really to do with the 25 per cent interest rate currently being charged. We are speaking with the Ministry of Finance to find out if the rate could be looked at and reduced to the current seven per cent going rate,” she said further.
Under the bonding arrangement, teachers are sent on paid study leave. The ministry, in order to ensure that they return to the system, bond them to a written agreement stating that they will return to the system, and should they not return, it is at liberty to recover the amounts paid to them during the study leave. Persons who return are expected to stay in the public school system for three years to work for the Government.
Yesterday, committee members across the divide expressed frustration with the situation which, they say, is “a recurring decimal”, and the inability of the ministry officials to provide more information as to how much of the $410 million was interest.
“We don’t seem to be serious about collecting. The actions appear to be recent, whereas this issue – looking at the interest rates – existed from the ’90s. What has happened over the last number of years?” Government committee member Julian Robinson wanted to know.
“What is even more difficult to appreciate is that 54 per cent of the delinquents have not paid a single dollar to date. The stewardship of public resources is what is at stake here,” Opposition committee member Edmund Bartlett said.
The permanent secretary, responding to the concerns, said the bonding policy is to be reviewed. She also said the ministry’s efforts to get guarantors to repay have not been successful. According to Foster Allen, among the reasons persons default is what is said in the bonding agreement, in some instances including changes in programmes during the time of study. (Observer)