A director of the Barbados Council for the Disabled is warning that the Learning Centre is under severe financial pressure and could be forced to close its doors.
Describing the situation as “dire”, Edmund Hinkson said the St James institution which caters to children with disabilities had difficulty paying salaries and bills because of Government’s failure to pay oustanding bursaries, and he today urged the Freundel Stuart administration to fix the problem within the next three weeks.
The Shadow Minister of Education sounded the alarm as he contributed to debate in the House of Assembly on the Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015 that seeks to restrict the awarding of Government scholarships, exhibitions, bursaries and other financial awards for education to Barbadian citizens.
“The Learning Centre, a school comprising the most vulnerable children in this country . . . has not received any payments for bursaries, even for Barbadian students, for this academic year. Not one cent for this academic year which started September last year,” Hinkson told Parliament, noting that while the school is privately owned, it is heavily subsidized by Government.
“The operational and day-to-day expenses are obviously affected. They can’t pay their bills, the salaries not being paid, under real pressure, can’t maintain the property . . . There is a strong possibility that the school may close. In fact, at a meeting of the 21st of last month, just two weeks ago, the parents were informed of the possibility that the Learning Centre would close. In this month of the disabled, I truly call on the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government, before the end of the month, to remedy this situation. Find the money.”
The St James North MP said the closure would affect 75 children.
He told Parliament that over 90 per cent of those students were on full bursaries.
According to Hinkson, the last payment the centre received was on January 26 when Government remitted just over $44,000 for the previous academic year.
Meanwhile, Hinkson objected to Government seeking to block non-Barbadians, who were normally resident, from accessing scholarships and other educational financial aid.
He viewed it as just another cost-cutting measures of the DLP administration and said it flew in the face of both regional integration and the educational structure which successive governments held “dear and sacrosanct” for over 50 years.
“The prime effect of this amendment will mean that many persons who are resident in Barbados for years, but who are not citizens of this country and who very well may be permanent residents, will not be eligible for financial grants from the state,” Hinkson said.
“Children of parents who have acquired citizenship would not be eligible either,” he added, suggesting that it was not fair to tell those people they had to pay taxes and other Government obligations but could not access the benefits.
“It is an undermining of the CSME [CARICOM Single Market and Economy] project. We should be looking to bring our CARICOM countries closer together . . . but here again this is a diminishing of that ideal which is consistent with this Democratic Labour Party government since it came into office seven years ago.”